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How to respond to peer reviews of your book manuscript

Alex Holzman, director of Temple University Press, and Jessica Gribble, acquisitions editor at Lynne Rienner Publishers, share their advice on how to best handle the peer review process:

Don’t take it personally. “Remember that the purpose of this review is to help you make your manuscript the best work it can be,” said Gribble. Also, reading criticism, even constructive criticism, of something you’ve worked on for so long can be emotional, so it is wise to wait several days before discussing it with your editor.

Discuss the reviews with the right colleagues. “If you’re just kibitzing because your feelings are hurt, that’s not constructive,” said Gribble. “If you have a mentor or colleague who knows the project well, that person may help you come to terms with which things in the review deserve more attention, which are the most important changes to make.”

Reviews are not gospel. Nor is every piece of advice in every review. As with anything, said Holzman, some reviews are better than others. “You need to evaluate the overall quality of the review, and weigh the advice you’re given,” he said. “Conferring with your editor can help you decide what sort of revision makes the best sense.”

Create a written plan for revisions. “It is always helpful to call your editor and chat about what the revisions will look like,” said Gribble. However, writing things out is still beneficial, she said: “It creates a document you can refer to when you’re in the very dense middle of your revisions, so you don’t lose your way.” Such documents are also helpful for confirming you and the editor are on the same page about work to be done.

In case of rejection, strive to maintain professional relations. Sometimes, and much to everyone’s disappointment, poor peer reviews preclude publication. But that doesn’t have to mean the permanent severing of relations between author and editor or publisher. “I make an effort to be friendly and respectful even when I’m turning someone down,” said Gribble. “Just because you’ve done one project that doesn’t work for us, doesn’t mean that your next project isn’t going to work.”