In addition to the general submission guidelines, here are our book review guidelines in great detail.
The Commoner solicits and welcomes volunteered proposals for reviews of books, book series and special issues / collections. We publish reviews in three formats: standard book reviews, extended reviews and commentaries, and book symposia.
Standard book reviews (see author guidance) are a straight-forward critical evaluation or assessment of a book or similar piece of work, 800-1,000 words in length. This should be the reviewer’s assessment of a book or special issue / collection, with attention to its main arguments, structure, strengths and weaknesses. Book reviews should not simply summarise a book but should critically engage with the author’s argument(s), evaluate its supporting evidence / information and explain its relevance to the field (broadly) and to specific audiences.
Extended reviews and commentaries (presenting an original argument, intervention or refutation, 4,000-6,000 words in length), are for instances when more in-depth conceptual or empirical engagement with a work is inspired or required. Extended reviews will combine the critical engagement with a specific text as in a standard book review but will use the review format as a vehicle for an extended conceptual analysis, thematic commentary or deeper engagement with the subject matter. In this way, the extended review combines elements of a book review and an original research article or conceptual / theoretical article. Standard stylistic, formatting and referencing expectations apply. Extended reviews will go through a process of collegial peer review.
Book symposia take a virtual ‘round table’ format, in which a group of 3 or more reviewers each offer an individual ‘micro-commentary’ or intervention that responds to a major issue, argument or problem with the text being reviewed. Each individual intervention should concisely put forth a unique argument, intervention or claim in relation to the focal text and use one or more illustrative examples, such as drawing from their own research or practical experience. Book symposia should include either a ‘discussant’ to offer a response and evaluation of the arguments put forth. In some cases, this role can include the author(s) or editor(s) of focal text themselves.
In the interest of opening up debates and scholarship to as wide a readership as possible, all book reviews should be written in clear language, accessible to a transdisciplinary readership that includes scholars and non-specialists alike.
Sometimes this will require the reviewer to ‘unpack’ or explain complicated ideas, theoretical concepts and disciplinary language. In such cases, reviewers conducting a standard book review may request an additional word allowance of up to 500 words. This should be requested when the review is proposed to the editorial collective.
While most reviews will focus on recently published, non-fiction books, book series and special issues / collections, we are also open to proposals for reviews and symposia that revisit classic or older works, works of literary or genre fiction, films and television series, artistic exhibitions and special collections (such as of archival or library materials), as long as the prospective reviewer can clearly explain the relevance of the review to the field of theory and practice and the readership of The Commoner.
Questions and inquiries can be sent to the book review editor, Amber Huff, via email@example.com.
If you would like to propose a review, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘book review proposal’ in the subject line and be sure to include the following information:
1. Name of work to be reviewed, publication date and full publication information.
2. Preferred review format (e.g., standard review, extended review / commentary, or review symposium)
3. A brief statement of why you would like to complete a review and why it is a good fit for The Commoner readership.
4. A note on whether you already have access to the work, or if you require an editor’s assistance to access a review copy (digital or hard copy).
Suggestions for structuring standard book reviews
Sometimes beginner reviewers don’t know where to start to distil down a work’s rich content and their response to it, so we include this guidance. Please consider the following points to be helpful suggestions and not hard rules. Standard book reviews should be between 800 and 1,000 words in length and should be the reviewer’s assessment of a book or special issue / collection, with attention to its main arguments, structure, strengths and weaknesses. Book reviews should not simply summarise a book but should critically engage with the author’s argument(s), evaluate its supporting evidence / information and explain its relevance to the field (broadly) and to specific audiences.
Title and notes. The title of the review is up to you. Be sure to include a note with full bibliographic information and whether an open access version or pre-print is available.
Introduction. Open by introducing the book and describing the central problem / issue / idea that it engages with. Think about using a ‘hook’ – a vignette, provocation or an intriguing question that can set the tone of your review and draw your readers in. If possible, briefly situate this central problem of the book relative to timely or pertinent events, debates, etc. of the topic and/or problem addressed by the work in question. Tell us (the readers) why it is noteworthy – let us know why you wanted to read or review this book in particular and what, if anything, is exciting about it.
Summary of argument. Your review should, very concisely summarize the book’s specific argument, and how the author approaches it from a conceptual and / or practical perspective. What features of the author’s approach or perspective make their ideas distinct or compelling relative to similar takes on the problem? Why is this book worth engaging with and learning from? How can we use or learn from the ideas or events covered?
Author(s’) info. Provide a bit of information about the author / editor / contributors. Let us know who they are and what, if anything, they are known for prior to this publication. What expertise, experiences, politics and viewpoints do they bring to the subject? Does their background shape their engagement with the subject in any interesting ways?
Structure and contents of the book. How is the book structured in terms of its narrative approach? What is the range of material / information covered, and is anything missing or particularly well-presented? If the book is based on research or fieldwork, what sorts of research methods were used, how is evidence / information presented, and what does it add in terms of illuminating or supporting the author’s argument? Are illustrations, photos or diagrams used? If so, what do they add to the experience of reading and understanding the work?
Strengths and weaknesses. What does the book do very well? What could be improved and, in your opinion, how? Are there any major blind spots, omissions or major fallacies in the author’s assumptions or argument? Even if you don’t agree with the book’s argument, it is always nice to remember they are written by real people, so be attentive to tone, explain your criticisms clearly and just be kind.
Conclusion. End your review with a concluding statement summarizing your opinion / critical evaluation of the book. Do any other works come to mind that would be particularly complementary or supplementary, for example if the book were to be used in a reading group or in a classroom? You should also explicitly identify the range of audiences whom you think would particularly enjoy reading or otherwise benefit from the book. Finally, don’t forget to explain briefly why and how you think the book or its arguments are of particular interest to The Commoner community.