Best Practices for Peer Review
Sharing Peer Reviews with Authors
- How should an AE handle split or negative reviews?
- Is a formal response from the author to the reviews necessary in every case? If not, what are the exceptions?
- How much help should an AE offer in guiding an author’s response to readers' reports?
- When is it appropriate for the AE’s vision for a project to take precedence over reviewers’ suggestions about desirable revisions?
- What is the best course of action if an author refuses to write a formal response to peer reviews or writes something obviously inadequate?
Reviews don’t always lead to a clear positive or negative decision. If peer reviewers’ views diverge and a third party, such as a series editor, isn’t available to assess and advise on the difference of opinion (see If a project is intended for a series, can or should the series editor (or one of the series editors) act as a peer reviewer? above), a useful first step is for the AE to discuss the reports with the author or request a preliminary written response to the reviews to see how an author assimilates and addresses the feedback. A commanding author response can make a very compelling case to pursue a project further, even in the face of strong criticism. The AE may solicit another review; invite the author to revise and resubmit and then send the project out to be reviewed again; or, in some circumstances, proceed to the faculty board for final approval on the strength of the one supportive review and the author’s thoughtful and thorough response. The last option is most likely when a series editor or a faculty board member can also be called upon to weigh in on or contextualize the reviews as well as to offer their view of the project’s merits.
If both reviews are overtly negative but the AE feels the project is still viable, he or she may craft a plan with the author for revisions that would enable further consideration. However, the AE should be very clear with the author about the time frame and the likelihood of eventual publication.
With some exceptions, a formal response from the author should be solicited before a project is taken to the faculty board for approval. Occasional exceptions include cases where the reports are strong, the project is competitive, and the press must move quickly.
The author, ultimately, is responsible for his or her response, but most authors benefit from the AE’s guidance in the content and tenor of the response. The AE should help the author write a response that offers a strategy for revision and addresses the reviewers’ criticisms in a productive fashion. The AE should highlight the sections in the peer reviews that need to be addressed and that will likely be of most concern to the press and the faculty board.
Sometimes the press and author’s vision of a work does not align with that of reviewers. For example, a more scholarly reviewer may recommend expanding the reference or scholarly apparatus of a trade book. Or a reviewer might argue for a topic that is beyond the scope of the project to be covered. In such instances, the path forward should involve discussions between the AE and author, who ultimately will need to agree on an ideal structure for the work informed by the press’s expectations. We recommend letting reviewers know if their advice is not followed to avoid concerns raised on receipt of the published book.
If the author does not agree with elements of a review, he or she needs to be prepared to make a compelling case for his or her preferred approach. AEs should pay careful attention to the way in which authors frame their decision not to heed some of the reviewers’ suggestions.
It is rare for an author who is serious about publishing a book with a university press to refuse the opportunity to respond to peer reviews. If an author does refuse, the AE should reassess his or her working relationship with the author and may even decline publication on these grounds. If the response is inadequate but the AE is still interested in the book, he or she should work with the author to improve the response.
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