Dreaming of You, Peer Review

The other night, after I finally managed to get to sleep, I found myself trapped in yet another stress induced nightmare. These happen to me frequently, but this was my first which concretely focused upon my dread of the peer review process.

As you now know, my manuscript has finally been submitted for peer review. This means that, before it is published, my editor courts a number of prominent scholars in fields related to the topic of the book in order to illicit their feedback, critiques, and general opinions of the text. In this way, I have another opportunity to improve the quality of my work and fill any remaining holes in my argument. However, this is a single-blind review process. This means that, unlike a double-blind process where I don’t know who the peer reviewers are and they don’t know who I am, in this situation, I will never know precisely who the peer reviewers of my book are (though I did get to offer a list of suggestions), but they will all know who I am, allowing them to Google, Facebook, Linked In, WordPress — do any sort of research they like upon me (and thereby, undoubtedly, figure out that I have not even completed my MA degree yet). Nevertheless, though it does worry me some that they will be privy to my general inexperience, I do think that a single-blind review seems to show a bit greater an appreciation for the reviewers. After all, if I were a reviewer in a double-blind situation, I would probably wonder why it was that I couldn’t know the author; what are they hiding about themselves and why?

At any rate, in my dream my editor sent me an email in which he essentially wrote: Well, of all the reviewers we worked with, this is all they ended up sending back —

And while I cannot remember the precise words of what came next, I remember that on the page, floating there like haughty ghosts, were five single words, not in any particular order, not forming any sort of a complete thought, but all, definitely and intensely negative.

I think this is the dread probably felt by most people when they’ve finally hit ‘Send’ and shot their hard work out into the ether to be judged and picked through, as if you’ve suddenly died in some grizzly way and detectives from some cop show go rummaging about your things throwing out quippy, insensitive remarks about how ugly your wardrobe is or how ill-kept your pantry appears or why anyone would ever eat Marshmallow Fluff or listen to John Denver (whom I happen to love and adore!).

Anyway, it is a part of the academic publishing process, and one which has to be swallowed at some point, like it or not. Of course, that next day I ran into a pal of mine at our University Writing Center (where we both work as graduate consultants) and he told me that I had inspired him to take time off between his MA and PhD to write his own academic piece — totally independent of the academic institution! And while I remain on the fence about the PhD generally, I find myself incredibly excited — perhaps I’m just channeling Ginsberg too directly here — about bucking the system and taking control of our own scholarship, learning for ourselves, and putting our ideas out there without the arbitrary editing of the old guard.

What do you think? Do you fear or embrace the thrill of editing, critiques, and tough reviews?


First, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to Beat poet Gary Snyder! Bon Anniversaire!

The Writer’s Almanac (APM) had this to say:

“It’s the birthday of poet Gary Snyder (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1930). He’s associated with the Beat Generation and read at the famous Six Gallery Reading in 1955, when Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” for the first time. Most of the Beats were city kids, and they found Snyder fascinating because he grew up in the woods of Washington and Oregon, was interested in nature, and had worked as a logger, a seaman, and a fire lookout. He was a student of anthropology and Asian culture, a dedicated Zen Buddhist, and an ecological poet. Lawrence Ferlinghetti called him ‘The Thoreau of the Beat Generation.’

Snyder has lived in the same house since 1970. The house was built by hand on a 100-acre plot of land in California’s Sierra Nevada. ‘We built it with a crew of boys and girls who were almost all in their first year out of college, without any construction experience of any kind, all with hand tools and no electricity,’ Snyder said. ‘Everyone was working, cleaning, cooking, and learning equally. The subtext is that the ’60s sometimes worked.'”

I would also like to announce that I have officially submitted Howling to my peer reviewers! I am both terrified and exhilarated by this feeling (although mostly terrified — there is so much work left and that could have been done!) Of course, there is always more work that could be done; we must let our babies fly at some point, like it or not.

It ended up being approximately 72,000 words in length (80,000 with the bibliography and end notes included), which seems to hit a sweet spot for my editor, so at least we have that going for us :]

Now we move onto the dreaded peer review process! I was able to create a short list of potential peer reviewers who I thought would be good eyes and minds for the task and now it is up to my editor to select the final group. I am told I will hear back from these masked reviewers within the next month or so — my best case scenario at this point seems to be, they rip my book a new one but they find the ideas to be of quality and interest.

I feel a bit adrift, I must admit, not having the manuscript under my careful control and supervision any longer. I haven’t felt this way in over year, not since I submitted the short version as my undergraduate thesis before a committee of professors. They were kinder than they should have been, perhaps, but also relayed a great deal of incredibly useful feedback. Academic writing is definitely a beast of a different color but, as with all writing, it can only be improved through the honest, critical feedback of others who care about you (the author) and the integrity of the work in question.

I hope all is well with you, yours, and your writing. Don’t let tough feedback keep you from marching forward! Take it as a gift and strap it to your tool belt.

all my best vibes,