Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thank you for your comments, which I will now disregard

I'm confronting a dilemma that I know is a common one: how completely does one need to address the criticisms of a reader or editor? Especially if the work in question has already been accepted?

I have an essay that will be appearing in a collection that I'm beyond excited about, edited by scholars I deeply respect, and who are taking a significant editorial role in assembling the volume (something that I know from my experience in publishing isn't always the case). But although I'm grateful for that involvement and although their feedback on my essay has been both thoughtful and thorough, I strongly disagree with their major criticism.

I understand the basis for their criticism, and I'm prepared to address it by shoring up my case in certain places, moderating my language throughout, and making some claims more speculative or qualified. Ultimately, though, I stand by my argument. I know it's a contestable claim, and one that some people will dislike and/or dispute--but I really believe that it's both compelling and a very plausible reading of the evidence.

But I don't want to offend the editors, who have been wonderfully supportive of my work and whom I like personally. I also respect their judgment and their knowledge of the material in question.

So, what to do?


Ianqui said...

Well, it's a timesuck, but I would (if this is like an article in a journal) write a response letter explaining why you disagree with them and why you're not going to change that particular aspect. That way they know you're not blowing them off.

squadratomagico said...

There are three specific bits of advice I would suggest in a dilemma like this one. First, consider all the suggestions carefully, and take the ones that are clearly helpful, and even a few that are "borderline" helpful. This way, they know that you are not impervious to criticism, and that you are open to making changes in a considered manner. Second, definitely maintain your argument where you are sure of yourself, and where it is important to you. This is going out under your name, and you ultimately will be the one to field criticism and/or garner compliments on the essay -- make sure it accurately reflects your thinking about the material. However, third, do take their critique seriously enough to respond to, as Ianqui suggests, and perhaps to moderate your tone, as your own post suggests.

When I published my book, my readers made some extremely helpful suggestions that I was happy to adopt. But I also was advised to excise a section (on theory, interestingly enough, an issue on which I posted recently). I refused to cut that material because I thought it was useful and relevant. Moreover, it was my project and this was an important element to my own conception of it. And I'm very glad I kept it in.

So, be respectful, demonstrate your openness where possible, perhaps compose an explanation -- but do not agree to a significant compromise of your project or your voice. Ultimately, strength of opinion and expression is a scholarly virtue: others may disagree with your interpretation, but will respect the force of your argument all the same.

Hieronimo said...

Do you know the editors personally? If so, you might do the "response" that others are recommending a little more informally, via email. You might even be able to get a little clarification on why exactly they're pushing you on this one point, which might help you decide.

Ultimately, I'd think that the editors of the collection would not want you to qualify and moderate too much. Collections don't get too much notice as is, without making all the essays come down in the middle of debates. So I think you could take what you can, but then tell them that you realize that your argument might be somewhat provocative and "strong" on this point, but that you're aware of that and that's what you want to do.

Flavia said...

This is all good advice, and in line with my own thinking. I do think that I'm making an interesting and perhaps provocative argument, and part of what I dislike about the nature of the critique is that the suggested changes would result in a safe but ultimately pretty boring argument. Whereas by leaving things alone, I think the worst a reasonable person could possibly say is, "intriguing, but not totally convincing."

In rereading their comments, it also occurs to me that part of their reaction might be my fault: this is a radically condensed version of a much longer chapter, and in rearranging and adapting the material I suspect that I may have left out or given short shrift to evidence that's obvious to me (because it's in the longer version) but that isn't adequately highlighted in this one.

So, I'll take another look at the thing, and perhaps run this by Advisor (who loves the chapter in question) and then email the editors as y'all have suggested.

(And yes, H., I do know them personally--have even gotten drunk with them.)

sailorman said...

Perhaps they merely feel you're not doing a good enough job of addressing competing arguments...? You could always do so in a quick paragraph or footnote, if you haven't already.