Writing a book: the reviewers’ revisions step

This week is the spring equinox. Here in Virginia the temperatures have risen appropriately. At times it’s warm enough that breezes are welcome, rather than chilling. Some first flowers are daring to blossom.

purple flower in March

Meanwhile, I received reviews on my next book’s manuscript and thought this might be another good time to explain a bit about the scholarly publishing process from an author’s point of view. It’s one author’s perspective, of course, an n of one, so be sure to bear in mind other stories as well as your own situation.

A few months ago I turned the manuscript for Universities on Fire over to my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press.  That was a single Google Doc with about 69,000 words and a small stack of embedded images.  (I say “about 69,000 words” because I hadn’t formatted the end notes properly. When that’s done it’ll add to the total.)

It’s a weird, almost dizzying feeling to do this.  I’ve done it four times before, not counting my dissertation, and each time there’s a big swoop of tangled-up emotions.  Pride, at having written such a chunk of text. Dread at what people might think of it.  Nervous energy, once I think of errors to correct and stuff to add. And some relief at having reached this stage of the publication process.

Next, my hard-working and excellent editor read the manuscript (“ms”) and gave me feedback. Then he sent the ms out to some reviewers. These are people with academic experience in the book’s field, who promise to read and review the book carefully.  I cannot learn their names, in order to preserve their ability to comment without blowback.  What I do see is their feedback.

That translates into a small stack of pdfs, largely consisting of answers to a shared questionnaire from the publisher. Questions are good and basic, probing into the quality and market viability of the ms. They leave plenty of room for reviewers to analyze the text, dive deeply into specific issues or passages, to point to better arguments, to call for reorganization, to recommend not publishing, and a lot more.

So now I have to address these reviews, revising that big Word Doc into version 2.0.  There are passages to cut, others to expand. There are additional sources to include. Two chapters in particular need some overhauling. In most chapters I need to revise paragraphs and add subheaders in order to make the big points more clear. Adding a chart and/or infographic might be useful along those lines. There are technical details to correct. One theme to really draw out. And also parts of the ms to leave alone as unremarked by the reviewers.

I also get to work in the stuff I’ve been thinking of and researching since I turned in version 1.0.  The topic of climate change is obviously one that’s developing rapidly and deeply.  Higher ed’s response is far less so, but is occurring, and there is always more to find out on that score.

Next up? After some week of intense writing I forward the new ms to the publisher. Then they determine if v 2.0 is improved enough to move on to the next stage.  That’s copy editing, page layout, creating cover art, checking image permissions, building a proper index, and more.  But first, I have to revise like mad to get there.

Throughout this process my publisher is a fine presence and resource.  My editor is a terrific person with a deft touch, a keen eye, and a very needed sense of humor. Other staff are wrangling a bunch of other functions, from copyright to marketing.  Writing can be a very isolating experience, but not with comrades like these.  My thanks to the Johns Hopkins crew.

Now – back to writing!


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One Response to Writing a book: the reviewers’ revisions step

  1. Dahn Shaulis says:

    Bryan, I hope you will include a timeline of research on climate change and its effects: when researchers found that it would lead to widespread drought and wildfires, famine, disease, more destructive hurricanes, conflicts and wars. Obviously, US higher education has been complicit in the global trauma that is bound to occur.

    “In the mid-1980s, the scientific and academic communities began to produce the first looks at the growing risks of climate change for international security. These assessments included the risks of extreme weather events, impacts on food production and the availability of water resources, rising sea level, and dramatic changes in the Arctic, including access to northern energy resources (see, for example Gleick, 1988, 1989a, 1989b, 1989a; Myers, 1986; Ullman, 1983; Westing, 1986).”




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