Editing Essay Collections & Special Journal Issues

EDITING ESSAY COLLECTIONS

Last week we looked at the basics of being at the authorial end of academic publishing via the writing of book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles. This week, I’d like us to turn the tables, as it were, and consider some of the essential aspects of taking on the role of (co-)editor when planning, preparing and publishing essay collections and special journal issues. As always, we take as our starting point the assumption that you are at a stage in your academic life when you first come across (or have perhaps created for yourself) the opportunity to be an editor of these types of publications. I should declare, here, that the following notes are the result not of volumes and volumes of works co-edited by me but are, rather, thoughts based on one journal special issue, one essay collection, and one anthology set I have been fortunate enough to have co-edited to date (with further edited collections in the works as I’m typing this, fingers crossed). In this first of two posts on this week’s topic, I’ll begin by talking about edited essay collections in particular, as the different stages – preparation, editing, final steps – differ to those that guide the publication of a special issue for a peer-reviewed journal. Overall, I’ll try to break down the process into the following aspects:

a)    Preliminary Thoughts: When, Why, Who & What
b)    Soliciting, Receiving, Selecting & Editing Submissions
c)    Almost There: Final Steps

There is much more to say about these processes than I will be able to cover in these posts and have insight into via my meager experience, so please do share your experiences in the comments section, whether they contradict or confirm mine. One important and general warning, before we delve into the topic, however: there are several publishers who will approach conference organisers and doctoral students who have recently completed their studies, offering to publish your proceedings or doctoral thesis. These are usually not well regarded and my personal recommendation is to ignore those emails. Many of these publishers produce cheap books which have received little to no specialist review, intervention, or editorial attention. Aim high and approach publishers who are well-regarded in your field rather than opting for what may look like a quick and easy way to get your project out there.

PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS: WHEN, WHY, WHO & WHAT

When & Why

– Conference proceedings
– A wider topic on which you think it is worth gathering expertise by others
– Edited publications are a good way of attaching your name to an area of research
– Ideally, they form the beginning of establishing yourself as an authority in that area
– They can also lead to fruitful further collaborations with authors and co-editors

Who & What
– When first editing a publication, it is advisable to have a more experienced co-editor
– Ensure that whoever you co-edit with is dedicated to the project and is unlikely to let you down
– Likewise, if you are asked to co-edit a publication, ensure you can fit it into your schedule
– Ensure topic is original and that a publisher would be likely to consider publishing a collection on it
– Inquire with publishers first – does the topic fit into their current strategy?
– Be aware of other recent publications in the field (more about this in the proposal section)

Edited Collection vs Special Journal Issues
– An edited collection has more commercial appeal – more people can access and read it
– There is usually also more space available (ca. 80,000 words, depending on publisher)
– You have more freedom regarding word counts of individual chapters
– You have (usually) a little more editorial control

Process & Time Frame
The process and time frame for essay collections can vary greatly depending on publisher, editors and authors, but the following are the steps you should anticipate, and it is highly advisable to plan an approximate time frame in advance, so you have an overview of what work will need to be done at what point in the year. Additionally, having a fairly clear (but adaptable) strategy means your contributors can plan ahead much better and also be aware of when – if at all – they can see their work in print. In the last two years of an REF cycle in particular you may receive inquiries from authors who need to know the likelihood of the publication appearing before the REF census date; don’t promise anything of which you’re not 100% certain! Here is a general list of the stages you should usually anticipate and schedule when editing an essay collection:

– Soliciting submissions (individually by approaching authors or via a call for papers)
– Selecting submissions and sending respective correspondence
– Writing a proposal for a suitable publisher, including submission of two sample chapters
– Receiving and editing first full drafts of chapters and sending respective correspondence
– Receiving and editing second drafts of chapters and sending respective correspondence
– Receiving and editing penultimate version of chapters
– Preparing penultimate versions for manuscript submission to publisher
– Writing an introduction
– Waiting for reader’s review of manuscript (usually around 3 months or more)
– Communicating reader’s feedback and suggested changes to authors
– Receiving final versions of essays and preparing final manuscript
– Requesting biographical notes and addresses (for posting of complimentary copies)
– Indexing, choosing of cover image, and receiving and checking final proofs
– Receive complimentary editor copies in post and glare at it in disbelief and relief

SOLICITING, RECEIVING, SELECTING & EDITING SUBMISSIONS

Soliciting & Receiving Submissions
– For conference proceedings, send call for submissions to attendees
– Widen the call if you struggle for submissions
– Decide whether you want abstracts or full essays
– If abstracts, indicate when you expect the first full chapter draft
– Decide if co-editor/s wish to publish a piece in the collection
– Ensure you acknowledge receipt of each abstract
– Indicate to authors when they can expect from your regarding your decision

