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Many doctoral writers publish their research as articles in special issues of journals, as chapters in book collections of essays, or as contributions to academic blogs. In this post we explore a little of the background work by editors that goes into producing those publications. Understanding the editor’s perspective can provide valuable insights into research writing. For editors, these projects can be satisfying, complex, frustrating, enriching and everything in between.

Photo by cottonbro

We three co-editors of the DoctoralWriting blog – Claire, Susan and Cally – are currently writing a book about editing multi-authored volumes (book collections of essays, special issues of journals, multi-authored blogs) as a guide for editors undertaking these projects. As we considered this kind of editing work and the associated writing, we put a series of questions to ourselves. Here’s a taste of the kinds of things we’ve been thinking about.

What are the motivations for undertaking a project like this?

Even though this kind of editing work is not always recognised by universities’ traditional ‘output’ metrics, we academics keep doing it, and for good reasons.

  • Some projects emerge from the recognition that there is a gap in the research literature that needs to be filled. From the editor’s perspective, it’s likely to be a topic they find personally exciting or as important for advancing disciplinary knowledge.
  • These projects can provide a common platform for multiple perspectives and voices on the topic, resulting in an output that has greater depth than a single-authored volume.
  • Book chapters (and blog posts, of course) can have more flexibility in terms of style, genre and format than conventional journal articles. With greater licence to experiment, different kinds of knowledge can be shared.
  • Essay collections also create opportunities for more exploratory, conceptual, or reflective work, which can be less welcome in traditional scholarly outlets that favour empirical research, for example. 
  • Facilitating the dissemination of other researchers’ work is also a powerful motivation for editing multi-authored volumes. A key satisfaction is the development of productive collaborations and network building by working alongside authors (and co-editors).
  • It’s also a wonderful way to gain insights into how others approach topics of mutual interest, as well as to learn more about other researchers’ writing and editing processes.

What are the most challenging aspects of editing a multi-authored volume?

  • It can be tough managing extraordinarily busy people and keeping them to deadlines. We all know how busy academics are, so it can be tricky striking the right balance between being sympathetic and yet ensuring quality projects are delivered on time – especially when, as is often the case, working with well-known and respected colleagues.
  • Authors can sometimes be offended by the feedback they receive from reviewers. Managing the reviewing processes as well as the tricky emotional aspects of navigating feedback is all part of bringing the project to successful publication.
  • Sometimes editors must make really tough decisions to reject contributions that are not suitable for publication.
  • As the project takes shape, tracking manuscript versions through the various stages and revisions requires careful adherence to clearly defined systems.

What can go wrong for contributors to a multi-authored volume?

  • It is frustrating to invest lots of time and energy writing specifically for a project that fails to come to fruition. There can never be absolute guarantees that these projects will deliver the planned outcomes; however, checking out the track record of proposing editors can be a reasonable gauge of the likely success of publication.
  • There can be long delays at different stages of the project if editors come up against obstacles. Some of those obstacles may have been predictable (and a good editor will have a contingency plan to manage risk); others are way beyond their control.
  • Poor communication about the progress of the publication can induce uncomfortable levels of uncertainty about what’s expected, when material is due, and when the work will be available to readers.

What surprised you?

  • Our overwhelming response to this question was an agreement about the personal benefits of long-term, trusting professional friendships that are formed through doing productive work together.
  • The generosity of colleagues in offering review and feedback to peers is hugely heartening in an academic world that is sometimes hyper-competitive.
  • Managing the people and relationships can be a much bigger element of the editor’s job than the copyediting and proofreading that are usually considered to constitute ‘editing’.

Our 3 top tips for editors…

  1. Plan carefully with plenty of wriggle room for the deadlines: there will always be delays at various points.
  2. Ensure you have an agreed system for managing the project:  clear communications, roles and timelines make all the difference (project management software can help with this too).
  3. Do your homework to choose the right publication outlet: pay close attention to reputation, quality, costs, and contracts.

… and for doctoral writers aiming for a special issue or book chapter

  1. Stay focused on the blurb that the editors have used to describe the edition in their call for papers.
  2. Use this opportunity to build your network and your reputation as a reliable researcher.

We’d love to hear from you about your own experiences as editors and/or contributors to multi-authored volumes. What made it a success? What needed improvement?