Your discipline needs you! The mysterious art of the academic book review – by Francine O’Sullivan

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Whilst the focus of Peer Review Week is, understandably and inevitably, on journal publishing, peer review also has a fundamental and crucial role in academic book publishing.  Our Business and Management Publisher, Francine O’Sullivan, explains why peer reviews play such an important part in the commissioning process.

 

Thanks to all our reviewers

We at Edward Elgar would like take this opportunity to say a great big thank you to all the hundreds of reviewers who have assisted us over the last year across all our subjects.  You help steer us in the right direction and help us avoid bad decisions.  You help make good books better and encourage our authors both to persevere with their ideas and to reach the key audiences for their books.  You perform a service to your discipline and it is appreciated.

To all those who are interested in giving back to their community, thank you – please get in touch!  The academic book review isn’t a science, it is a mysterious art.  Unlike journals publishing, book reviews tend to be single rather than double- blind – an author is crucial to the success of a book after all – and the author or editor also has a central right to respond to the review process.  A book review process is more of a dialogue, with the publisher as referee, distiller of information and potential contributor to that debate.  A knowledgeable publisher will use the review process both to reject or refer book proposals that will not work or are not of a high enough standard and will also use it to refine the content, direction, market and even the title of the book.

 

Brief tips for a useful book review

A reviewer is most likely to add value at a ‘proposal’ stage where part of the book is still to be written.  Imagination is required here.   Would you buy or recommend this book if it delivers what it promises?  Are its promises realistic?  Does it offer anything new or have you seen it all before?  Is the writing style engaging?  Would it be more interesting if its focus was to shift slightly?  Please do cite any other sources you think the author should read before doing any further work on it.  If you think the book is great but the title is awful do say so.

Book reviews will be passed on to the author, albeit anonymously, so they need to be polite and constructive.  It is fine to say you hate it but spare the poor publisher a thought on how they will deliver that message.  Some reviewers provide a report for the author’s eyes with separate feedback for the publisher and this can be helpful on occasion.

If you know the author personally please do say.  We never rely on one reviewer alone and your review probably will still be useful in the context of the full set of feedback we receive.  A good publisher will read the reviews through their own filter in any case.

If you aren’t going to have time to complete the review do let us know.  We aim to get back to our authors within 4 weeks of receiving a proposal.  If this time-frame isn’t realistic then this is fine, we know you are likely to have a lot of other things on your plate and we will seek another reviewer.

Finally, peer review really matters in book publishing not only when we receive a proposal, but also when we receive the final manuscript files and, not least, when the book is published.  Our reviewers have played a fundamental and invaluable role in improving and shaping the list we have today.

 

franFrancine O’Sullivan is Publisher for Business and Management, Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Edward Elgar Publishing.

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