Selecting Submission
– The submissions you accept must make for a coherent publication
– Chapters should speak to and complement each other but not overlap
– Think about how you can group chapters into different parts
– Consider how much editorial work you think a chapter needs
– If a chapter needs a lot of editorial attention, consider if it’s worth it
– Select submissions on the strength of their (proposed) content, not simply by career stage of the author
– Publishers and external reviewers will usually read a manuscript for quality, not just names
– That said, having well-known contributors makes it interesting for both publishers and readers
– Notify authors that their submission has been accepted
– Highlight it has been accepted for the next stage in the process
– This does not guarantee publication in the final collection
– Indicate what the next stage is and when you will need the first full draft of the chapter
– Indicate what referencing system they should use
– When rejecting abstracts, be polite and provide a reason for the rejection

Writing the Proposal
– Publishers will usually require at least two sample chapters to issue a contract
– Some presses require the full manuscript before a contract is issued
– You can find the proposal forms for publishers on their website
– The commissioning editor will decide if they want to forward the material to an external reviewer
– If they do, you will hear after ca. 3 months (though it can take longer)
– The reader will comment on the originality and feasibility of the collection
– They may make suggestions regarding specific chapters
– They may issue valuable cautions and preempt any issues
– They will comment on whether they recommend the publisher should issue a contract

Editing Submissions
– Use the Track Changes function in your word processor to make comments and changes
– Be polite and reasonable – remember how you would feel about the comments you make
– Check first submissions for coherence, critical rigor, originality, referencing, typos, grammar and style
– When sending back your comments to the author, be polite and positive
– If you are suggesting a large amount of changes, ask if they feel they can make them in the required time frame
– Indicate when you will need a second draft returned to you
– Ensure all editors have read each chapter at least once in the whole editing process
– Where there are relationships between chapters, have authors read and cross-reference each other
– Once you are satisfied with the chapters, it’s time to send the full manuscript to the publishers
– This should include an introduction by the editors
– Ensure chapters are formatted coherently and according to the publisher’s guidelines
– The manuscript will usually be sent back to the external reviewer, who may suggest further changes to chapters
– Communicate any requested changes to the authors and ensure they make them in a satisfactory fashion

ALMOST THERE: FINAL STEPS

So now that you have compiled the final versions of the chapters (and of your introduction, of course), you’re nearly there and can probably already see the finished book in your mind. But before you can give yourself a pat on the back, there are still some important steps to complete, if you haven’t already done so:

– Sign and have signed by authors the copyright agreement
– Ensure you and your co-editors have signed the contract
– Compile and include authors’ and editors’ biographical notes
– Ensure the manuscript adheres to all specified guidelines
– Check the final manuscript and submit it to the publisher
– Compile or have compiled (for a fee) the book’s index (a laborious task!)
– Choose a cover image and design
– Carefully check the final proofs you are sent by the publisher
– Ask if there are any discount flyers or other promotional materials you can circulate
– Ensure you keep authors updated re with the collection’s progress at all stages
– Once the final manuscript is submitted, ask for a rough indication of the publication date

Eventually, and usually after around 1.5 – 2 years (sometimes more!), you will hold in your hands your complimentary copy of the edited collection – well done! As with your authored publications, there may be minor typos you overlooked, despite repeated proofreading. Don’t beat yourself up over this (unless it’s a significant factual mistake, in which case you should notify your publisher). It’s normal, and it will have happened to all of your colleagues and peers before. No matter the problems along the way, send your contributors and co-editors a note of thanks for their hard work. Make sure you delete any ‘forthcoming’ or ‘in press’ from the respective entry in your CV.

So now that we have another publication out of the way, we’ll take a look at special journal issues . Many of the points I’ve made here apply to special issues, too, but the processes at work can be quite different to those that apply to edited collections, and it’s worth running through those differences to ensure you can make informed choice about whether an essay collection or a special issue is the right way forward for your project or your proceedings.

 

EDITING SPECIAL JOURNAL ISSUES

It may well seem odd to some that I have decided to dedicate a separate – albeit shorter – section specifically to the process of editing a special journal issue. While many of the same ground rules apply, it is worth considering, however, some of the differences between the editorial work involved in seeing these different projects through to publication. Therefore, rather than covering ground across which we’ve already ventured in the section on essay collections, I’ll focus very briefly on the aspects of the editing process which are often different in the case of special issues.

As with essay collections, there is more to these processes than I can cover here, and they always depend on the journal you approach, but I hope the following points – together with the previous post on editing essay collections – will give you a solid starting point from which to delve into your academic adventures as an editor. As with all posts on this blog, please do share your experiences and thoughts in the comments; the more the merrier!

 

PLANNING SPECIAL JOURNAL ISSUES

First of all, it’s perhaps worth considering the purpose and context of special issues in comparison with the notes I’ve provided previously on edited essay collections. Special issues have a somewhat different reach than edited collections; they are less likely to appear on reading lists for undergraduate courses, and they will also not be available to non-academic audience via the usual large (and tax-avoiding) online bookshops. They may, however, be regarded as more specialist, and as more rigorously reviewed (as every article should be peer-reviewed by a specialist reviewer in the respective field). You may be more restricted as to overall word count as well as regarding the length of individual articles in an issue, plus there is usually less space than in an edited collection (which can easily contain anywhere between ten to fifteen essays, while it would be unusual to see a journal issue containing more than ten individual articles). It is also worth bearing in mind that a special issue as whole, for you as co-editor, is not a REFable output, while an edited collection is.

