A philosopher who prefers to remain anonymous recently wrote in with some complaints about a journal. Among them:
The editor and editorial staff have been for at least the last three months, and continue to be, completely unavailable via both email and the submissions manager.
In this particular case, the problem began to be resolved when I passed along the complaint to the editor, who then sent a notice out to the authors of all manuscripts currently under consideration at his journal, explaining certain problems that contributed to the lack of communication.
This lack of communication is not as rare as it should be. Once, I had waited so long without hearing anything from a journal that I sent the following to its editor:
I stared at my inbox longingly all day yesterday, but nothing. I can’t believe you forgot our anniversary. It was only 6 months ago that things got started. You were so attentive at first, so quick to acknowledge. But now it seems like our relationship is a mess. You don’t even respond to my emails anymore! I don’t know what to think. If only you would say something! Anything! There were times I thought to myself, “he’s the strong silent type,” but that can only console a person for so long. I mean, communication is important for a relationship, and we have communication problems! I don’t know how much longer I can hold on to this… to us. If you could just let me know what you’re thinking, maybe we can make this relationship work again. I’m willing to do what it takes. I think we’re worth it. Do you?
That did get an informative response. However, it shouldn’t take fear of public exposure, or creative pestering, to get editorial staff to communicate with authors.
Let’s acknowledge that editing a journal is a ton of work, that it involves delivering a lot of bad news (which for most people is no picnic), that their own reputations as editors are often in the hands of others (e.g., unresponsive reviewers), and that editors almost never get sufficient appreciation for their efforts. In fact, let’s all now say: journal editors, thank you.
Still, we can ask: how can we improve communications between journals and authors?
One thing is that journals should be honest in setting expectations for authors. If your journal’s author guidelines say, “We aim to have a decision to you in n weeks,” then your track record should actually be getting most authors decisions in n weeks. If it is really n+2, or n+3, etc., then editors will get more emails from concerned authors, which makes them busier, which makes it likelier that either work at the journal, or email response time, will slow, worsening the problems.
Another thing is to have the infrastructure in place for editorial staff to easily mass email all authors with manuscripts under consideration. This is especially helpful if there is a problem or change at the journal that is expected to lead to delays in decisions on manuscripts (such as the resignation of an associate editor, or a surge in submissions, etc.).
It would be helpful if readers can share their experiences and suggestions, both as authors and as editors, to get some further ideas on the table.