Below is a link to an article on the Scholarly Kitchen blog by Jerry Jacobs entitled "Author Friendly Journal websites." Jacobs contents that journal publishers could assit authors who are interested in submitting an article by giving them more information about how long their peer review process usually takes and the time from acceptance to publication. The commentators on the article aren't so sure that this information will be transparent and meaningful.
When I was starting out as an author, I would submit an article to a journal and wait....and wait....and wait. Eventually I would muster the courage to ask the journal's editor what was going on and sometimes it seemed to me that the ms. had simply been lost on the editor's desk or it had been sent out for review and then no one had followed up. Once a journal sat on an article for so long (many months) that the editor who had specifically requested it had stepped down by the time it was up for consideration and then it was rejected.
I am an editorial assistant for two academic journals, and I've been doing it for seven years. I always acknowledge receipt of the MS - after asking the editor if it's something they'd like to review - and then give the authors a timeline of when to expect the peer reviews to be back, after which we will give them our editorial decision. This has worked well for us for the most part.
And as an editorial assistant, I don't mind at all when an author contacts me and says, "Hey, it's been XX amount of weeks since you've had this article...what's going on?" Sometimes, things do get lost in the shuffle, so I appreciate the "head's up."
I think it would definitely help if more journals were this transparent.