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I submitted an article 5 months ago to a journal. Since then, the article has been jumping between "Waiting for Reviewer Assignment" and "Contacting Potential Reviewers" (10 changes of status now). The article is quite technical and multidisciplinary, so I understand that finding reviewers is hard. Still, this had never happened to me and I wonder how to proceed now.

I wrote an email to the generic address listed in the journal page (journalname@publishername), obtaining first an automatic response:

(...) We are currently experiencing a high volume of requests and will answer your inquiry as soon as possible. Please allow additional time for the processing of recently-submitted manuscripts and for the posting of recently-accepted manuscripts as Accepted Articles. (...)

And then a fairly generic one, stating that the handling editor is presently working to secure reviewers, sending invitations "daily". In my question I asked whether they had secured at least one reviewer, but I did not receive a concrete answer, so I assume they have not.

What is the best course of action now? I have several options, from writing directly one of the editors (I do not know which one, one of the options would be to write the editor of a previous article we submitted and published in the same journal), to withdrawing the manuscript. How can I respectfully convey the journal the message that I would prefer not to withdraw the article*, but that I will do so if they do not find any reviewers soon?


*Note: this is actually the third article in a series submitted to this journal (the previous two were published) and I honestly think that it is an ideal fit, so I would prefer not to withdraw it.

Note 2: The article waited almost a month (25 days) awaiting associate reviewer assignment.

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    As an editor, I can tell you getting a reviewer let alone a competent reviewer is difficult. Further, an editor may not carry out his/her duties every day. I for example look at my assignments once a week. I know some editors do it once a month or every K months. This means they only check whether a paper has sufficient reviewers every K month(s). If not, they invite and check again the next K month(s). Note, editors are usually volunteers. Feb 15, 2023 at 20:44

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If you are already corresponding with an individual, such as an editor, you could offer to provide a list of names of potential reviewers along with their qualifications. Don't include your collaborators unless you mark them as such.

Some papers, perhaps yours, are difficult to review simply because finding the necessary competence combined with willingness is difficult. Withdrawing your paper and submitting it elsewhere probably won't speed up the process if a new editor faces the same difficulty.

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  • We are corresponding with an individual but this is neither an editor nor an associate editor... Indeed, that is the other reason why we are unsure about withdrawing. The thing is, we don't know to what extent the delay is only due to a lack of reviewers. Considering the fact that the article took almost a month to get assigned to an associate editor... We are considering an element of not-very-good article handling practices here.
    – D1X
    Feb 15, 2023 at 14:59
  • @D1X some publishers/journals have people on staff whose job seems to be to respond to emails about their papers. They don't necessarily have a good view as to what is going on. Reaching out to an editor directly should be your next step. Don't hesitate to ask. They're there to help (in theory anyway). A separate journal from the one mentioned in my answer had this setup, and I couldn't get a straight answer about the status of my paper. Feb 15, 2023 at 15:01
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Although there are many courses of action you might take, perhaps consider asking yourself what do you want to achieve:

  • to get your paper published sooner; or
  • to motivate the journal to improve the publishing practices.

These goals are not necessarily aligned. If you want to achieve the second, you need to look for the action which matters for the journal, and perhaps consider withdrawing your paper and resubmitting it elsewhere. If you prefer the first, you may proceed with various complaints within the journal hierarchy (up to the Editor-in-Chief), which often improves the chances that the handling Editor might focus more on your manuscript, but usually does not impact the way how the process is (dis)organised generally.

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  • Is it reasonable under these conditions, then, to write the Editor-in-Chief using the email listed in the journal page?
    – D1X
    Feb 15, 2023 at 13:51
  • @D1X You may write to EC, but a chance EC actually reads your email and act on is slim. But your handling editor might be (un)impressed and this can motivate them to finally act on the paper. Feb 15, 2023 at 14:05
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I was in this exact boat with a top flight journal in one of my fields. I waited five months with reasonably consistent contact with editors, and they could not secure a referee for my paper even with several suggested referees on my part (I assume they were all swamped). I eventually withdrew it and had success in another journal. There's no guarantee that will work in your case, but different journals have different pools of referees they can pull from.

My paper was a bit more mathematical than a standard mathematical physics paper, was somewhat lengthy for how technical it was (~20 pages), and was extremely novel. I think all three played a role with regards to the challenges of securing a referee. You may face similar issues due to the nature of your paper based on its description. Reach out to an editor directly to see if you can get a better view as to what is going on and see if there is anything you can do to help expedite the process.

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