Section 2

Selecting Peer Reviewers

Who is qualified to write peer reviews?

With the goal of soliciting feedback to help craft excellent books, AEs should choose reviewers for their expertise in the subject matter of each individual publishing project. Peer reviewers are most often established scholars with relevant expertise. Scholars who have published at least one relevant book (or have a book forthcoming) are preferred, although an extensive record of journal publications on relevant topics is acceptable. Some presses prefer tenured faculty; however, with an increasing number of scholars in nontenured or contingent positions, or in other types of work entirely, this requirement may no longer be practical or desirable. It is also important to note that in some disciplines or areas of study, the leading thinkers are often still early career faculty. When reviewing a project intended for course adoption, extensive teaching experience at the level of the book’s intended audience may be more pertinent than publication record or tenure. Journalists, civil servants and elected officials, professional writers, activists, and artists and other respected authorities outside the academy with relevant experience can also be used as peer reviewers in certain circumstances. The AE should be ready to speak to a reader’s expertise as needed to the faculty board, author, or press colleagues.

AEs should prioritize soliciting reviews from scholars representing diverse perspectives and positions. Employing a diverse set of reviewers goes hand in hand with creating a more equitable and inclusive publishing environment for authors by addressing scholarly publishing’s historic exclusion of scholars from marginalized backgrounds, as well as actively supporting work that challenges dominant perspectives and disciplinary paradigms. However, AEs should be aware that underrepresented groups within the academy are often overtaxed by service commitments, and should be prepared to ask more people, give more time for conducting reviews, and generally accommodate the needs of readers.

The peer review process is a collective effort that draws on the expertise of reviewers, AEs, series editors, faculty boards, and the press as a whole. Although the unique expertise of underrepresented scholars can be important to this process, it is not a substitute for the AE’s own judgment and responsibility for identifying potential biases, gaps in citations, or otherwise problematic material. AEs may want to consult resources on bias in peer review, such as “Anti-racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices: A Heuristic for Editors, Reviewers, and Authors.”

The peer review process also plays a critical role in building an AE’s advisory and author network. As such, AEs may also consider soliciting feedback from readers who might help promote the book later or adopt it for courses or who might themselves be potential press authors.

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Where do AEs find appropriate peer reviewers? Are suggestions from authors acceptable?

Resource Note: AUPresses members can access a list of discipline-specific and community-created resources for finding scholars and subject experts in AE Resources on UP Commons.

A vital part of the AE’s role is to develop a robust network of advisors. (See Who is qualified to write peer reviews?) The AE’s reviewer selection process may be informed by, but should be independent of, suggestions from the author. An author’s suggestions may alert AEs to other experts in the field or signal an author’s conception of their ideal reader. If authors ask that some scholars not be approached to review the manuscript because of intellectual differences or potential biases (e.g., those based on positionality, identity, or the material being reviewed), the AE may wish to abide by the request but is not obligated to do so. The author’s list of potential reviewers or veto of others can reveal conceptual or disciplinary boundaries of the author’s work, highlight conflicts of interest the AE is not aware of, or flag reviewer directions that might be problematic. (See What should an AE do about a problematic or biased report?)

Similarly, suggestions from trusted advisors, such as other press authors in the field, faculty board members, and series editors, can be helpful. Still, a degree of independence and evaluation by the AE is crucial. Other authors can have their own priorities and biases and although these are rarely consciously manipulative, they can have a disproportionate influence on the verdict emerging through peer review.

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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?

AEs should be attentive to the possible tension between the role of series editors as champions of work cultivated for their series and their role as potential peer reviewers. The simplest way to avoid this tension is to commission at least two peer reviewers and to ask the series editor to offer an assessment of the reviews along with summary comments on a project’s potential fit with the series. A series editor’s role ideally is to commission, vet, and possibly help develop projects. The series editor often comments on a project via a letter of endorsement, which will have a different status in the faculty board’s approval process than a full, independent peer review will have. If an AE asks a series editor to provide an endorsement it may be the deciding factor when outside reviewers do not agree on a project’s merits.

There may be times when it is appropriate for an AE to ask a series editor or a member of a series editorial board to provide a peer review. Different presses may have different policies about using series editors or members of a series editorial board as peer reviewers. The AE should be careful to avoid conflict of interest when asking series editors to serve as reviewers and such a review ought to be balanced by at least one external reader.

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What constitutes a conflict of interest that would prevent someone from acting as peer reviewer?

AEs should steer clear of relatives, existing or previous connections by marriage or serious relationship, and an author’s dissertation advisor. Best practice also dictates avoiding reports from colleagues at the same institution, members of the author’s dissertation committee, members of the author’s graduate student cohort, and close friends or collaborators. There are myriad gray areas that may require further discussion; the enlistment of former or preexisting collaborators, such as volume coeditors or paper coauthors, for example, should be weighed carefully. Best practice is to err on the side of avoiding conflict or the perception of conflict. In certain circumstances exceptions may be made in consultation with the AE’s supervisor.

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