What is the peer review process for books?

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The Source
By: Penny Freedman, Tue Sep 20 2016
Penny Freedman

Author: Penny Freedman

It’s important to remember that peer review is not only a vital part of the publishing process for journals, but for books as well. Our Palgrave Macmillan titles go through a rigorous review process. We asked Shaun Vigil, Editor of Film, Cultural, and Media Studies in Palgrave Macmillan’s New York office to shine light on what the peer review process looks like for books.

By: Shaun Vigil

Peer review is the foundation upon which all quality academic book publishing is built. However, many aspects of the peer review process remain opaque to authors. Using Palgrave Macmillan’s editorial standards as an example, let’s address a few frequently asked questions.

Will I have a say in who evaluates my materials?

At Palgrave, editors always request that authors include a list of potential peer reviewers with their materials. This is essential, as it affords authors the chance to identify a core group of scholars that they view as most qualified to comment on their work. It is paramount to provide authors a voice in determining fair readership in their process. That said, editors may or may not select readers from the suggestion list. Often, the list may serve as a frame of reference to assist the editor in determining which school of scholars the project broadly engages with, what sorts of existing works the proposed work might be evaluated against, and what primary research questions the author seeks to answer.

How do editors determine who to contact for peer review?

Editors assess the suitability of different potential readers from a combination of the suggested reviewer list, their own networks, and independent research on specialists in the field. After weighing the strengths of each potential reviewer, editors contact academics with a hope of finding a balance between efficiency, quality of report, and mixture of approaches. In particular, interdisciplinary texts will often require readers from across the methodological and topical spectrum. More than anything, editors seek to place the materials with readers that will be able to offer honest critical assessments in hopes of seeing that even the best proposal or manuscript reaches its full potential.

What do editors do while my materials are out for review?

Once placed with readers, editors work to ensure that peer reviewers have all of the necessary materials needed to draft a fulsome evaluation. Editors also see that the process remains on schedule, sending reminders to peer reviewers and checking in their progress Where issues may arise, editors keep the author informed of the process and work to see that alternative arrangements are made in good order.

Will I have an opportunity to respond to the reader reports?

Once the reader reports arrive, editors anyonymize the evaluations and send them on to the author. The author then drafts a response to the criticisms included in the reports. While the author need not agree with all points raised by readers, the author is encouraged to detail how positions and arguments will be shored up in the revision process.

What comes after the peer review process, and how does it play a role in the next steps?

Once the reader reports and the author’s response are in hand, the editor and author discuss whether the best course of action will be to encourage a revise and resubmit process or to proceed to the Press Board for contract consideration. If the former, the editor details what sort of revisions might be needed after considering the reports and coordinates with the author on a resubmission timeline. When the new materials arrive, the editor may contact some number of the original readers or might work to place the materials with new readers or a combination thereof. If the latter, the editor will compile the materials for consideration and will present them before the Board. Once the decision is in, the author will be contacted and contract terms will be discussed.

What is a clearance review?

Depending on the first stages of review, some books may undergo a clearance review once the final manuscript arrives. The clearance review is typically performed by one of the original reviewers of the work. This is standard practice for books accepted for contract based on proposals with sample material, but may also occur for some books accepted for contract based on full manuscripts.

Interested in peer reviewing for books? 
Check-out this advice on best practices in the Mid-Career’s Scholars’ Hub.

Featured image: Desktop Sketching by Eric Heupel. CC 2.0 via Flickr.

Penny Freedman

Author: Penny Freedman

Penny Freedman is a Marketing Manager on the Author Experience & Services team, based in the New York office. She works closely on sharing insight and guidance on the benefits and services available to our editors, reviewers, and authors.

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