Some university presses ask hopeful book authors to list scholars who can serve as peer reviewers for their academic book proposal or full manuscript. In this post, I help you determine whom you should list as possible reviewers. Then, I answer other common questions authors of first academic books have about compiling this list of potential reviewers for their academic book proposal.
What Makes for a Good Peer Reviewer of an Academic Book?
Generally speaking, three factors make scholars good potential reviewers:
- They have the expertise to judge the quality of the scholarship, to evaluate the claims you make, and to assess whether your study makes valuable contributions to your field(s). They know what has come before and whether your book adds anything new to existing conversations. Note: if you believe your book has multiple primary readerships with different disciplinary backgrounds and accepted methodologies, you will need to ensure you have readers who represent these diverse disciplines.
- They can evaluate the work impartially and do not have any conflicts of interest–that is, they did not have a hand in shaping the work.
- They have the time to review the work thoroughly.
Of these, you can only know about the first two; it is not your job to try to guess whether or not the reviewer will have the necessary time. (That said, your list should probably not consist solely of 5 international superstars who regularly give multiple keynotes and invited talks per year.)
Brainstorming Potential Reviewers: Who Has the Requisite Expertise?
Use the following questions to brainstorm potential reviewers. Reviewers not need to meet all the criteria below; rather, this list is intended to help you get started.
- Which scholars have published a book with which your book is in dialog? (Make sure their book is in the same discipline and has the same target scholarly audience as yours.)
- Who has published with that target press and would be able to assess your book’s “fit” at the press/for the series (if you are proposing a book for inclusion in a series)?
- Who has established themselves as an expert in your field with the requisite ability to evaluate your study’s claims, evidence, analyses, and significance?
- Who would be able to make the following statements with authority: “I can attest that [author’s] book fills a critical gap in [field] by [what your book does that has not been done before and is worth doing].” “[Author]’s methods are rigorous and compelling. The cases [author] includes [whichever is most appropriate to your book: 1) are already well studied, but (author) is able to offer a novel take on them; 2) represent a mixture of examples with which the reader is likely to be familiar and new evidence; 3) will likely be new to the audience.” “In my estimation, this book would be attractive to scholars of [reviewer’s field(s)] because [reasons].”
Remember that if you believe that your book contributes meaningfully to several scholarly disciplines, you will need to list at least one (ideally 2-3) reviewer(s) from each discipline.
Whom Not to List
Academic fields are incredibly small, so it is likely that you will have met the scholars who review your work. Reviewers will have the opportunity to decline to review your book if they feel they cannot remain impartial; however, you should never list scholars who have contributed to the work (or your scholarship) in significant ways.
Do not list:
- Members of your dissertation committee
- Anyone who gave you extended, substantive feedback on your book or multiple chapters or proposal drafts
- Colleagues at your current institution
- Colleagues at any institution where you have worked in the past 3 years
- Anyone with whom you’ve collaborated extensively
- Anyone who has played an integral role in helping you reshape the project into a monograph over a long (multi-year) period, whether in regular conversations or email exchanges
When in doubt, use your best judgement. You are bound to have talked about your book–to varying degrees–with many scholars. If the reviewer feels they will not be able to be impartial, they can decline to review the book. Or, they can double-check the editor’s comfort with any preexisting relationship you might have with them before agreeing to complete the review.
You can also query the editor regarding any hesitation you might have regarding whether a professional relationship would exclude one or more of your reviewers. As MIT Press puts it: “suggest a few [reviewers] and clarify your relationship (if any) with each person suggested.”
Other Peer Reviewers List FAQs
If the press does not specify, how many reviewers should I include?
Just like your “competing works” section, the acquisitions editor will use your suggested reviewers to get a sense of your book’s scholarly orbit, if not use authors you mention there as a source of peer reviewers outright.
Note MIT Press’s advice: “If the book has several distinct markets, try to recommend at least one reviewer for each.”
What about reviewers to I want to exclude?
Sometimes a press will also give you space to indicate reviewers you would like to exclude from the potential peer reviewer pool. Note: this is much more common for journal articles in the social sciences than it is for monographs.
There is an important distinction to be made here. This is the place to indicate reviewers who have proven their impartiality through open hostility toward your scholarship (or your mentor’s scholarship, if it heavily influenced your own). This is not the place to list of reviewers who you worry might disagree with your conclusions or take issue with how you analyze your evidence.
If given a place to exclude reviewers, should I list my dissertation committee and other scholars who have helped shape the project?
I wouldn’t unless the press specifically asks you to do so.
First, based on the information in your CV, the acquisitions editor should be able to exclude your dissertation committee and your current and recent former colleagues.
Others who have helped shape the project or offered substantial feedback on its contents will decline the invitation and the editor will move on to other reviewer candidates.
What should the actual list include?
If your press has specific submissions guidelines, please follow those. For instance, if the press asks for “names and contact information” only, follow those directions.
If not, here is a template:
Scholar Name, Title, Institution
Email, telephone number, address
[If and only if you believe your project makes interventions in multiple fields and your editor might not be knowledgeable about the scholarship in those fields, you might want to include a brief description of what expertise each scholar will contribute to the review of your project. I would not include this information unless the press asks for it or the reviewer might seem a strange choice to other scholars in your field. e.g. “Scholar’s recent book, Title, establishes her as a prominent thinker in (topic/scholarly commitment/corpus/field) and s/he is therefore well-positioned to evaluate my project’s contribution to (field).”]
[If applicable or requested by the press: Disclosure of prior relationship, e.g. “Scholar Name and I met at the [conference title/association name conference] in [year], where she saw me deliver a presentation based on material from my book’s fifth chapter. We have crossed paths at two additional conferences since then. She and I discussed the book project in general terms at the [year] [conference], but she has never read any of the manuscript.”]
Should I contact the reviewers in advance to ask if they’d be willing to serve or have the time?
No. You should indicate potential readers’ names to the press without contacting the readers directly. The press will ask for many more names than will actually serve as reviewers. That way, if the reader doesn’t feel qualified to assess the manuscript or is unwilling or unable to do so, they will tell the press so directly.
Indiana University Press puts it in no uncertain terms: “Please do not contact suggested reviewers yourself to ask if they would be willing to read your manuscript–this compromises the peer review process.”
Will all my peer reviewers come from the list I supply?
Not necessarily. Acquisitions editors for university presses are experts on your field’s book publishing landscape, so they will have their own ideas about which scholars would be suitable reviewers.
My press doesn’t ask for a list of potential reviewers. Should I supply one anyway?
Probably not, unless your press’s submission guidelines include a statement welcoming such suggestions like the University of Illinois Press language above.
Acquisitions editors already have a good sense of which scholars would be appropriate peer reviewers for your academic monograph, whether or not they ask for a list from you. They will typically consider authors you list in your proposal’s “competing titles” or “audience,” sections, as appropriate, to be top peer reviewer candidates. If, for some reason, the editor cannot find enough available, suitable reviewers, she will likely contact you and ask for suggestions at a later date.
My press’s proposal form did not ask for reviewers, and I did not offer any.
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