Friends, as you know I’m conferencing this weekend, but I’m wondering if some of you can offer some helpful advice and assistance to our friend Flavia at Ferule and Fescue. As some of you may know, she’s enjoying a completely enviable summer in Rome, but that’s beside the point. Last week, someone peed in her negroni, big time:
As you may recall, I’d been working with this press for two years. They first sent the manuscript to one outside reviewer, who had stern but encouraging words, so I revised according to her suggestions. They sent it to her again, and she was very happy with my revisions and recommended publication. Then they sent it to a second reviewer, who read the entire MS in three weeks and was highly critical–but he also seemed confused about the basic parameters of my project; he made lots of suggestions, but most of them were, at best, tangential to my topic. I was asked to address “at least some of” his concerns, and I did so to the extent that I felt I could while maintaining the integrity of the project. I also told the press very clearly what I had done, what I had not done, and why.
So after winter break they sent it back to him. . . and after more than four months he submitted a one-paragraph review, most of it cut-and-pasted from his previous review, saying that I hadn’t engaged sufficiently with his criticisms.
And that means that’s it for that press. The editor was quite apologetic, but explained that such a negative review tied the press’s hands and would make it hard for the editor to make a case to the publication board–even if the editor were to find a warmly receptive third reader.
Flavia is tenured, so at least she’s not in the position of having to worry about her job security. However, she is in need of some bucking up and some good advice. I myself have never heard of a peer review process that solicits readers in seriatum, and then askes the author to make two sets of revisions. The history editors that I’ve worked with solicit two (and sometimes three) readers at a time, and then make what they will of whatever comes back in the reviews. The process that she describes seems burdensome and counterproductive, but maybe that’s the way the literature folks do it? I don’t know.
Senior scholars with wisdom and experience, can you help? How about you junior scholars who are currently working through the process of publishing a book? Are there any editors out there in my readership who can offer some insight into the process that might be helpful? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?