(note: extremely fiddly technical post follows. Non-academic readers may want to just look at the unrelated photo and move on.)
So this week I enter a new stage in the first book process: responding to the readers.
As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I got two very positive reviewers' reports on my book manuscript. Now it's my job to write up a response and a plan for revisions that Fabulous Editor can take to the board -- the last step before an actual contract is issued. In some ways, my job is simple, because both readers recommended publication. But this doesn't mean that they were without criticism. Most of these are easy to handle: there are a couple of dozen simple errors that need to be corrected, a suggestion for changing my subtitle to make it more accurate, and a request that I expand my conclusions, both for the individual chapters and the MS as a whole. All of these are things I can easily agree with.
But there's one issue that I could use some help on: the readers disagree with each other as to the utility of my first chapter, which sets up what I see as the essential context for my argument. One calls it "learned and extremely useful"; the other finds it overburdened with detail and wants to see it restructured to focus on a different issue completely.
If this were just an issue of "reader wants me to have written a completely different book," I'd know how to respond. But it's actually more complex than that. My book attempts to bring together three fields of inquiry -- let's call them group A in region Q with broader phenomenon Z -- to make some new conclusions. The major conclusions of the book as a whole are about the status of group A in region Q, with potentially broader implications about group A in general. But I'm trained in phenomenon Z, which is an area that my audience (people interested in the history of group A or region Q) probably know very little about. So my background section is 80% explaining phenomenon Z: first in general, then in region Q, and then as it relates to group A.
And my reader's objection boils down to something relatively reasonable: "What's all this technical stuff about phenomenon Z? The book is about group A: that's what your background chapter should be about."
I'm ready to admit that people whose primary interest is group A might find my discussion of phenomenon Z overly technical, and maybe even boring (it is a rather dry field). But I think that historians of group A simply haven't paid enough attention to phenomenon Z. This is, in fact, my contribution. It plays to my area of expertise, which is one that few people have. I'm proud of what I've done here, and I'm clinging to that one verdict of "learned and extremely useful" like a life preserver.
Let's add another problem: the plea to restructure chapter one was really this reader's only major criticism, and I don't want to ignore it. Fabulous Editor worked hard to get good people to review this MS, so I can't just write it off.
And a final wrinkle, in the interest of complete honesty: I'm feeling lazy and recalcitrant. I worked hard on this chapter, and I don't want to trash it and start from scratch.
So, if you've read this far, you already deserve my thanks. But to the experienced publishers out there: What would you do?