Every academic (or potential academic) quickly learns that the entire model of scholarship revolves around peer reviews and advisement. Often, there are informal versions of this: having one’s colleagues read essays or book chapters in an effort to improve them. Then, there’s the more formal version that takes place with publishing, where there exists a middleman – me (or someone like me).
The peer review system is central to the work I do. As an academic editor, I don’t do what you typically think an editor would – read manuscripts and suggest changes to authors. Given that academics write for a specialized, expert audience, it therefore takes specialized experts to comment intelligently on manuscripts. So, when I receive a manuscript from an author, I begin contacting relevant scholars to see if they’re have the time and interest in reading it. This involves a lot of cold-emailing people I don’t know, so I can’t be shy about it. It helps, though, that scholars expect to be contacted about such things as part of their line of work, and are usually quite polite about it. It also helps that they receive compensation for their work, should they decide to take on a review.
Once I’ve collected three reports on a manuscript, the editorial staff decides its fate based on the recommendations of the reviewers: to accept the manuscript for publication (often with revisions); to provisionally accept the manuscript, which usually means it will be peer reviewed again after revisions; or to reject it outright.
This is one of the points at which I flex my editorial muscles (as well as my diplomatic ones). It’s my job not only to communicate our decision to the author, but also to lay out what revisions we expect to see in the final manuscript. So although I only read reports on manuscripts, not the manuscripts themselves, I am responsible for relaying the concerns of the press to authors and coordinating the process of revision.
Academics love to talk about the “critical conversations” in their field. Working in academic publishing allows you to serve as a significant link enabling those conversations. The peer review process is essentially facilitating a (albeit anonymous) discussion to take place between experts in a field, connecting scholars who otherwise might not even know of each other’s work. Honestly, I think I’ve learned more about how academic work circulates and conversations evolve in the year I‘ve been in publishing than the seven or so I spent in graduate school.
Finally, I fibbed a little bit yesterday – I won’t be offering a sneak peek into my office today, but rather will save it for later in the week. As a follow up to Monday’s post, however, here’s a look at part of my commute:
This is a view from just outside the F train station, looking North down Jay street in Brooklyn. My building is the large white one, way down the end of the street, on the left.
Here’s the front door of 20 Jay Street, the biggest office building in the neighborhood! (I think):