Editing a Book | Benjamin & Jessup-Anger

Mimi Benjamin and Jody Jessup-Anger, ACPA Books Co-Editors

The idea that editing a book is easier than writing a book would make many scholars shake their heads. While writing a book is a significant undertaking, editing a book has its own unique challenges. As ACPA Books Co-Editors, we have a few suggestions for you to ponder if you’re thinking about spearheading an edited volume.

Once you have determined your focus and outlined your book, consider the following:

  • How will you solicit chapters? – Do you already know individual authors or a team of authors who you will invite for a chapter? Are you planning to put out a call for chapter submissions? If so, where will you place that call and what will you ask of those submitting – an outline, an abstract, a draft of the chapter? Will you request a writing sample for authors whose work you are not familiar with to determine if their writing works for your planned book? If you are putting out a call for chapter submissions, how will you decide what to accept and include? It’s helpful to have determined these things before you move forward.
  • What is your timeline? – How much time do chapter authors have to develop their manuscripts? Will you ask for drafts along the way so that you can determine if all the chapters hang together? It is usually best to think with the end in mind. If you have a date identified for submission of your full book, work backwards to determine dates for various submissions, keeping in mind that often chapter authors will be asked to do a number of revisions either by you or by the publisher. Will you ask for all chapters at the same time? If getting everything at once so that you can devote a large chunk of time to the project works best for you, you may want to do that. Alternatively, you might consider staggered timelines so that you’re not inundated with material all at once.
  • Will you provide a format or structure for the chapters? – Some editors ask all chapter authors to follow a certain format, include certain elements or reference a common work throughout the chapters. As an editor, you may want to cross-reference material throughout the book, highlighting how something in one chapter is related to information in another chapter.

The editing part is both interesting and time-consuming. Reading each chapter, determining how it fits within your conception of the book, and providing helpful feedback takes time. But authors greatly appreciate helpful feedback. One recommendation we offer is to not promise any author that their chapter definitely will be included in the book. What if the chapter that is submitted is very different than what you envisioned or what you wanted for you book? What if the writing style doesn’t fit? We encourage editors to tell authors that they reserve the right to eliminate chapters if necessary. Of course, we always recommend that that is done with appropriate feedback for the author and even potential recommendations for other publishing venues.

Our recommendations derive from both our experiences as the ACPA Books Co-Editors and experiences editing books ourselves. Book editing is a great opportunity to work with colleagues and offer information to the field that benefits our work. With consideration of these recommendations, we believe you’ll have a positive experience as editor of your own book project.