Is it worth editing a book?
I’ve been asked this question a couple of times recently. It’s actually not an easy question, as you might guess. That’s because the answer depends on all kinds of things, including where you are up to in your career, the conventions of your discipline and practices in your home country. Some people would rather not be bothered with edited books at all because they don’t count for anything in their national quality/audit processes. Other people are early career, and the best thing they can do to get a job is to churn out as many peer refereed journal articles as quickly as they can. Edited books are not a good option in these circumstances, you might think. Well maybe, maybe not.
I approve of editing books, and have in fact edited a few myself. I’m very pleased with one of them in particular, because I was able to make the sections hang together in a way that I thought was pretty helpful to other researchers in. Another of my edited books has been very good to me, and I’ve had loads of invitations – to speak, write and collaborate – as a result of it. So Ive got a bit of a soft spot, you might say, for the edited collection.
I reckon that there are three good reasons for editing a book.
(1) CONNECTIONS – you get to contact people whose work you admire and you can ask them if they’ll contribute. These new connections can be pretty useful because once you’ve established contact you can keep it going. Even if the person eventually says no, chances are you can still follow up the contact.
But connections don’t stop when the book is finished. Oh no, they have actually only just begun. On the back of your edited collection you can organise contributors to make joint presentations at conferences, apply for joint funding to do some work together, organise a network, hold a conference yourself. You are likely to get return invitations too.
(2) CONTRIBUTION – you get to shape the agenda. The introduction and conclusion, always written by the editor(s), are a place where you can provide your own analysis of the topic. In choosing the authors for the collection and the topics that they will write about, you get to create a text which covers the topic in the way you want. You create a book you’d like to read. This is more than a mechanical task it is creative and enjoyable.
Some edited books make very powerful additions to the field – sometimes they are in an emergent area and so they set an agenda; sometimes they are a field defining collection, a text that anyone who works in the field must refer to or be seen as badly read; sometimes edited books are futures oriented and show where the field is going, they explore the boundaries, challenges, and new directions. Many edited collections are used for teaching purposes too, so there may also be an important pedagogical reason for putting an edited collection together.
(3) PROFILE – as an editor, you put down a marker in the field. Editing a book not only says that you are interested in the topic, but also that you have the expertise and contacts to put the book together. As an editor you position yourself as someone in the field with something to say about it.
So if you are not totally overwhelmed by the press of audit and promotion, there are reasons to consider editing a book. However, as any one who has edited anything at all knows, there are hassles and risks in the editing process, and I’m going to deal with those in another post.