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Edited Collections

Started by Ancient Fellow, June 07, 2019, 01:51:21 PM

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I have a reason to contribute to edited collections that others haven't mentioned — but it only works in certain circumstances.

I got to know an Eminent Scholar who cajoled me into contributing to his edited collection, even though I was reluctant.  I have a personal practice of always getting things in on time or ahead of time — I figure I can't be the most brilliant, and I can't be unearth startling new discoveries, but I can get the edge on the competition by turning things in on time.  And well proofread, and in the required format.

So I turned my piece in ahead of the deadline, well proofread, and in the right format — and it turned out that out of the 15+ contributors, I was the only one to do so.  So when Eminent Press asked Eminent Editor who they should ask to head Eminent Project, he recommended me.  And so I am now in charge of Eminent Project.  Which along the way has involved two all-expense-paid lavish trips to desirable locations, as well as Eminent Publications and so forth.

As part of this, I am editing my own collections, and I see the same thing happening.  One of the volumes I'm editing has ten contributors, and only one of the contributions came in on time.  It was beautifully written, free of typos, and the only contribution that was fully in the required formatting.

Now other scholars are asking me who I would recommend to be head of such-and-such.  The answer is obvious to me — my best contributor.  That contributor has gone on to do excellent work, as predicted — also on time and in the right format.

So my recommendation is to agree to contribute to volumes edited by eminent scholars you know to be reliable, sane, and prompt themselves.  And in my experience, it is easy to outshine the competition, merely by being reliable, sane, and prompt yourself.  There are few ways to make one's sterling reliability clear to the people who run things — this is one of them.


I would only contribute to an edited collection if it counted toward promotion/tenure -- a line on my c.v. The vast majority of multi-authored volumes in my field are long-delayed collections of terribly-written conference papers that no one reads. Far less work and more career payoff to publish in journals.
It's terrible writing, used to obfuscate the fact that the authors actually have nothing to say.


I think this really depends on where you are in your career. As someone moving toward promotion/tenure you're in a different position than a full professor with a named chair, who doesn't need another CV line, but who wants to bring out new work. People I know in the second category often only publish in collections that are peer reviewed, and to which they've been invited (humanities), as well as publishing books. They sometimes edit collections on their own, to bring together both new and established people in the field.


I'm in the humanities, and because so many of the people in my particular areas are in the UK, edited collections loom quite large, as they seem to have more traction there than they do in many North American universities. One advantage of collections is that the good ones get reviewed, in my field anyway, and so there's some extra exposure for the chapters. I advise my pre-tenure colleagues to focus on journal articles, and only to agree to chapters if they represent a significant opportunity (working with a top-tier press and/ or editor, say). Me, I'm a full professor, so I just make my own decisions based on whether I know the people involved, and whether the project sounds interesting.


Quote from: nescafe on June 08, 2019, 10:08:52 AM
One thing to think about, too, is how risky publishing in an edited collection can be. These volumes are notoriously known for publication delays, reversals, and other sorts of publishing bad news.

Quote from: aside on June 10, 2019, 07:31:32 AM
Yes, I had a bad experience many years ago in which I was invited to contribute to a volume, did so, and then the volume never appeared because the editors reneged on the deal after a couple of years of hounding authors for their contributions. <...>

This has been my experience in two out of the three essays-for-collections/book chapters I've contributed to. I worked hard on my contribution, sent it in well ahead of the deadline...then crickets from the editors.

After my most recent experience with that, I've resolved not to contribute unless I know absolutely (1) that the editor has past experience turning around such projects in a timely way and highly respectable format, and (2) that there's a publication contract in place with a good publisher.


Quote from: Cheerful on June 12, 2019, 01:35:57 PM
Quote from: Any Questions? on June 10, 2019, 12:56:54 PM
And now that many more of the chapters are electronically available, that's a huge bonus for access and readership that they might not have had in paper form.

Do you mean they can access the chapters from the library's electronic copy?  I've had bad luck with attempts to access my library's electronic books but haven't tried in a couple years. Maybe things are better now?  There were limits on access, print function didn't work well, couldn't easily scan/save high-quality resolution of chapter for future use, etc.

Library ebooks are slowly improving. I worked with one of our librarians on getting ebooks for my spring courses. She checked restrictions on the ebooks the library already had, then bought a couple of unrestricted ebooks for me. Seven of the 12 books I used were available as unrestricted library ebooks, so I took them off the bookstore list and linked to library copy in syllabus. I also warned students that a few of the others were available as library ebooks, but had use restrictions so they shouldn't rely on getting them at last minute.

Some publishers won't sell ebooks to libraries at all. The ones that sell unrestricted ebooks usually charge more for them. Our library will pay more for unrestricted ebooks if we tell them it's assigned reading, because that saves students money. But the library can't get unrestricted ebooks for every title, because publishers don't sell them.
Enthusiasm is not a skill set. (MH)


Humanities here. For T&P chapters and articles are pretty equivalent where I have worked. However, with the rise of digital databases articles are far more visible than are chapters in nearly any book.


Humanities. I have one piece in an edited collection from a strong publisher. It counts for P&T at my institution. But I try to stick with journal articles since they are more respected in my field. If I ever need/want to shift jobs, I would prefer my CV to list more journal articles over edited collections.

