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The Scholarly Edition

Pros and cons of writing a book chapter


For this final entry, we consider the edited book experience from a contributing author’s point of view…What follows is advice from Stephen Brown, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa.

Publishing a book chapter with a university press is generally seen as less prestigious than a peer-reviewed journal article, but it can be a better experience. For new scholars, it can certainly be a less daunting process.

Some of the pros

Book editors often provide important guidance before the first draft and useful comments on subsequent ones, which should ease the chapter’s way through the peer review process. Moreover, since reviewers normally assess the entire book and are less likely to be an expert in the chapter’s subject matter than for a journal’s reviewer, revisions are likely to be less onerous.

Also, a book built around a coherent, topical theme can attract more attention than a journal article, especially outside of academia. It can be very rewarding to be part of a book project that makes a splash or becomes an important source on a given topic.

Most chapters I have published only saw the light of day because editors asked me to make a specific contribution. Without being commissioned to do so, I would never have written those pieces – and they have helped define me as a scholar. Sometimes editors organize an authors’ workshop, which greatly improves the quality of the chapters, including through potential cross-pollenization, and provides an excellent opportunity to meet and network with scholars with similar interests.

Some of the cons

However, there are also some risks that come with tying one’s text with a collective project. The edited volume essentially can be held hostage by the slowest contributor to the book, unless editors get fed up and drop them (which is not an easy thing to do and can leave a gap in the book).

Editors can also take a long time to finalize the book’s introduction and conclusion, before submitting it to a press for peer review. If the process is unreasonably delayed, other contributors might start pulling out their chapters and the whole project can fall apart.

One of my book chapters took six years before it finally appeared in print. I was in my first year as an assistant professor when I wrote it – and I already had tenure by the time it came out. In the meantime, I had to update it several times because of major events the case study countries. Just as editors can pave the way for publication, they can also inadvertently block it.

Stephen Brown is a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa. Since 2003, he has edited or co-edited three books and contributed 16 chapters to other people’s edited volumes.

Adam Chapnick and Christopher Kukucha
Adam Chapnick teaches defence studies at the Canadian Forces College. Christopher Kukucha teaches political science at the University of Lethbridge. They are co-editors of The Harper Era in Canadian Foreign Policy, which will be published by UBC Press in August.
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