It happened the third time to me and I start wondering what is going on? I have submitted two papers since May last year (11 months) and didn't get any answer. I wrote to the editors and they answered to me the following:

One of them said that it was very hard to find a referee for the paper and finally they succeeded to find a person willing to referee the paper.

Yesterday the other editor told me that the two referees where the paper was sent "eventually didn't write a report. We are now trying to get a report from a third referee".

In the last two years I noticed a very long delay in receiving reports for my papers. It also happened to a reasonable journal, JA, to receive a favourable report after some corrections are done. After I sent the corrections back I didn't receive anything back for six months. When I wrote to the editor, he wrote to me that the referee refused to answer emails and then he sent the paper to another referee, starting practically from scratch the reviewing process. The paper was finally rejected after 9 months.

Please help me concerning the following matters. Although I never commented on referee/editor's decisions it seems that something has changed. The community does not want to referee my papers anymore. Once I got a first rejection on the reason that the table of contents is not symmetric.

My question is the following:

Is anything I can do with respect to this matter? What should I write to those editors. I have asked clearly when should I receive report on my paper and didn't get any clear answer.

Finally it is my work and cannot be just deleted as some people/referee like, but these delays somehow have ruined the scores for my ongoing research grant.

Maybe I should add that most of the journals I am talking about are well established journals in the field, some of them being in the top (first quarter) of the AI/ISI ranking etc.

  • @ Bjørn Thank you very much for the site. I will post it there two. I post it here since it is of course about mathematical papers. – mathuser04 Apr 6 '15 at 20:35
  • Unfortunately, it is not about mathematics specifically. Even if you were to ask about the response time of a specific journal or field, this is still the wrong forum. If you have any academic contacts (former advisor, colleagues in the area), you would do well to ask them. If you are (like me) an outsider wishing to cultivate such contacts, this question on MathOverflow is a poor place to start. Gerhard "Other Ways And Other Days" Paseman, 2015.04.06 – Gerhard Paseman Apr 6 '15 at 20:39
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    @Gerhard Paseman - I don't quite agree, the point being that the process of refereeing in mathematics is much more time consuming and significantly different from other areas. – R W Apr 6 '15 at 21:19
  • R W, if you think it is a good question for the community, vote it up if you haven't done so. The vote count suggests to me that the question is in a gray area of community acceptance. Further, a citation may be needed to support the assertion of refereeing being more time consuming in mathematics than other areas (of science, I presume). I agree that the process might be different, but I imagine the author-journal interface is (on some level) very similar across refereed journals in all branches of science. Gerhard "References Referring To Referees Requested" Paseman, 2015.04.06 – Gerhard Paseman Apr 6 '15 at 21:42

As always, one needs to look within oneself. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How broadly interesting is your oeuvre? In my experience, difficulty in finding a referee often indicates that the field is very narrow, and the editors are looking for a referee to check whether a paper is a breakthrough in the narrow field. Otherwise, the paper is rejected.

  2. How well-written are the papers? Especially the introduction - if the prospective referee's eyes glaze over when s/he reads it, s/he probably won't want to referee the paper. I realize that the author is not the best judge for this, but show the paper to a friend.

  3. You can usually get papers published quicker if you submit to a lesser journal (and I assume that it is ALREADY published on arxiv.org). The optimization problem (quality vs speed) is for you to solve. From a careerist standpoint, the journal weighting is very nonlinear: a single paper in Annals of Math is worth essentially an infinite number in, say, PAMS (no insult meant). If you are already established, then you might not care. If not, you might.

Just one man's opinion (though I am active on several editorial boards, so the opinion is somewhat informed).

  • @ Igor Thank you very much for your answer. It is indeed the optimization problem you mentioned (quality vs speed). All the papers are on arxiv.org but unfortunately that is not enough for a research grant. I was thinking seriously to send some of the work to some lower quality journals only to be able to show that there is some published work when the grant report has to be completed. – mathuser04 Apr 6 '15 at 20:53
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    @ Igor Indeed my interest is very narrow and the papers are very techincal. But some of the big journals reject papers in two weeks based on this reason. I don't understand how can a journal need one year to take a decision and mostly this decision to be made without a report. If a referee promises to write a report to an editor why after one year s/he would change his/her mind and "eventually didn't write". I also refereed for some of these journals but always I got a deadline for the report and hardly get some extensions in some cases. – mathuser04 Apr 6 '15 at 21:01
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    @mathuser04 Basically, if the "big journal" has an editor close to the field, the journal can make a quick decision. If not, the editor takes a semi-educated guess of which referee to send the paper to, the referee often takes months to respond; sometimes the referee agrees, but then decides he is too busy, then you have to find another. After a few attempts, the journal bails, but the few attempts can take a year. The worst is when the referee agrees, then flakes (sounds like you have been there). – Igor Rivin Apr 6 '15 at 21:07
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    I'd just add that we all have horror stories of our papers being badly handled. It sounds like @mathuser04 has had a string of bad luck, but none of the incidents he recalls sounds grossly atypical. – Nik Weaver Apr 6 '15 at 23:20
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    Indeed. I've had much more horrifying experiences (including one paper under review for 4 years). – Ben Webster Apr 7 '15 at 0:06

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