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I prepared a manuscript along with two co-authors and submitted the manuscript to a journal in January 2016. However, the manuscript was rejected in April 2016 and given another chance to resubmit after addressing the reviewers' comments.

I did all the revisions and submitted to my co-authors since August 2016 to check the revision. But none of the co-authors have responded to my emails, even after seven or eight gentle reminders at regular intervals. As both of them are top-level professors at very reputable institutes and heads of their department, so I understand their very busy schedule.

How should I handle this situation?

I found another question similar to mine: How to handle Co-author who is not listening the suggestions to improve the paper quality, but I did not find my answer there.

  • This is a tough one... How important/what is their level of contribution to the paper? Perhaps this may help someone formulate a possible answer. – user44476 Sep 13 '17 at 3:42
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    My approach to this kind of situations is the following: set a deadline, send a reminder a few days before the deadline, resubmit. That's it. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 13 '17 at 3:47
  • @MassimoOrtolano And soon, the co-authors will say that you submitted a paper without their approval. You should always get everyone's approval before submitting, especially after major changes have been done (i.e. everything that exceed spell checking). – Mark Sep 13 '17 at 6:35
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    @Mark It's hever happened. When I set the deadline I state clearly that if I don't get feedback for that date, I'll assume that they agree. If they don't, and they don't answer, too bad for them. In all the collaborations I've been part of, this was usually the expected behaviour from the first author. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 13 '17 at 6:46
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    Ask them if they'd like their names removed from the manuscript. I'll bet you'll hear back promptly. – HEITZ Sep 13 '17 at 7:11
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In general, you are the lead author. If you are keen to progress a paper, then you need take the lead. This may mean that you wont get as much feedback from your co-authors as you might want. But this is generally better than delaying a publication for months and months. I also find there is a real cost in having to get back in the zone on a paper that I'm leading when it is put on hold because of such issues.

I would typically give co-authors a specific timeframe to make a contribution. For example, I might say that I am going to submit the paper in four weeks, and thus, any feedback they can provide in the next two weeks would be most welcome. I'd also try to get feedback from them about when they might have time to have a look at it, and I'd try to arrange my own schedule for working on the paper so that I'm able to send something through for when they might be free.

Of course, this is something to be negotiated. Sometimes, co-authors may want or expect to have greater involvement. Or you may think that their input is worth waiting for.

The case where a student is the lead author is also another variant. In that case, the supervisor would have more influence over timelines. In this case, the student may also be relying on the supervisor more to make sure that the manuscript is ready for submission.

What about co-author consent? Nate Eldredge raised the following issue in comments:

Don't you need the consent of all co-authors in order to submit a paper? So if they don't respond by your deadline, I don't see how you can ethically go ahead and submit anyway.

I agree that co-authors need to consent to having their name listed on a paper. That is very important. And you can imagine situations where consent would be an issue.

However, from my experience, in many situations the consent is implied. First, co-authors have usually already agreed to be involved in a publication at the start of the project. And in the above case, the co-authors have already submitted a paper and now they are revising it to submit it again. It's common for one author to take the lead on these kinds of revisions.

Then in the usual case, the lead author will send emails to co-authors outlining a publication plan with a timeline as well as follow-up emails as it gets closer to submission. The lead author would also send emails about when a submission occurs and when the status of the manuscript changes. At every stage, co-authors are free to negotiate the timeline, their input, and whether they wish to remain a co-author.

In most cases, co-authors respond to emails. Busy co-authors may not have time to actually make a contribution to the paper at that time, but any reasonable co-author will reply to emails in a reasonable time at least indicating their intentions about the paper (or they should have an auto-reply to say they are on leave). Furthermore, a submission is not the final word on authorship. For example, if a co-author didn't respond to emails for four weeks and then finds out their name was put on a submission that they did not approve of, there will still usually be plenty of time to withdraw their name, or make sufficient changes at the revisions stage.

So, I think if the lead author engages in reasonable correspondence about the publication plan and the submission process, then the issue can be navigated.

  • Don't you need the consent of all co-authors in order to submit a paper? So if they don't respond by your deadline, I don't see how you can ethically go ahead and submit anyway. – Nate Eldredge Sep 14 '17 at 1:34
  • @NateEldredge see response. – Jeromy Anglim Sep 14 '17 at 2:39
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    @NateEldredge As I said in another comment, e.g., I set a deadline and I state that I'll assume consent if I don't get feedback. This was quite common in all the collaborations I've been part of. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 14 '17 at 3:39

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