Bede the Vulnerable

(Humanities-R1)  I've done this twice: Both times as a favor to a friend (An actual, personal friend); both times with a tippy-top press in a go-to handbook.  These chapters counted a lot for me at my previous, low-research university, and probably helped me get the interview at my current institution.  But I can't imagine doing this under any other circumstances, primarily because the lag-time drove me up a wall.  I met the deadline for both chapters.  One of them then appeared . . . six years (sic.) later.  (So you might be able to guess which press, if you've ever had the pleasure of working with them.)

Colleagues in my discipline at LAC's publish chapters as a matter of course.  It helps them with promotion and raises, and gets their names out there.  So I wouldn't advise against it for scholars in that situation.  But I would caution a younger faculty member not to count on the book coming out in time for tenure review.

Of making many books there is no end;
And much study is a weariness of the flesh.


While I can't dispute the practical advice, I must say that I wish the system didn't force us to be so strategic and self-serving in our choices of where to publish. I've edited a collection, and contributed chapters to several more. For me, the experience is always more rewarding than writing a journal article, starting with just the basic knowledge that my scholarship is going to be part of a curated conversation around a very specific topic or theme. In my field, it's common for the editors to ask contributors to read and respond to one another's chapters as part of the revision process. I did this in my collection, and it made for better writing and a better book in the end. It's always more gratifying to get that book and read the whole thing, and see how different chapters fit together and compare/contrast to one another. If every journal issue were an ambitiously and skillfully edited "special issue," that would be one thing. But just as a pure question of form and how it amplifies scholarship and creates scholarly dialogue, a well done anthology beats a run-of-the-mill issue of even the most prestigious journal hands-down, in my opinion. That there's so much incentive for scholars NOT to contribute to edited collections makes me sad, and doesn't necessarily benefit us as scholars, IMHO.


I would write a chapter for an edited collection if the other contributors were solid scholars, or if the editor was a colleague I knew well and trusted to do a good job. I much prefer it to writing for journals. I write on genocide and ethnic conflict.

Bede the Vulnerable

Master if Revels has me rethinking things a bit.  After reading Master's post, I gave some thought to my syllabi this semester.  As it turns out, I'm assigning the kiddos more essays from edited volumes than articles form journals.  The essays tend to be less recondite, and, frankly, more interesting. 

My concern is still lag time.  My experience has been bad.  But I'm in a book field, and I don't have a lot of knowledge of how long it takes to get a journal article out in most fields.  So perhaps it's not much different, in general?
Of making many books there is no end;
And much study is a weariness of the flesh.


In my humanities field, edited collections are equivalent to journal articles, and I have written a fair amount of book chapters as a result.  I would even say that the highest quality edited collections can have more impact than journal articles in shaping the field. Like MasterOfRevels, I view edited collections as an opportunity to participate in a curated conversation about a topic. Generally, I say yes to edited collections when I know the editors and have faith in their ability to shepherd a quality project to completion.

That said, I made one rookie mistake early on in my career--I answered a CFP for an edited collection with editors that I did not know. The project was plagued by delays, and eventually the editors stopped answering my emails altogether. Ten years later, I still have no word on what's happened with the collection (despite having signed a contract with the press eight years ago or so), and I see that the primary editor has left the profession for med school. At this point, I have to assume that the collection will never see the light of day. TL;DR: I would be very wary of edited collections seeking contributions from the general public and overseen by people that you do not personally know.

Ancient Fellow

Quote from: Ancient Fellow on June 07, 2019, 01:51:21 PMWhat in everybody's opinion is the value of chapters in edited collections? If you were asked to contribute, would you contribute or not, and why? If its depends, what would it depend on? Since so many things are field specific, can those answering specify what area they work in?

Just an update –

Edited collection now under contract with Appropriate Moderately-sized University Press. The volume is a critical edition of a text with supplementary chapters by each of us in our relevant specialty area. Elapsed time from submission to the series editors to contract? Four years. Been a long haul, but it's a labor of love for myself and my contributors and will hopefully be out this year. Will likely do one more such volume for another neglected but significant text in the next couple years.

In the interest of cautioning early career researchers, let me just add two other categories –

Chapter in an edited collection based on a conference, supposed to be published by Huge Academic Trade Press. The lovely conference was eight years ago. No updates from publisher. Only sticking with it for the sake of the editors, but quietly wishing I had just submitted it to a journal eight years ago. I've no idea how antiquated it will seem when it finally sees the light of day, so I suppose it's a good thing I'm an ancient historian. Fortunately, I'm not myself terribly ancient, and so my chapter is unlikely to be posthumous.

Two chapters in a proceedings volume series, published by a Moderately-sized Academic Trade Press. The two conferences were great experiences, but being published in this proceedings series means they're less accessible to researchers. For a proceedings series, their reputation is pretty good, but their peer review is single non-blind and frequently done by the series editor rather than a subfield-specific expert. It doesn't particularly bother me, but it would have served me better to publish them in journals.

The lesson, I suppose, is that edited collections take bloody forever, garner less notice, but can be worth it if the project has inherent value to you.


This edited collection sounds like a definitive analysis of the subject, with a nice diversity of interpretations. That scholarship should have a lot of value, and deserves to be known.

What kind of publicity can you do so that it becomes well known in the field? Will we hear you interviewed by Terri Gross? More modestly, are there podcasters who cover the general field? They are always looking for novel content.