Our last post discussed the benefits and drawbacks of working with a co-editor. If, or once, you have decided to go that route, you will face a series of new challenges: approaching the right person, establishing an effective working relationship, and dealing with potential conflicts.
We suggest that while not all of these challenges can be dealt with in advance, most of them can, and should be. Although Chris has had remarkable success editing a collection with a colleague he barely knew, such an outcome is relatively rare in academic circles.
We therefore recommend approaching potential co-editors you already have a strong working relationship with. It’s better to understand your future partner’s strengths and weaknesses before you start your project, rather than once you have a group of chapter authors counting on you to bring your book to fruition.
At least one of you should have exceptionally strong organizational skills, and at least one should be an excellent writer and editor. One should have particularly good interpersonal skills in order to manage authors and egos, while at least one should be capable of firm reprimands to delinquent contributors.
It’s well worth discussing the project in detail before you form a partnership with someone to make sure that both (or all of the) editors share a common vision of the end result. For example, do you plan to create a more theoretical book or a more practical one? Do you have a press in mind? Are there specific gaps in your personal skill set that you are counting on your co-editor to fill? How will you divide responsibility for your authors? Will one person be the point of contact for everyone? Will you both edit each paper, or split them up? Who will liaise with the publisher?
It’s also critical that you share a similar level of commitment to your project. Can you agree on an ideal publication date and pledge to make the time necessary to meet it? Do you have similar levels of freedom in your regular jobs that will allow you to make this project a priority when your leadership is needed? Do you check and return emails, texts and phone messages with the same level of regularity?
Perhaps most important, do you trust your potential partner to make time-sensitive decisions on his or her own if you are unavailable? That trust could be the critical difference between getting your manuscript to the publisher on time and losing weeks, if not months, to the need to double check every minor decision. Successful editors must share a mutual respect for one another, both as people and as scholars.
Finally, a sense of humour and degree of humility can also help. As Chris notes: “I always want to produce quality work, but I try not to take myself too seriously in the process.”