Once you have taken these aspects into account and decided that a special journal issue is the output you would like to produce (from a conference or other collaboration), you should consider the following:

– Approach journal editor/s with a proposed topic before you start planning – Depending on popularity of the journal, there may not be room for a special issue – Plans for special issues and calls for papers must be approved by editorial board – Clarify that special issue submissions undergo the journal’s usual peer-review process – Ask about the journal’s schedule. Do they have a large backlog of submissions/ issues?

 

SUBMISSION & SELECTION PROCESSES

– Articles are often submitted to editorial assistant (via email or online system)
– Submissions will then be forwarded to you
– You may be sent a document containing ID numbers, word counts and titles
– Often first criteria of eliminating submissions are word count and topic
– Articles may be considered for a general issue if rejected for special issue
– Editors should tell you if they expect you to highlight these
– Clarify overall word count for your issue with general editor in advance
– Select a few more articles than can be included in the special issue
– Ensure they make for a coherent collection of articles
– Usually it is your job to find at least one suitable peer reviewer per article
– Choose experts in the respective areas of the submissions
– Always have backup names in case someone doesn’t get back to you
– Approach potential reviewers with a polite, friendly email
– Include: who you are, special issue topic, title of submission, review deadline
– Don’t treat this as an invitation for which they should be eternally grateful to you
– Acknowledge and understand that this is additional (and unpaid) work for them
– Anticipate delays with reviewers’ feedback and authors’ responses to changes
– Account for these potential delays in your overall schedule for the project
– Once you have received all peer reviews, make your final selection
– Decisions will normally be sent out by the editorial assistant or you

 

EDITING PROCESS

– Forward any feedback with a polite and carefully-worded email
– For selected articles, include a summary of the revisions required
– These should be the reviewers’ suggestions and yours
– Be clear when giving feedback and requesting changes
– Give concrete suggestions for improvements
– Include the deadline by which you require these revisions to be made
– Remind the author to keep you updated if there are any delays or problems
– Remind them not to make changes to the layout and formatting unless requested
– Remind them that the article is accepted provisionally, pending changes
– Ensure every co-editor reads every submission at least once
– After these first revisions, ask for any further minor changes
– You can usually ask reviewers to take a second look at submissions

 

ALMOST THERE: FINAL STEPS

– Ensure you prepare the full manuscript in accordance with the journal’s guidelines
– Ensure you check the final proofs you are sent; errors can creep in during copy editing
– Ensure authors complete and submit copyright agreements and any other documents
– Keep authors updated regarding the process and predicted publication date of the issue

As you can probably tell by now, the editing process is, generally speaking, fairly similar to that of an edited collection, though there is less pressure on you to be an expert in the field of each article thanks to the peer-review process. Due to this, you may find that special issues offer themselves as a particularly attractive option if you are looking to compile essays which are related to but not exactly within your field of expertise. It is not my place here to predict what will happen to journals and journal special issues further down the line as the Finch report and Open Access policies are implemented, but currently will find that some academics prefer to publish their work as peer-reviewed articles due to the perception that these are higher-quality outputs, especially in light of the Research Excellence Framework (though supposedly reviewers on REF panels do not take into account where an output has been published).

No matter if you choose to publish the material you have compiled via conferences and other collaborations in an edited collection or as a special journal issue, being an editor of such a publication can help you to begin establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and you will find that – if you do your job well and in a professional manner – these kinds of projects often lead to further collaboration, be they authorial, editorial or otherwise. So although the process can be exhausting (proofreading, proofreading, proofreading, chasing authors and reviewers, etc.), it is worth looking out for these opportunities. It’s exciting to be at the heart of your field and to gain insight into the various research directions your colleagues and peers are currently taking – enjoy it, and reward yourself!

Nadine Muller

Nadine Muller

Nadine is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Her research covers the literary and cultural histories of women, gender, and feminism from the nineteenth century through to the present day. She is currently completing a monograph on the Victorian widow (Liverpool University Press, 2018), and is leading War Widows' Stories, a participatory research and oral history project on war widows in Britain.

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4 Responses

  1. Shumsal says:

    Do academics get paid to edit books for say, Routledge, or is it just something you do in spare time? An opportunity to edit a handbook has come up informally, but I wasn’t sure if this is paid work and it feels awkward asking…

    • Hi Shumsal! You should never feel awkward for asking! If you edit an academic essay collection for an academic publisher (commercial or university press), there is usually no fee involved. However, it is likely you will receive some royalties etc. through the ALCS (and the publisher) if people reproduce material from your book, etc. I can’t overstate that you shouldn’t feel awkward clarifying the conditions – if you agree to do something, you do want to know the conditions under which you’re doing it, after all. 🙂

  2. Ashton Spacey says:

    Thank you so, so much for writing this article. I’m working on my first ever edited collection, going it solo and I’m terrified. This has been a wonderful insight into the process and what needs to be done now that the papers have all been selected. Wonderful, wonderful guide to stumble across.

    Wishing you all the very best for all your current and future projects.

  1. 14/06/2014

    […] make sure in advance what work will be involved and how it will be divided between the co-editors. (See this post on how to begin editing […]

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