Drop everything and check your page proofs, or else

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The turnaround time that journal publishers demand for correcting page proofs is crazy, right? I honestly have no idea what the hurry is.

As far as I can recall, every page proof I’ve ever received has had an insanely brief turnaround time. Let me tell you two page proofs stories: my first (that I remember), and the most recent.

In the late ’90s, I got a manila envelope in the mail, which had page proofs and a big red stamp on them saying that I had to correct and return them in 2 or 3 days. And I seriously had to laugh. Why? Because this envelope was sent from the UK to Colorado, by boat mail. It arrived three months after it was shipped. I did the corrections and faxed it back. I honestly have no idea if the corrections made it in time. The article came to press a few months after I got the proofs.

I got some proofs this weekend. I went away with my spouse for some quiet work-free vacation. I checked my email when we got to our destination on Friday night. It turns out in the afternoon, I got page proofs, and I was asked to review them and send back my corrections within two days. So, in the time span between when I started my romantic weekend getaway, and when the romantic weekend getaway was suppose to end, I was expected to deliver proofs? Really?

Under more typical circumstances, I simply would let the proofs linger for extra days and get to them when I could. But in this case, it turns out there was a huge doozy of an error in the article that really needed fixing, which I couldn’t let slide, and I would be really annoyed if they went ahead and published it without my correction. (Also, I screwed up and forgot to put the grant number in the paper, and this would have been a bad thing too.) So I took time out from my weekend to work on the proofs, because the risk of letting these errors slip through would have been horrible. Maybe they meant 2 business days, not two calendar days. But they didn’t say, and because I’m a gullible schmuck, I delivered. Would the uncorrected version have gone to press if I waited a few more day? Well, probably not, but I didn’t want to take the chance. (I still had a wonderful weekend, by the way. And now I’m back home Sunday night, writing this post.)

Journals are just collecting papers together, and as soon as they’re ready, they tend to be promptly published online. I do realize that some journals are still binding them into a paper journals. I suppose at one point in history, publishers needed to compile everything on a tight-ish schedule for a particular issue. Nowadays, with the speed of the internet, and the steady rate at which articles are processed, there should be plenty of time for authors to correct proofs to get them ready for the next available issue. By switching things over to the internet, we saved ourselves a couple weeks by not having envelopes in the mail. But still page proofs are on a really short clock. This situation is absurd to you as it is to me, right?

What makes this even more absurd that journals need a few months, at a minimum, go to through the review process. It just doesn’t seem to make sense for them to require such a rapid turnaround on proofs.

While it doesn’t seem to make sense, I can imagine how, in the universe of publishing, it might somehow make some kind of sense. Many journals still are publishing articles that are published in bound issues, which are archived in libraries and universities worldwide. Academic societies with publishers have contracts for a certain number of pages or articles per volume or per issue. Because these bound issues are being put together, even though nearly all of us are accessing articles online, the schedule of print production still has publishers captive. But c’mon, let’s get real, can’t you just ask for a week instead of a couple days?

9 thoughts on “Drop everything and check your page proofs, or else

  1. I received page proofs once two days before Thanksgiving with a three-day turnaround request. They also didn’t specify whether that meant calendar or business days so I hustled over the holidays to check the proofs and wrangle some coauthors to look them over.

  2. I had them on the 24th of December, due on the 26th. I sent an email back stating that I would get them back on the next working day – i.e. 3rd Jan.
    I got a slightly embarrassed reply stating it not be a problem in the slightest.
    (and no, I’m not a big name or have any clout whatsoever!)

  3. Presumably the reason for this comes from academic societies (etc.) choosing to affiliate themselves with a particular publisher/printer, and one of the factors that the publisher/printer uses is their short turnaround time.

  4. Has anyone actually tested this… taken your time, or not interrupted Thanksgiving or a vacation or delayed field work, and then returned the page proofs some time beyond the publisher-imposed two-day “deadline”? What really happens?

  5. I usually take a week or two with proofs. Never been a problem.

  6. This was recently a problem while doing fieldwork at a remote site in Brazil. Luckily, I had an automatic out of office reply and got back to the editorial office as soon as I could. They were very nice and understanding. Still spent the weekend on the proofs, but that is like “rest time” during field season!

  7. I have also had the experience of filling out the online form listing the dates for which I was unavailable and gotten proofs with a 2-day turnaround request within that window. It was not a problem to get back to them over a week later (remote field work).

  8. Since it took me two months to get around to replying, I’m not a 48-hour turnarounder. No, publishers are not going to penalize authors for taking longer, besides perhaps pushing an article back another issue. But when mistakes are published, readers will assume it was the authors’ carelessness. Careless is when journal copyeditors run scientific names through a spellchecker without paying attention. My particular peeve is with Wiley, who additionally does not mark edits so that authors can play hunt and seek.

    Chironomus dilutus is an aquatic insect

    Chironomus dilutes is a two word sentence

    As in, “Chironomus dilutes her gin with Everclear.”

    As of July 2017, Google Scholar returned 80 articles containing the term “Chironomus dilutes.” No such animal.

    Cottus confusus is a fish

    Cottus confuses is a two word sentence.

    As in, “Cottus confuses anything that fits in his mouth for food.”

    As of July 2017, Google Scholar returned 39 articles containing the term “Cottus confuses.” No such animal.

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