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The Scholarly Edition

Why most book projects benefit from collaboration and critique


As a recovering control freak, I edited my first collection of essays on my own. The project took significantly longer than expected, and was much more challenging than I had anticipated, but it was successful in the end.

Looking back, the benefits of working alone were straightforward: complete editorial control; the opportunity to ensure that the final product was consistent with my original vision; credit and recognition for an idea that was my own; and the pride that comes from completing a demanding, yet meaningful project.

Nonetheless, the experience also confirmed for me that I would never edit alone again. Part of my change of heart came from simply growing up: I no longer feel such intense possessiveness of my ideas, and I recognize that most book projects benefit from collaboration and critique.

Some scholars wouldn’t even think of producing an edited volume alone, but if you’ve come up with the topic for the book, you will have to decide: do I try to navigate the process myself, or should I work with a partner (or partners)?

Finding the yin to your yang
Adding the right co-editor(s) provides extensive immediate and long-lasting benefits, at relatively little cost. First, it means significantly less work. Co-editors can split up their respective duties based on their own preferences or areas of interest. For example, I’m quite happy to edit and read proofs, but I’m less comfortable dealing with authors whose papers are late. When it comes to our current project, my co-editor, Chris, has an excellent grasp of the theoretical side of political science; as a trained historian, I don’t.

Having more than one editor also expands your scholarly network. I invited historians to our project; Chris found political scientists.

A second editor means a second opinion. Co-editors notice different things when they read submissions, and book chapters inevitably benefit from the additional point of view.

Since not every editorial project goes perfectly, having a partner can be critical to defusing potential conflicts, be that with a publisher or with contributors.

Co-editors also mean twice the resources when it comes time to promote the book as well.

As for professional credit, since edited books don’t “count” nearly as much as peer-reviewed journal articles do, there is no major loss in co-editing. Indeed, for those who typically work alone, working with a co-editor is an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to collaborate across departments, universities, and perhaps also disciplines.

There are, of course, potential drawbacks. The wrong co-editor could easily ruin a project, and too many co-editors might create more logistical problems than they solve. The keys, it seems, are to be sure that you and your co-editor are compatible; to confirm that you share a common vision for your project; and, most important, to ensure that you share the same level of commitment to seeing it through in a timely manner.

Chris and I will deal with some of these ideas together in our next post.

Adam Chapnick
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