Saturday, August 31, 2019
Last week I received an offer from a law review. As per usual, it provided me with about a week to respond. I immediately thanked the editor and went about other business. The offer was received at 11:27. At 12:59, it was revoked.
No, the journal hadn't discovered some problem with the piece in that hour and a half. When I went back to the original offer, I discovered that I had not (shame on me) read the whole message:
Please be advised that we can only accept one more article for publication in [the specified issue] We reserve the right to revoke our offer prior to its expiration if another author accepts our publication offer before you make your decision.
So I had fair warning that some hungrier academic might preempt me by accepting before I did. I had, it seems, only myself to blame in losing this particular race to publication.
I admit to, nevertheless, being a little irritated. The norm is to provide authors the specified time to consider the offer (read "expedite to a higher ranked journal"), and the norm was being discarded. But on reflection, it's hard to get too upset: the expedite game plays journals off against each other and this strategy tries to play authors off against each other.
Still, it will make things much more complicated going forward if broadly adopted. As for whether it will be, I have only two additional data points. First, a colleague got a similar message from another law journal this submission season (hers hasn't yet been revoked) and in October 2015 another blog reported a couple of instances of the same thing. Maybe it should be reassuring that the practice apparently hasn't become commonplace in the last four years! And it may be that the strategy is being deployed only in the August window where journals are scurrying to fill their last slots.
If you're worried about my placement, however, you can rest easy. In the interval between being accepted and rejected by that journal, I was fortunate enough to get another offer. That one gave me two weeks, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Until I remembered a fundamental principle of contracts law: promises to keep offers open for a specified period of time are unenforceable without consideration; thus, such offers are always revocable!