Congrats, dear writer, on your new academic book or article, though I should really be congratulating myself because the version of your book or article I wrote in my head is much much better than the dog shit you wrote. How do I know mine is better, you ask?
Well, let me introduce myself: I’m Reader #2, an important, though often overlooked, part of the writing process just as significant as any editor or publisher if not more so. After all, without me, you might not have writer’s block, imposter syndrome, or that deep-seated fear that the only real result of those many years in school was actually the college sweatshirt you gave your mom so she could tell people you’re a doctor, never mind what kind of doctor.
Publishers and editors look to me because I’m established in whatever topic area you now find yourself involved. Many college students know me as their least favorite professor, having secured my job long ago when you could just hand-write your application on a napkin and give it to your adviser. Obviously, I’m probably white and male. I have published, but not recently. Now, I mostly stick to talking at people, unironically wearing blazers with elbow patches, and maintaining the status quo in part by shitting on any new writers or students in my field. And frankly, these newbies are getting off easy, because I am absolutely litigious.
I take my job very seriously, though I will put it off, holding your writing hostage and slowing the publication process more generally. When I do settle down and write my reader’s report, reviewing your work, I will most definitely recommend that your editor stop the process altogether and rethink publishing your book or article. I will make my “do not publish” recommendation without constructive criticism, as is the spirit of the peer review system, but instead in a meandering diatribe entitled “Reader’s Report #2” or “Gatekeepers Gonna Gatekeep” that will most certainly hit several specific key points, most of which revolve around the fact that my subjective take on your work is truth and also truth is not subjective.
First, if you reflect at all on a history of racism or misogyny, I will argue that you are off-topic or overly concerned with millennial relevance and/or cancel culture. Classical music has nothing to do with whiteness, it’s just about the music. We haven’t heard of that female writer because she’s just not that good. And it doesn’t matter that the wife of that male painter created most of his masterpieces herself. After all, she was his muse.
Another favorite tactic of mine is to diss your writing style by claiming that it is somehow inappropriate because it does not actively use words like “discourse,” “hermeneutics,” or “Foucault.” I do not care that you are trying to broaden your readership. After all, as I always say, anything worth writing should be overly complicated, off-putting, and hopefully just a little offensive. If you hashtag anything in your prose, I will throw your manuscript directly in the trash and only tell your editor I couldn’t review your work six months later, after several unanswered emails and phone calls, though I would respond immediately to a carrier pigeon.
Now that you know what I don’t like, let me tell you what I do like. Besides carrier pigeons and other obscure relics of a bygone era, I enjoy Genius. Yes, I believe in the idea of Genius and all that that entails: a man alone suffering for his art. And my role in that art is to ensure the suffering part.
My report as Reader #2 will haunt you, just as I haunt those who might deal with me in person. This will help you, I’m sure, unless of course you are not white and a man, in which case it should hurt you, deeply.
If my report as Reader #2 feels personal, good. Being Reader #2 is very personal for me. Without my work as Reader #2, what power would I really have? I’d be just another overly privileged prick with a job I don’t deserve. But as Reader #2, I can make sure you know that you don’t share my privilege. On the bright side, your righteous anger might just fuel the writing of your next book, which I will of course mercilessly disparage when I get the chance.