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I've reviewed a few book manuscripts and proposals and found it helpful for my own book projects. It's also helped me in writing book reviews, as well as generally thinking about what kinds of projects I'm undertaking, for whom, and why. It does take time to do well, but I don't see that it is a negative for junior people, especially if you're considering writing a book.

First, as Marcus notes, book publishers often give you a template to complete to help you with the reviewing process. If they don't give you one, I'd ask specifically what they want you to focus on.

Second, the publisher will be in a better position to know whether the book will sell, but you can speak to whether you, or people you know, would buy the book, and for what purposes (for research, for classroom use--and which courses/levels).

Third, I think there's an important difference between book manuscript reviewing and article reviewing. While you want to evaluate the argument and other aspects of its content, you are also thinking about why this book should exist out in the world, and for what purpose. This is audience-relative in a way that is less in the foreground for articles (where the focus is mostly on whether the paper makes true claims or plausible arguments).

Hopefully the book is clear about who it's for and what it's doing. If not, that's important to note. And once you understand the audience and the book's goals, I think it's important to keep those in mind as you review. (I.e. don't evaluate an introductory primer the way you would an advanced independent treatment of a topic, or vice versa.)

Finally, as for copy editing, don't waste your time on that, but you can certainly flag repeated kinds of issues (grammar, cumbersome style) which a copy editor and the author will need to be on the lookout for. Copy editors don't catch everything, and the author will have a chance to make revisions before they submit the final version.


Absolutely do not spend time on copy editing a book manuscript that you are reviewing. The good presses pay someone to do that.
You should comment on the substance, structure, and importance of the book.

Kian Mintz-Woo

OP here. Thanks for your time and thoughts (and for posting this Marcus!) In case people are interested, I have ultimately decided to review the proposal/manuscript. It was recommended to me to think of it mostly as service to the profession, but I also liked the editor's email approach, am quite interested in the book's topic (and am well-placed to review it in terms of expertise) and potentially would like to work with this press in the future. Hope this thread can help others too!

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