Most academic presses send a manuscript to outside readers for peer review at some point. Friends and colleagues had different views on the peer review process. Some saw it primarily as a potential minefield, and advised me to hope for a rubber stamp. Others viewed outside reviews as an opportunity for useful feedback that might not come again, a chance to have two or three scholars read the entire manuscript carefully and critically.
Fortunately, the two anonymous reviews of my manuscript were quite helpful. One was much more critical than the other. Its overall message was that my book had potential, but it wasn't there yet. The critical letter made me realize that I had a thicker skin than I thought; I agreed with most of the reader's critiques and suggestions, and mostly felt grateful to have the input while there was still time to implement it. The fact that the other letter was enthusiastic, and my editor supportive, were no doubt crucial to my accepting the criticism with equanimity.
Most importantly, both reviewers provided very specific and constructive suggestions, helped me to prioritize further revisions and research, and clarified in my own mind the contributions my book could potentially make. The letter I wrote to the press in response to the reviews laid out a helpful roadmap for the second round of (extensive) revisions. Twelve chapters became six, extraneous and redundant material came out. I added context, defined terms, filled in substantive gaps, rewrote large portions of chapters, including one from scratch.
I was fortunate to exercise some control over the timing of the reviews, and chose to do the first round of substantial revisions to my dissertation before the press sent out the manuscript. I'll say more about publication timetables in a future post, but for now, would be interested in hearing about others' experiences on both sides of the peer review process.