Today over at Bitter-and-Sweet's, the topic of book MS revisions came up -- primarily because BSGirl is going to play NaRevWriMo, and invites others to join. Which I'm gonna, btw, just as soon as I figure out how.
But the topic soon turned to what I can only describe as "Reviewers on Crack" [hereafter RoC]. What happens when you get an unreasonable reviewer? I've submitted my book to Dream Editor (everyone says so), so I have high hopes that he'll pick people who are rigorous, but reasonable. But it's my nightmare that the MS will go to someone like the person who reviewed my Journal of Excellent Studies article (see here, and here for me trying to be as mature as possible). BSGirl had a similar experience, and her comments section flushed out many others.
Well, this is all very timely, because last week, not one but two close friends with books out for review drew a RoC at two separate major presses. Friend #1 got subspecies A of the RoC: mean, petty, and unhelpful. This reviewer actually used the words "voguish" and "feeble" (I'm reading it -- it's neither of those things). As Friend 1 said, "How is that a helpful criticism?" RoC subspecies A should be fed tea and Xanax before being allowed to pick up a pen. Or, since publishing house budgets might not pay for pharmaceuticals, they should be told what our mothers told us: "How would you feel if someone said that to you?"
Friend #2 got the other major subspecies of the RoC: Utterly Clueless. Friend 2 has written the first study of a region (call it "Erniestan"), running from Historical Period X through Historical period Y, and engaging with Important Phenomenon in a way that really, honestly does challenge current historical understanding. In other words, it's a new case study on one level, but it's one whose main purpose is to show how people have been looking at the big picture in entirely the wrong way. The report came back: why didn't my friend expand her study to include not just Erniestan, but also Bertia, Oscarland, and Snuffleupagopolis. And while she's at it, why not take it up to Historical Period Z (about doubling her time period, with tons and tons of new issues)? RoC subspecies B should be strapped to a chair and forced to read the unabridged version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- all 6 volumes of it -- to learn that just because you can say more doesn't necessarily mean that you should.
Other subspecies out there?
(UPDATE: Just in time for this post, Female Science Professor has a post up at her place about her own encounter with what I would describe as a RoC -- though she's grown-up enough not to put it quite that way.)