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Ask an Editor: Suggesting Reviewers

Ilana Gershon asked seven editors for their insights on questions that authors commonly ask.  Five are press editors (Berghahn, Chicago, Indiana, Princeton, Stanford) and two are series editors.  This month’s column explores the following question:

How should authors think about potential reviewers to suggest to presses?

Fred Appel: Suggestions of qualified potential peer reviewers from the author are always welcome. (At least I welcome them.) Make sure that you don’t suggest the names of anyone who served on your dissertation committee, anyone who presently works at your institution, or anyone who is a close personal friend.

Jennika Baines: The more suggestions you can offer, the better. The reviewers will almost certainly need to have published their own books. This is because that experience will give them a better understanding of what is feasible in the revision process and what kinds of concerns might need to be addressed before publication. While it’s great to suggest the big names in the field, it’s also helpful to have someone who has published relatively recently, because they’re more likely to be aware of current work. It’s also important to be aware of representing a multiplicity of voices (genders, ethnicities, abilities, even nationalities). If your manuscript is interdisciplinary, reflect that in your reader suggestions, too. You should not suggest anyone who is in your current or former departments or who served on your committee. Also, I think it’s fair to offer suggestions of those whose opinion might, for one reason or another, be less valuable to you, that is, who the editor should not ask.

Berghahn Books: Listing all your friends is not helpful! You want someone in the field from whom your text draws or engages with or a colleague working on complementary topics—this could be colleagues you encountered at conferences or scholars whose work you drew from during your own research. Think of the person who would be asked to review your book for a scholarly journal in your field—that is the person you want to have review your manuscript so that you can preempt any critiques and incorporate that feedback—or glowing praise—to make your published book all the stronger.

Dominic Boyer: You are looking for respected scholars in your field at the associate professor level or above. They shouldn’t be former or current advisors, but leveraging your network of professional relationships is always wise.

Alessandro Duranti: Given the variation about this, I suggest asking the Press whether they welcome suggestions. If they say that they do, I would give two or three names maximum. If one offers too many names, it makes it difficult for the Press to find reviewers that were not suggested by the author.

Michelle Lipinski: Do. Not. Suggest. Dissertation. Advisors.

Suggest potential reviewers who themselves have published within the area that you plan to contribute to—in short, reviewers who would be able to critically and constructively assess your project. Reviewers can be people you’ve met, or who may know about your work already, but they must be able to agree to provide a fair assessment. I would avoid suggesting co-authors or peers from your PhD cohort. I may not engage your suggestions, but they are helpful in guiding me. I prefer to find readers that represent a cross section of the intended readership, to see how readers from different areas of expertise relate to the material. I expect our reviewers not only to be book authors, but also authors of a similar style of book—trade authors review trade books, monograph authors review monographs, and so on. It’s always about maintaining a careful balance across and among various criteria when selecting readers.

Priya Nelson: This is an important question. The editorial relationship is built on trust. The most common way for an author to undermine that trust is to recommend close friends or colleagues as readers. Taking this approach means that the editor simply has to spend more time investigating conflicts of interest and is more likely to abandon an author’s list of suggested readers altogether. At Chicago, we do not turn to readers who are at the same institution as the author, colleagues from graduate school, former or current mentors, or close personal friends. Readers should have either geographic or thematic competence relevant to the manuscript. Most editors will try to strike a balance. So, be honest. Feel free to give the editor a list of 7-8 potential readers, and note if they are already familiar with the work to some extent. And then, trust the editor to find people up to the task.

Fred Appel is executive editor and acquisitions editor for anthropology and religion at Princeton University Press.

Jennika Baines is an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press, who acquires books in global and international studies, anthropology, Middle East studies, and Russian and East European studies.

Berghahn Books—answers were co-authored by Miriam Berghahn, Vivian Berghahn, and Chris Chappell, all press editors at Berghahn.

Dominic Boyer is a professor at Rice University and edits a series for Cornell University Press, Expertise: Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge.

Alessandro Duranti is a professor at UCLA and the series editor for the Oxford Series in the Anthropology of Language.

Michelle Lipinski is an editor at Stanford University Press who acquires books for their anthropology and law lists.

Priya Nelson is an editor at the University of Chicago Press where she acquires books in anthropology and history.

Cite as: Gershon, Ilana. “Suggesting Reviewers.” Anthropology News website, September 12, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.962