Thoughts On Writing Book Chapters

Sage handbook of QREI have written two chapters for edited collections, both on qualitative research ethics. The first was for a book called Qualitative Ethics in Practice, edited by Martin Tolich and published in 2016 by the late lamented Left Coast Press. I said ‘yes’ to that one straight away because it was the first time I’d been asked. Writing the chapter was an interesting and enjoyable exercise but economically pointless. I got a free copy of the book, but I could have bought the paperback for £24.99 from Amazon or, no doubt, for less elsewhere. (I recommend using the book price comparison site Bookbutler, though it doesn’t index all sellers; I don’t see Wordery on that site, and Wordery often have good discounts as well as free shipping worldwide. eBay is also worth checking for discounted new copies; as an author myself I am not advocating buying secondhand books). Given that the chapter took me at least a week to write and edit, an affordable paperback is poor recompense. Also, book chapters don’t carry the academic kudos of journal articles, so they don’t do much for my reputation with universities.

When I was a doctoral student, I loved a good edited collection for offering a range of viewpoints and arguments within a single book. As a reader, I still do, when it’s well done. That suggests I should contribute to such collections. Yet there is so little recompense.

I thought about this carefully. On the morning of 5 January 2016 I decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and made a belated New Year’s resolution that I wouldn’t write another book chapter. On the afternoon of 5 January 2016 I got an email from Ron Iphofen and Martin Tolich asking me to write another book chapter, for the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics which they were beginning to co-edit. Ron and Martin are colleagues with whom I get on well, and that makes it harder to say ‘no’. I did say that I could not take on a chapter requiring primary research or any kind of extensive review of literature with which I wasn’t already familiar. (Well done, past Helen!) After some discussion we found an angle that worked, as it would cover an area where I already had some knowledge that I needed to develop, and it also suited the editors.

I got my copy of the book this week. It’s almost 600 pages, 35 chapters, and retails at £120 on Amazon. On one hand, that still represents woeful recompense for several days of work. On the other hand, £120 is way beyond my budget for buying any book, even one as extensive as this book. And I’m very glad to have a copy.

So I’m rethinking the whole book chapter thing again. Now I think I am more likely to say ‘yes’ if the book in question will be big and expensive and useful for my work. I also think I’ll keep to my decision not to write chapters that need primary research or extensive new reading. Some new reading is inevitable, and that’s OK, but essentially I’m only going to write chapters that I can actually write straight from my desk.

Another thing I have learned about writing book chapters is to ask the editors for the book proposal, so I can see where my chapter fits, and not duplicate work others may be doing in their chapters. It doesn’t seem to be common practice for editors to give the book proposal to potential contributors (I’m not basing this solely on my own experience, I’ve heard the same from other academic writers) though I expect some do. If you’re asked to write a book chapter and the editor doesn’t give you the book proposal, ask for it before you decide. It can give you a much clearer idea of what you’re contributing to.

As with all academic writing intended for publication, book chapters are likely to be peer reviewed individually, and the typescript of the whole book is also likely to be reviewed. (The proposal will have been reviewed, too, before being accepted by the publisher.) So be prepared for edits, proofs etc to come your way. You may also be asked to review a chapter by another author, as sometimes book editors and commissioning editors get around the difficulty in finding reviewers by having their chapter authors review other chapters. Overall, there will be more work than just the writing.

I’m currently reviewing the typescript of a book which is reminding me how much I like a good edited collection. The book’s theme is strong and consistent, and the variation in the chapters is fascinating, in terms of both their content and how authors are addressing the topic. This offers a particular type of richness that no single or co-authored book can achieve. So I’m content with my decision, now, not to say a blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to requests for book chapters. I will say ‘yes’ to writing chapters that will benefit me in the process and the outcome, as well as benefiting editors, publishers, and readers.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts On Writing Book Chapters

  1. Pingback: In defense of book chapters | The Slow Academic

  2. Some good thoughts here – resonates a lot. I suspect there may be some differences across countries and universities? AT UCT in SA income generated from publications goes to one’s university and we have to submit what we’ve published towards an annual publication count. In terms of book chapters, here’s what counts and criteria:

    http://www.researchsupport.uct.ac.za/publications-29 and http://www.researchsupport.uct.ac.za/books-and-book-chapters-criteria-submission

    I had to ask the editor for the first book I had a chapter published in to provide a written justification (500 words) explaining the contribution that the book makes to scholarship (which includes a declaration to the fact that no part of the work was plagiarised or published elsewhere) which he also had to sign. I recently worked on another chapter and looking at this again because I’m currently getting this documentation together again.

    For me book chapters I say ‘yes’ to have been when I know who the other authors are and I want to signal that I am part of a particular community of scholars. Here is a link to the first book where I published a chapter in: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137385444 As an early career academic, of course I want to be mentioned in a table of contents along with some of these folks.

    I saw another author share a pre-print version of his chapter on Academia.edu and then I did the same. So by contributing to that book I also learnt about open practices in this accidental way. Being a scholar in the global south, the ‘closedness’ of books really bugs me. So I do try and find out if I can share pre-print versions, whether the book will be open access, etc.

    For the second book I said yes to, I asked the editor if he might consider making the book open access and he looked for a publisher that would allow for this. The audience is games researchers in the global south so he agreed that it made good sense.

    I like book chapters because I feel I learn a lot from editors feedback, the people I’ve worked with have shared their manuscripts in progress (so I get to enjoy an early read of some of the other authors’ works). In some cases where one has been invited to submit for a journal and you know the guest editor there’s a line of communication. But in the case of many journals, there isn’t. I’m sure it depends on the field and how people work together as well, but I thought I’d just share my experiences. Even with journals I like special issues where I know the people involved and they are open to questions, etc.

    For me research and sharing my research in various forms is about contributing to a conversation, sharing my work with others and enhancing my reputation in particular fields rather than being about the money as I don’t see any of it. I am also a contract staff member and I see publishing as a way to build up an academic CV. At UCT, permanent staff are advised to publish in reputable forms at least twice a year. Decisions about what and where to publish I guess is quite political – everyone has their strategies and is motivated by different things depending on where they are structurally. Suppose it’s also about where people feel they want to make their mark.

    Do you have pre-print copies of your book chapters Helen? I’d love to be able to share it with MA students.Or related openly licensed resources that may be useful?

    Liked by 1 person

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