What Editors Want: An Author’s Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing, Philippa J.Benson and Susan C.Silver, U. Chicago Press, 2013. $55.00 (192 pp.). ISBN 978-0-226-04313-5

The long-term future of scientific journal publishing is unclear. The rise of mobile devices, the decrease in personal and institutional subscriptions to journals, the move to open access, funding pressures, and the creation of alternative online methods of disseminating new results are all threatening to undermine the traditional mode of communicating research results through journal articles. And yet the number of submissions and published articles is rising exponentially, mostly because of the growth of science in countries such as China, India, and Brazil. Thus, at least in the near future, the tradition of publishing scientific articles via the peer-review process is likely to continue.

In What Editors Want: An Author’s Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing, Philippa Benson and Susan Silver acknowledge the rapid changes that are occurring, but they focus on what new authors need to know about the traditional scientific publishing enterprise. The book’s greatest impact is likely to be on authors in countries that are just beginning to publish in English-language scientific journals. Indeed, the book is the outgrowth of workshops that Benson and Silver conducted in China.

Because almost all scientific articles are multiauthored, most scientists in countries with a long-standing culture of scientific research learn much of the information provided in this book from their more senior coauthors. One particular issue that Benson and Silver discuss at length is how to choose the appropriate journal for submission, but that’s not as difficult an issue for most physicists as it might be for those, like the authors, in the biological sciences.

What Editors Want is really two books: The first is advice for new authors; the second is an assortment of opinions—in sidebars throughout the book—by Benson, Silver, and others on issues such as impact factors, open access, the value of peer review, scientific ethics, and the future of journal publishing. The opinions reflect the consensus among most scientists, and they provide some context that would be useful for those just beginning to publish. The authors’ advice is all solid, but it is sometimes too general because of the variety of procedures and policies found in different journals.

As Benson and Silver acknowledge, much of what authors need to know can be found from carefully reading the “Information for Authors” section on a journal’s website; a substantial part of What Editors Want is a summary of that kind of information. Also, much of Benson and Silver’s advice is on the edge of importance in the sense that editors prefer that article authors follow the journal’s instructions. But from my experience as a journal editor, failing to do so usually does not determine whether or not the article will be accepted.

The book would be more useful if it discussed in greater depth how to handle the typical concerns raised by reviewers. Editors rarely make decisions that are inconsistent with those of the reviewers, and thus a more important book would be entitled What Reviewers Want. For example, although Benson and Silver discuss what to do when reviewers disagree, they assume that editors will provide some guidance. But my experience is that many editors do not provide much independent judgment. One particular problem not discussed in detail is the tendency of some reviewers to ask authors for further experiments, calculations, or literature reviews, even though such additions are not necessary and sometimes not even relevant. I have been dismayed at how little some editors do to prevent that problem in the review process.

The book’s best advice is for article authors to write professional, objective, and constructive responses to reviewer concerns. Too many authors waste their responses by attacking the reviewers. A piece of advice that I would offer is not in the book: Authors should not try to buttress their claim for correctness or importance by invoking the name of a prestigious scientist who, they say, thinks their work is wonderful. Whenever I saw such a statement, I suspected that an author was arguing from a position of weakness. Sometimes I even checked with the scientist in question and found that the author’s claim was exaggerated or not true.

Each chapter of What Editors Want ends with a section entitled “The Bottom Line.” For me, the bottom line is that the information and advice in this book are good, not surprising, and not difficult to find elsewhere. But for a new author, it will be convenient to have all that information in one place.

Jan Tobochnik is the Dow Distinguished Professor in the Natural Sciences at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has served as editor of the American Journal of Physics, as a divisional associate editor of Physical Review Letters, and as a member of the Committee on Publishing Policy for the American Institute of Physics.