Kevin Levin has an interesting post on his blog today expressing his preference for university press books since they utilize an anonymous peer review process. He asked what some of the smaller independents such as Ironclad Publishing, Savas-Beatie, and White Mane do in the way of peer review.
Let me begin by saying that White Mane does none. As it is not much more than a subsidy press, they will publish anything that comes in the door, usually without even copy editing the books. That’s why White Mane has such an atrocious reputation. I might add that the company’s atrocious reputation is richly deserved.
I also want to address the question of university press peer review. I’ve had four books published by university presses, so I have some experience with the process. For the most part, that was a good experience. Most of the feedback that I got was useful, corrected factual errors, and generally made the books better. However, some of it was completely useless to me. The stuff that I’ve had published by university presses has been editing someone else’s words, and my object has always been to remain as faithful as possible to those words. Suggestions like adding discussion about impact on civilians, slaves, etc., are totally useless to me for a variety of reasons.
First, and foremost, the so-called “new military history” holds little interest for me. As a general statement, I couldn’t care less about the impact on civilians, slaves, etc., unless that impact affected the outcome of the battle. Not being an academic historian, I don’t have to bow at the feet of that particular golden calf, and I decline to do so. As a general statement, social history holds very, very little interest for me, so I choose not to deal with it unless it really is important to what I’m doing. To some extent, I have to deal with some of this in my Dahlgren bio, so to the extent that it’s necessary to tell the story, I am doing so. But, that’s the exception and not the rule.
Second, the other issue with academic peer review is that it perpetuates a tendency toward continuing to churn out books that are of little interest to anyone other than those with a heavy academic bent. It’s groupthink. If the manuscript doesn’t fit the template for the “new military history” (whatever that is), then it will be rejected. Thus, the tendency in the university presses is to perpetuate the unhappy tendency to downplay military history in favor of social history.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Frank O’Reilly’s wonderful campaign study of the Fredericksburg Campaign, published by LSU, comes to mind. It’s a very traditional campaign study that is almost purely military history, and I loved it. The same holds true for all four of Gordon Rhea’s terrific books on the Overland Campaign, all also published by LSU, and all of which are very traditional military history studies. Likewise, Ken Noe’s excellent book on the Battle of Perryville, published by the University of Kentucky Press, also comes to mind. It’s also a much more traditional military history. My work is heavy on tactics and extremely light on social history. That means that, by definition, it’s not well suited to a university press. Our cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign study will only include as much social history as is absolutely necessary to address the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, but that will be the extent of the social history. The rest will be pure, traditional military history.
Having said all of that, I will now share my answers to Kevin’s questions.
With Ironclad, peer review of manuscripts is one of my primary responsibilities within the company.
I can tell you without any hesitation whatsoever that nothing we publish goes out without extensive peer review. With respect to Gettysburg stuff, I typically handle that myself, as I have 35+ years of study into the battle. I’ve literally read hundreds of books on the subject, and I’ve spent countless days walking the field. I think I can safely say that I know as much about Gettysburg as anyone out there claiming to be an expert. If it’s something that I don’t feel comfortable with, I certainly know enough people to find someone. My East Cavalry Field manuscript was reviewed by Scott Hartwig.
For things non-Gettysburg, we pay someone who is an expert to give me a detailed review, usually done anonymously. The Averasboro book was reviewed by Mark Bradley, who is THE authority on the Carolinas Campaign.
We have one book in the production queue on cavalry operations in the Chickamauga Campaign. I have only a passing knowledge of this subject, so we paid an authority on the campaign to review and comment on the manuscript (I told this person I would not identify him, so I can’t name him here. Suffice it to say that he’s one of the top five or six experts on the battle).
Our copy editor at Ironclad is an expert on the Civil War in his own right. He’s extremely knowledgeable, and he frequently catches things. Likewise, we use Lee Merideth to do our indexing, and Lee also catches things. Finally, I do the final read–mostly a proofread–before the work goes to the printer, and I occasionally find things even at that late stage in the process.
Between the readers, the editor, the indexer, and finally me, the likelihood of something other than a small error getting by all of us are pretty small.
I can also tell you that Brassey’s, now known as Potomac Books, does the same thing. I’ve been paid by them to review three manuscripts over the years. Two were published. One was trashed on my recommendation. Having worked with Ted Savas on two different books, I can tell you that Ted does the same thing.
We all have the same objective: publishing the best possible book with the fewest errors, and our process is designed to try to make sure that that’s precisely what happens.Scridb filter