Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Publishing Travails

I'm not sure if I've talked about it much on here before but I am working with the University of Tennessee Press on a few projects. I'm not going to discuss projects on here in any sort of detail, a little tip a published friend of mine gave me. Yesterday I got back the second review of my Shiloh manuscript and it was pretty negative. This was not really a surprise as I had talked with the publisher the week before and he had already given me the recap. So even though I knew it was going to be negative I'm still a bit bummed and not in the mood to do much of a post today.

What really is the difficult part of this is that in the packet was another review, it actually was that reviewer's second review of the manuscript. And his review was extremely positive. He had a few changes to make, mostly it was about things that I'm pretty sure are not public knowledge but that he knew from his own research. And that's fine, I'm all for making changes and tweaking things. But the second reviewer's comments and changes were basically a complete overhaul of the manuscript, changing what it was all about. He was envisioning a completely different book than what I was working on. Plus some of things that had been added because of comments from the first reviewer were not liked by the second reviewer. Not sure how I would change those. Both reviewers have solid reputations, the first reviewer does have quite a bit more published, so its not clear cut whose comments should get precedence.

Plus some of his comments were essentially lies, he said I would not be able to use a particular map and said that since I wouldn't be able to use it the whole manuscript seemed plagiarised. I actually know the mapmaker and have his permission to use his map with some alterations we discussed. So I knew I was on solid ground but the reviewer had no idea of this arrangement and instead of just pointing out that permission would need to be granted he said that he knew I wouldn't get that permission. So that was very annoying. Go ahead and tell me where the facts are wrong, or what interpretations you don't agree with, but don't make up stuff.

Also the way he was talking about the book he envisioned it made me wonder if he hasn't already thought of something along these lines, that maybe his negative reaction was partly fueled in response to someone else beating him to the punch on one of his ideas. I just have a hard time believing that my manuscript was as bad as he says after reading the two reviews from the first reviewer, plus comments from my publisher. Those other reviews and comments were pretty positive, in fact the first reviewer's recommendation was to go ahead and publish the manuscript with or without his most recent comments. So to then see the other reviewer say to never publish it seems quite odd. One of the reviewers is wrong, of course my instinct is that the favorable reviewer was right.

In any case the manuscript is dead for now. I'll probably rework it down the road but not for awhile. That also means I will most likely need to find a different publisher for this project. UT is still interested in some of my other projects so I don't need a new publisher for everything. Just another part of the up and down world of publishing.


Eric Wittenberg said...


I feel your pain.

If I may be so bold, please keep in mind that there ARE other publishers out there that are not university presses.....

Good luck with it, and don't give up.


Nick said...

Yeah I completely understand there being other publishers out there. I started with UT because my buddy, Matt Spruill, provided the introduction there. Matt has worked with them on 3 or 4 projects now so he had a good recommendation. I still like UT, its just that this project will probably have to be printed elsewhere. Once I do some revisions I'll shop it around again and see what some other publishers think.

Drew W. said...

I know nothing of your own situation of course, but the CW publishing world certainly can be one of jealously guarded pet theories, the knee jerk defense of which can make even the most reputable scholars look bad.

My question is, is it common practice for the manuscript reviewers to also get the complete notes and comments from the other reviewers? I would have thought comments would be independent, then bones of contention would be handled by the editor and author. The benefits of reviewing the reviewer can certainly be ruined by the kind of territorialism that is worsened by making you the unwitting beach ball bounced between the competing views of two different reviewers. Seems kind of unfair.

Nick said...

No the two reviewers have no idea what the other wrote, I guess I didn't make that clear earlier. Unless of course they chatted about it on their own. These two guys do know each other but as far as I know have not discussed the project with each other. The review form might say they can't discuss it with others. I find it amazing that two reviewers can have such different views on some of the simpler things (writing style, format, etc). I expect there to be differences in interpretation.

dw said...


Sort of following up on what Drew said, I was surprised that it sounds like you know the identities of the readers (their publishing experience, etc.). In my experience with a university press, it was strictly verboten for the author of a manuscript to be told who had critiqued it (though a reader might volunteer that information on his own). It would be hard to hire candid readers if they thought their colleagues might hold it against them.

Nice blog, by the way.


Nick said...

The reviewer, at least at UT, has the option to make their identity known. Both of mine allowed it to be known. My buddy Matt has said that about 3/4 of his reviewers allow their identity to be known. I think its a good idea because if you have two different suggestions from reviwers you could compare their reputation and background to help figure out who is maybe better to answer it. In my case both are Shiloh experts so there is no clear cut distinction there.