I am delighted to say that the print book I have co-edited with Su-ming Khoo from the National University of Ireland has gone into production. Qualitative and Digital Research in Times of Crisis: Methods, Reflexivity and Ethics is due to be published by Policy Press in October. Regular readers will remember that we also co-edited three rapid e-books for Policy Press on Researching in the Age of COVID19 which were published last October. So now, with these experiences fresh in my mind, I have written this blog post to offer advice to others who may wish to create an edited book.
Editing a book means soliciting chapters from others, arranging them into a collection, and writing or soliciting introductory and concluding chapters. It also means a whole bunch of project management. You need to write a proposal for a publisher, which will go through peer review and so may need more work depending on the reviewers’ comments. You need to write a call for chapters that you can circulate via your networks and social media to attract contributors. You need to review and assess proposals for chapters, and – if you’re lucky enough to receive more proposals than you need – decide which to include and which to reject, and why. Even if you only receive as many as you need, it is not sensible to publish poor quality work simply to fill space; it would be better to seek more proposals. If you don’t receive enough good quality proposals, you may have to revise or abandon your idea for the book.
Sending out a call for chapters is always a little bit nerve-racking because you simply have no idea what will come back. Su-ming and I, and our editor at Policy Press, originally planned one rapid e-book; we thought we had a good chance of getting 15 proposals of high enough quality. In fact we received over 100 submissions, many of a very high standard – and we didn’t want to waste those good submissions, which is why we now have three e-books and a print book.
So, here are my ten top tips for successful editing or co-editing a collection of chapters into a book.
- Figure out your timescales. You need to work out when you will issue your call for chapters; when you want submissions; when you will respond to those submissions; when you want draft chapters; when you will respond to those draft chapters; and so on. Factor in peer review, holiday periods, and time for contingencies.
- In your call for chapters, be clear about the theme or themes you want the book to address; how you expect the submissions to be structured; and give a word limit – we asked for 500 words.
- Be prepared to receive submissions that don’t address the theme, are not structured as you have asked, and ignore your word count. We received at least one ‘submission’ which was several thousand words long and seemed to be a rejected journal article. We didn’t accept it either.
- Deliver bad news as kindly as you can. Give a little feedback on why you didn’t accept the submission, if you have the capacity to do so. We had to turn down around 50 submissions so we were not able to give individual feedback – but we gave some generic feedback, and a couple of people emailed back to ask for individual feedback so we did what we could to help.
- Make sure you plan your own time carefully so you can meet your own obligations to the collection. Publishers work to tight production schedules and missing their deadlines is unhelpful.
- Either commission, or write, as good an introduction as you can. This should set the scene for the collection, drawing lightly on relevant literature to orient readers for what is to come. It is a helpful convention to give a short overview of the content of each chapter, but do keep this as brief and readable as possible.
- Either commission, or write, as good a conclusion as you can. The conclusion should draw together the threads from the various chapters, maybe offer some advice on learning or good practice, and point the way to the future, perhaps by identifying gaps that still need to be filled or scope for development of the work done to date.
- Be prepared to offer extra support to authors who are inexperienced or disadvantaged – or both. Make time for this in your schedule and/or ask them to submit drafts early for feedback.
- Read all the draft chapters carefully and give feedback alongside the peer reviewers. Peer reviewers’ input can be invaluable, but they are reviewing the whole book and the amount of attention they will pay to individual chapters is highly variable. Also, their name will not be on the book’s cover, and yours will, so do whatever you need to do to ensure that the quality of the book is good.
- Also check the final versions – don’t assume that the chapter authors will have implemented the suggestions appropriately, or that their final versions will be free of errors. Yes, the chapters will be copy-edited and proof-read by the publishers, but, again, you have a role here in quality control.
Co-editing means you can share the workload, which can be a huge help. Also, when you need to deliver bad news, being able to say we have decided to reject your submission, we are not happy with the standard of your work, and suchlike means there is much less scope for the recipient to view the rejection as a personal insult. I guess the downside is you also have to share the royalties, but those are highly unlikely ever to amount to much on an academic edited collection, so in most cases the benefits of co-editing will far outweigh the disadvantages.
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