How do journals evaluate book reviews: Perspectives from a book review editor
Dr. Kevin Steinmetz is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at Kansas State University. He was involved in starting the Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology and currently serves as its book review editor. Beyond his editorial experience, Dr. Steinmetz is a critical criminologist who researches hacker culture, technocrime, racial inequality in probation, and other issues in criminology. His work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as the British Journal of Criminology, Deviant Behavior, Race & Justice, and Criminal Justice Review.
In the first part of the interview, Dr. Steinmetz discussed the importance of book reviews for authors, readers, and the discipline as a whole. In this last part of our interview, Dr. Steinmetz shares his perspectives on how book reviews are evaluated for acceptance and more.
Does JQCJC solicit for all of their book reviews or may authors also suggest a book review for submission?
Like many other journals, most of the book reviews for JQCJC are solicited by the book review editor. While we do consider unsolicited book reviews, most are turned away as they often do not meet the writing standards necessary for inclusion in the journal. Some reviewers, I believe, submit unsolicited book reviews because they are seen as relatively quick publications. Book reviews often take more work than some realize and they need to be well crafted. In other words, reviewers should take the task seriously.
If a reviewer would like to submit an unsolicited book review to JQCJC or any other journal, I recommend contacting the book review editor before writing the review to see if there is an interest. In addition, I would recommend sending the book review editor a copy of your curriculum vitae along with (1) a brief justification for why the book needs to be reviewed and (2) an argument as to why you should be the one to review it. This way the book review editor can assess your qualifications and provide input up front. In addition, if the journal is not interested in such a review then your time is not wasted writing the review first. The caveat is that an expression of interest from the journal is not a guarantee of publication. It will still need to be well written and conform to the expectations of each journal.
What criteria do you look for when evaluating book review submissions?
First, I want to see that it is well written and organized. I am often willing to work a bit with reviewers on this. If the reviewer submits patently bad writing or is unwilling to make modifications, however, I usually reject the review. Second, I want to see that the review provides: (1) a brief overview of the book with particular emphasis on the contribution the book makes to the subject area and/or the discipline as a whole; (2) a statement of the audience for which the book is best suited; (3) a description of the author and an evaluation of the authors qualifications to write in the area; (4) a list of the book’s strengths; and (5) a list of its weaknesses.
Third, for unsolicited reviews, I need to see that the book under question is appropriate for our journal. For instance, some authors have submitted reviews of books based almost exclusively on quantitative research. Since our journal is for qualitative research, this means the review is obviously not a good fit. Similarly, if the book is not based on original research and is more of a “pop” book on the subject, we may also find that it is not suitable for our journal.
Other factors may come into play on a case-by-case basis, but the aforementioned criteria are often what I am looking for in reviews.
What are some common mistakes authors make with their book reviews that could be avoided?
Some authors submit reviews with glaring spelling and/or grammatical errors. One or two are forgivable but reviews loaded with simple mistakes will not be taken seriously. Occasionally, reviews might also engage in very repetitive discussions of book content. For instance, one review submitted had a separate paragraph describing each chapter of the book. Each paragraph started with “Chapter <insert number here> was about . . .” Not only does this make for a very dull read, the review comes off more like a book report than a critical engagement with the content. Also, if you ask to do a review for our journal, please do not say that you will review any book. We prefer to only give books to people who are interested in and/or experts in a given area. Asking to review whatever the editor has on hand sounds a bit desperate and comes off as slightly unprofessional. Finally, reviewers will sometimes submit reviews that do not conform to the formatting expectations of the journal. This is very annoying as it requires me to send it back to the author for revisions, thus delaying its full consideration and (hopefully) acceptance into the journal.
Can you share with us a publication ethics issue or two you have come across -whether as an editor, reviewer, or fellow researcher who often reads the works of others?
Fortunately, in my time as a book review editor I have seldom come across any issues regarding publication ethics. I sincerely hope that trend persists and I have not jinxed myself or the journal.
As a highly efficient qualitative researcher, are there any research tools you have found to be valuable to your research activity?
Despite the fact that I spend a great deal of my time researching technological issues, I am surprisingly analog when it comes to qualitative research. To me, software is only good for organizing and structuring qualitative data. In the past, I have used both Microsoft Excel and the software package Atlas.ti for this purpose (I actually highly recommend the latter for data organization). For the actual analysis itself, I tend to emphasize human interpretation. Some people will use qualitative software programs (like nVivo and Atlas.ti) for their analytic functions. I tend to shy away from these. Since qualitative research is so fundamentally grounded in the dissection and interpretation of human meaning, I am reluctant to let software do any of the work for me beyond data organization.
Thank you, Dr. Steinmetz.
Disclaimer of Endorsement and Liability: Dr. Kevin Steinmetz and the Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice & Criminology do not endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services. This interview is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as an endorsement or recommendation for Editage.
This interview was conducted by Alagi Patel.