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 the process of indicating potential reviewers to presses.
How to Make Your List of Potential Reviewers for Your 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 keynotes at multiple conferences and invited talks per year.)
Want a downloadable worksheet that walks you through how to identify possible reviewers? Enter your name and email in the box below and I’ll send it right to you!
Brainstorm Potential Reviewers for Your Book
Use the following list (or the downloadable worksheet above!) to brainstorm potential reviewers. Note that the reviewers you list for the press do not need to meet all the criteria below. Rather, this list is intended to help you generate a list of preliminary names.
Identify Reviewers with the Requisite Expertise
- 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?
- Think about your field(s). 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 but [author]
- “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 have at least one (ideally 2-3) reviewer(s) from each discipline who can make the statements outlined above.
Remove Impartial Reviewers
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 work 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 its chapters.
- 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
This is the tricky part: there are bound to be a bunch of people you’ve interacted with in various contexts that have varying degrees of impartiality.
Here are some scenarios that are likely fine:
- You have met that person at conferences and had a (or many) conversations with them, some of which might have included discussions about your book. However, they have never read portions of your book and their advice was limited to the conversations.
- They have seen you present portions of your book at a conference, but you have not engaged in sustained conversations that fundamentally shaped the project beyond the conferences.
- You have contributed to an edited volume they coordinated but they did not review or comment on work related to your book project. (You would likely want to disclose this.)
- You have served as the guest editor for a special issue in which they contributed. (You would likely want to disclose this).
Here are some scenarios beyond those listed above (diss committee, etc.) that are more problematic:
- The potential reviewer has played an integral role in helping you reshape the project into a monograph over a long (multi-year) period of time, whether in regular conversations or email exchanges.
- The person read multiple chapter and/or proposal drafts.
Remember that the reviewer will also have the opportunity to recuse herself if she does not feel she can remain impartial. That said, if you are unsure about whether the potential reviewer has sufficient impartiality, you can do one of two things:
- If you have established a relationship with the editor before you submit the list, you can write your editor to describe the type of prior relationship and ask her advice for the particular case.
- Disclose directly on the reviewer list any prior relationship with that scholar. As MIT Press puts it, “suggest a few [reviewers] and clarify your relationship (if any) with each person suggested.” The editor will be able to assess whether this constitutes a true conflict of interest before contacting the potential reviewer. This could be the best option if you have not already established a relationship with the editor when you are asked to submit the list.
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.
Note MIT Press’s advice: “If the book has several distinct markets, try to recommend at least one reviewer for each.”
What about The List of Potential Reviewers to Exclude?
Sometimes a press will also give you space to indicate reviewers you would like to exclude from the potential peer reviewer pool.
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).
However, there is an important distinction to be made here.
Your list of reviewers to exclude should not include scholars who you fear might disagree with your conclusions or might take issue with how you analyze your evidence.
Rather, this section is for reviewers who have openly demonstrated (perhaps by publicly publishing critical things about your work or by making public statements at conferences) they cannot review your scholarship impartially. In fact, listing more than one (maybe two) prominent scholars for this reason could be seen as a red flag for presses because it might give the appearance that your work openly antagonizes much of the existing scholarship, rather than engaging in/continuing scholarly discussions and building on previous work.
Should I List My Dissertation Committee and Other “Partial” Reviewer Candidates on the Reviewers to Exclude List?
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 (by excluding reviewers from the institution where you received your Ph.D.) 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
[Optional: If you believe your project makes interventions in multiple 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.”]
Email, telephone number, address
Should I Contact The Reviewers in Advance to Ask If They’d Be Willing to Serve As Reviewers?
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.”
Should I Contact The Reviewers in Advance to Ask If They’d Have The Time to Complete A Review?
No. See my answer to the previous question.
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.
MIT Press says that they will try to use at least one of your suggested reviewers, but that they make no promises to do so.
The University of Illinois Press, echoes this language: “Although we may or may not have occasion to use them, we welcome your suggestions of appropriate potential reviewers who would be in a position to provide an expert and impartial review of your manuscript.”
So does the University of California Press: “We will seek to use some of these, along with reviewers of our own selection.”
My Press Doesn’t Ask Me to List Potential Reviewers. Should I Do So 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. 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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