[Milton-L] soliciting of reviews

FLANNAGAN, ROY ROY at uscb.edu
Fri Dec 12 06:56:16 EST 2008

While I was its Editor, the Milton Quarterly went from anonymous reviews (copying the then New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement) to signed reviews written usually by authoritative and well-respected scholars.  Somewhere in my first five years as fledgling Editor, I received one unsolicited review that savaged a book.  I was sure there was a personal, somewhat Satanic purpose behind the review, and I wrote the reviewer that I could not publish it for that reason.  Otherwise, I never edited a review.  There were times when reviewers justifiably attacked a work, and the reviewer and I had to stand back for the reciprocating anger and revenge from the author of the reviewed book.  There were reviews that damned with faint praise.  There were reviews that played nice in the sense that the reviewer wrote me privately, "You know, this is a BAD book," but then said things so as not to hurt the feelings of the author.   MQ once published a bunch of abstracts of East German Cold War articles that all embraced Milton predictably as a good revolutionary: the articles were nonsense, but it probably wasn't a bad idea to publish the abstracts.  In some cases, I encouraged reviewers who had told me they could not in conscience give me a review of a really bad book to send the unpublished review to the press that had published the book.
Eventually, Milton Quarterly could take on board a Book Review Editor who assumed what had been the responsibilities of the editor to sollicit and review reviews, but of course the buck stops at the editor, not the book review editor: both have to absorb the anger of the scholar who got the bad review, which may last for years.  Sometimes reviewers, myself included, have made substantive corrections to a book they were asked to review, in final proof stage, and the book, the author, and the publisher of course benefited from the additional editorial eye.

Roy Flannagan
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