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05/06/2020

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Author, King of the Britons

I am generally in agreement with Marcus. I find reading book manuscripts demanding. They take a lot of time. I just did one recently, and I spent too much time on it. But I think I offered very good advice on how to improve it, and my sense was the press was already committed to publishing it.
There is one type of situation where I have spent tons of time on a book manuscript. A very good academic friend had a manuscript on a topic I am actively engaged in. My friend's manuscript was very engaging to read, but it was also very long. I read it with great care, catching very small things, like typos. But it paid off. It is now in print, and it is a very good book.

Malcolm

I think it's worth distinguishing between two jobs you could take on as you are reading a book for a press: focusing on the content (like a journal referee) and focusing on suitability for audience (like a book review writer might).

The first task is more familiar to most of us: think about whether the argument is good, and why, consider the book's contribution to the broader literature, and so on.

The second task is less familiar, perhaps, but important for the publisher: put yourself in the position of the audience the writer is trying to reach, and see what you can do to help them do that.

I think these are importantly different, because a book could have excellent argumentative features, but be organized in a way that's terrible for its intended audience. Thinking about intended audience--which hopefully the writer has made explicit somewhere--may mean you suggest additions like glossaries, context-setting discussions, and so on.

The most helpful feedback I've gotten on book manuscripts (two now) has integrated these the two aspects, and helped me consider how my arguments could successfully take the reader along with me. But this takes more time than just thinking about what you, and individual referee thinks about the arguments, since it requires putting yourself in the minds of some different readers.

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