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Demands for 48-hour proof turnarounds are unacceptable

Perhaps this sounds familiar… You wrote a manuscript and it got sent out for review. It got generally good reviews, and so you revised the manuscript once or twice. Then it was accepted. Hurrah! Break out the milkshakes. [1] or other beverage of choice Then … crickets … nothing. After a few months, you email the editor, who says, yes, it’s in the queue, just going to be a bit longer. Then one day, out of nowhere, whack! An email appears in your inbox. It’s final edits or proofs and the editor wants it back immediately. Forty-eight hours. Or in one business day.

My immediate reaction to this is always, “I’m sorry, your lack of planning is not my emergency,” and I push back. I really, really don’t get this behavior. It has now happened to me for 3 out of 3 first-author papers. [2] Case 1: proofs sent on a Sunday morning demanding 48-hour turnaround; Case 2: proofs sent on a Wednesday while I was on vacation and without Internet demanding a 48-hour turnaround; Case 3: final edits sent on a Thursday evening, demanding turnaround by end of day on Monday, a holiday. And I find it really, really rude.

I freely admit that I am not an editor nor do I understand the inner workings of academic publishing. But I see no reason for such a short deadline. Academic journals are published on regular schedules with regularly formatted content and with each manuscript on independent pages. It’s not like my article relies on the layout of the article before mine. Proofs and final edits can be prepared weeks in advance of submission to the printer (or posting online).

Dear editors, please understand that my job is busy and that I have a life outside of my job. I cannot just drop everything to attend to the task you want me to do. I have childcare responsibilities and so do not work evenings, weekends, or holidays. Do not expect me to. I have previously scheduled deadlines and meetings that I am not willing to cancel. Do not expect me to. Sometimes I am traveling or on vacation and sometimes I encounter emergencies. If I am away from the Internet for a few days, if my schedule is packed, if I am in the hospital caring for a loved one, you are going to have to wait. And you need to plan for such things, because they are a normal part of life.

Dear editors, I see us as partners in this publishing game. I create content. You publish it. I receive prestige from the deal. You fulfill your organization’s mission and/or receive money from the deal. So let’s treat one another as partners when it comes to final edits and proofs. If possible, please prepare final edits and proofs and send them to me several weeks before you need them. If that’s not possible, then please send me a heads-up email a week or two ahead of time telling me when you expect to need my time. I will put you on my schedule. I value our partnership.

I imagine that by creating this false sense of urgency, editors do tend to get fast turnarounds. But I want to suggest to early career academics that you think about something before you cancel that date to work on proofs, before you stay up all night to do edits, before you stick your kids in front of a screen so you can focus on your work and not them. By the time your paper gets to proof stage, the journal has already invested a lot of time and effort in your manuscript. They’ve even scheduled it for a particular issue. It may be more challenging for them to move articles around than wait a few extra days for you. So do what I do and prioritize the edits or proof, but not to the extent it upends your life. And say so, very politely: [3] Feel free to use my words.

Thank you for sending proofs. Unfortunately, I am unable to return them by [date], but I am prioritizing them, and will get them back to you no later than [date]. Thank you for your understanding.

Then absolutely and without fail, return your proofs or edits by your self-imposed deadline.

Permanent link to this article: http://ecologybits.com/index.php/2016/10/12/demands-for-48-hour-proof-turnarounds-are-unacceptable/

8 comments

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  1. Simon Leather

    Hi Margaret,

    as an author I totally agree, as an Editor it is not my fault 🙂 ! It is the publishers that impose these deadlines which I don’t think need to be quite so tight, but I guess they do make things keep moving. I suppose as Editors we could always query the need and I will try and remember to do so at our next meeting with our publishers.

    best wishes

    Simon

  2. Stephen Heard

    I’m with Simon – totally agreed, but the fault isn’t with the editors. One thing: I have frequently asked for (short) extensions, and have never been turned down. Mind you, that very success makes me wonder why the short turnaround is suggested in the first place!

  3. Alex Bond

    A third to chime in and agree… it’s all down to the publishers. Once the editor clicks “accept”, your files are whisked away to goodness knows where, but all outside the journal’s control. Beware that some journals (I think mostly Elsevier published ones) take a non-response as “you have no changes to make” after 5 days (this happened to a colleague of mine earlier this year). That’s more annoying, I think. The world will not end if proofs are submitted when you get back from holiday, or during your regular work hours (or at least I hope not!)

  4. Mike Fowler

    Simon, Stephen: as Editors, it is most certainly within your remit to question these timescales. Without you (practicing, publishing academics, who know the pain these requests can cause), the journals could not function. Let the publishers know!

    An open question – has anyone had this sort of super-short turnaround request from a journal that operates a continuous publishing model (e.g., Proceedings R Soc B)?

    1. Margaret Kosmala

      Mike: my case 2 was an online-only journal with almost immediate publishing after acceptance. They wanted proofs back in 48 hours…

      1. Mike Fowler

        Inconceivable!

  5. Dimitris Kontopoulos

    Nice post!

    The one thing I do not understand is why online only journals – such as the BMC ones – enforce similar short deadlines, even if the paper is not part of a special issue and can come out at any time. I understand it is a way to pressure the author into going through the proofs faster, but a deadline of two days seems ridiculous to me.

  6. Carl Boettiger

    My adviser would always say “accepted means accepted,” with the implication that these were more like suggestions to ensure “timely” publishing going forward. I’ve always found publishers very responsive to reasonable requests for more time (or that their submission system corrupted my pdf, or whatnot). Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that the demographics for who asks for more time and who doesn’t are non-random…

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