Your book/special issue proposal is accepted. A brief party. YAY. Now to get the manuscript together. Now for the Really Hard Work.
Questions about who does what, when and how, escalates as the actual book or journal issue is being written and revised. Authors have to be contacted, reminded – and the occasional straggler reminded again. Papers have to be sent out to review and returned to authors. Chapters have to be read and potential revisions suggested. Perhaps bad news has to be given. Once again authors have to be contacted, reminded and reminded, and the occasional straggler chased and cajoled.
A special journal issue has to be read through to make sure the appropriate referencing and writing styles are adhered to – potential further chasing of contributors here too. Papers also have to be sequenced – what comes first? And last? How does an argument or narrative get constructed through the chapters? If an edited book, the chapters have to be sequenced – and then formatted. Gah. The dreary task of attending to fonts, referencing and footnoting to make the manuscript consistent has to be done, somehow. Maybe someone has some money to pay for this task, joy. No funds = it’s one of the editors. And the editorial has to be written. The order of editor names on the cover has to be finally decided. Then the issue or collection is ready to be sent off – by someone on the team.
But it’s still not done. With books there is often a last minute scramble to get copyright permissions signed off – not to mention the inevitable copy edit queries. Then it’s on to correcting proofs. Some editors don’t send proofs back to chapter authors at all, they DIY. Others do send the proofs back but then have to blend multiple corrections from multiple copies into one ‘master’ text to send back.
Oh, and you may want to get a foreword for the edited book and/or recommendations to go on the cover or website. Who’s going to do that? And who will publicise the book or special issue when it comes out – and how? The editing never actually stops. It just goes on. And on.
Now, you can see the problem. There are lots of places in this chain of co-editing tasks where it’s possible for things to go wrong. And things going wrong generally lead to delays in publication, as well as potential acrimony among the team. Not to mention frustration for all of those people who have submitted their chapters and are wondering what’s going on.
As in the development of the proposal, the most usual problem in getting a co-edited issue/collection done and dusted is that either one person ends up doing the lion’s share of the work without this being formally decided and agreed, or one person doesn’t pull their weight or is just very tardy. A certain amount of give and take is always needed, you have to be kind to each other. But there’s a limit. At some point, the work just needs to get done.
You can see where this is going I’m sure. Head off potential problems. Don’t leave things until they go awry. It really helps to make an agreement early on in the proposal process about who will do what. It’s useful to revisit this agreement as the chapters are being written to make sure that the same division of labour is fair and acceptable. If key issues are not already agreed, sort it before you get too far into the job. Trust me, it’s critical to sort out who will read what and when, and how the introductory editorial will be written.
My own experience is that it really helps if one person takes overall responsibility for an issue or collection. If this happens, they are automatically first in the list of editors, and the others need to be grateful that the worst of the fiddly (boring) work is going to be done by someone else. But you might want something much more collaborative. There’s no right or wrong here. Whatever you decide together is likely to be fine.
So here’s a VERY BASIC check list of tasks to help make those agreements.
BOOK/SPECIAL ISSUE PROCESS
- Overall responsibility – will one person act as a Managing Editor – M.E. – taking responsibility for sticking to timeline and final submission? If so, they will go first in Editor order. If no M.E., who will do what at each stage and what will that author order be?
- Contacting authors to confirm publication. Is this a shared responsibility or M.E.?
- Reminding and chasing authors. Is this shared or M.E.?
- Book – reading and responding to chapters. Who? How? Should all editors read each chapter to ensure consistency or will one do? How collaborative is this part of the process?
- Writing the editorial (This may extend to a last chapter too in edited collections). Who, how, when?
- Organising the manuscript. Who decides the order of chapters/papers? If a book, how is the final manuscript to be prepared and by whom?
- Handling queries about copy and proofing. Who and how?
- Marketing issues – endorsements, forewords and so on – who, how when?
There’s still much more to say about co-editing. I’ll post something about troubleshooting these technical co-editing processes very soon. But there’s other questions of power and knowledge that I need to address too. All to come. If you’re already curious, I’ve written before about two big hassles in editing a book.
Photo credit: Gareth Williams.