Section 4

Sharing Peer Reviews with Authors

How should an AE handle split or negative reviews?

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 compelling case to pursue a project further, even in the face of strong criticism. The AE may solicit a review from a third reader; 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 own view of the project’s merits.

If both reviews are overtly negative but the AE feels the project is still viable, they 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.

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Is a formal response from the author to the reviews necessary in every case? If not, what are the exceptions?

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.

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Is it okay for the AE to edit the readers’ reports before sharing them with the author?

The AE may decide to edit readers’ reports for a variety of reasons including but not limited to clarifying language or correcting typos, removing statements about publishing model or pricing, ensuring reader anonymity, or even, in rare situations, to adjust unduly aggressive language, making sure to retain the substance of the reader report. In doing so, the AE should use their best judgment, possibly in consultation with their editorial director.

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How much help should an AE offer in guiding an author’s response to readers’ reports?

The author, ultimately, is responsible for their 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 productively. The AE should highlight the sections in the peer reviews that need to be addressed and that likely will be of most concern to the press and the faculty board. The AE should offer the author guidance on the readership for the response (e.g., internally for contract request, the faculty board, the reviewers.)

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When is it appropriate for the AE’s vision for a project to take precedence over reviewers’ suggestions about desirable revisions?

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 the author, and, when appropriate, a series editor, who ultimately will need to agree on an ideal structure for the work informed by the press’s or the faculty board’s expectations.

If the author does not agree with elements of a review, they need to be prepared to make a compelling case for their preferred approach. AEs should pay careful attention to how authors frame their decision not to heed some of the reviewers’ suggestions.

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What is the best course of action if an author refuses to write a formal response to peer reviews or writes something obviously inadequate?

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 their 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, they should work with the author to revise the response.

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