Editors’ Roles: Selecting Book Chapters

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An edited collection is a book-length compilation of chapters by different authors. To pull together this kind of book you need to find contributing authors, and select suitable chapter proposals. You also need to consider what role to take as the book’s editor, and who else you might need to help carry out tasks essential to the completion of the book.

See related MethodSpace posts on Envisioning an Edited Book and Proposing an Edited Book.

Finding authors

The first and most important step is to find the researchers and writers who can produce the kind of content you want for your book. Be mindful of the fact that you are asking busy academics and professionals to do one more thing on top of a busy schedule. Success depends largely on your ability to communicate an appealing vision for the book and to convey a sense of your own competence for managing the project. Information to provide prospective authors can include:

  • Descriptive overview of the book
  • Objective or purpose
  • Target audience, anticipated readers or uses (text, professional guide, practical handbook)
  • Recommended topics or suggested chapter titles
  • Chapter length and format
  • Submission procedure
  • Review procedures
  • Timeline
  • Publisher and status in regard to an agreement for publishing the book
  • Contact information for the editor(s)

Decide in advance precisely what you need from prospective authors. Proposals are typically 1-2 pages, and include elements such as:

  • An abstract
  • A description of the chapter’s central argument including an explanation of how the proposed chapter will align with the book’s objective and help to fulfill the purpose of the book
  • A description of the research or professional foundations of the chapter
  • 3-5 key words/phrases

Two common strategies for finding authors are: 1) inviting contributors, or 2) distributing a call for chapters. If you are part of a professional society or have your own network, you might already know people in your field whose contributions you would like to include. If so, you can reach out to them individually to discuss your vision and plan for the book. You will need to decide in advance whether you want them to submit an abstract or a full proposal, and how you will review them.

When you want to reach writers from a wider range of backgrounds and disciplines, distribute a call for chapters. Succinctly spell out detailed information and announce it through email lists or social media, professional groups, as well as through the publisher’s channels. Consider establishing a blog or website for your book project. Include book overview and proposal information, then link to your page when posting on social media or in newsletters where you have length restrictions. As the project progresses, this site can become a place for communicating with contributors and interested readers.

Selecting Chapters

You can’t wait until your inbox is full of proposals to decide how to pick the ones you will accept. Chapter selection protocols should be part of your initial conversation with the acquisitions editor.  As noted in the Proposing an Edited Book post, some publishers want to see a robust table of contents with a description of chapters before signing the book contract, while others will want to come to an agreement on the book concept before you determine the specific chapters to include. You will also discover that some publishers have established review guidelines or manuscript submission platforms, while others leave chapter selection decisions to the editor. In other words, depending on the publisher, you may be expected to select chapters before, or after, you have finalized the contract, using the publisher’s protocols or the one you devise.

In either case, the review process typically occurs in three broad stages. The first stage involves pre-screening to make sure the proposal is complete, and that it fits with the purpose of the book. In the second stage reviewers, evaluate proposals and select which authors will be asked to submit a fully-developed chapter. The third stage entails reviewing completed chapters to determine whether revisions are needed and to make the final acceptance for publication.

Choose the type of review that works best for the book you are producing. If you are planning a scholarly or academic book, then you will probably want to use double-blind peer review for the initial selection of chapter proposals. For other types of books, you could choose a single-blind or editorial review process. Some editors ask authors to serve as reviewers, while others recruit independent reviewers. Another option is to form an editorial review board, and ask members to review chapter proposals. Expert members of the editorial review board could use either a double-blind or single-blind protocol. A third option relies on the editor to evaluate and select proposals. With any review type, as the editor, you should have the final say on which proposals to accept so you can look at the prospective collection as a whole and analyze whether chapters will fit together to achieve the book’s objectives.

Double-blind means neither the authors’ nor the reviewers’ identities are disclosed to the other (Ware, 2013). Double-blind peer review is considered the most objective approach. You will need to develop clear review criteria, find appropriate reviewers, and organize a process that obscures identities.

In a single-blind peer review, authors’ names are known to the reviewers, but reviewers’ names are withheld from the authors (Ware, 2013). This type of review is appropriate when proposals were invited from a select group of writers, or when the field is a narrow one meaning experts are well-known to reviewers. Alternatively, an editor can decide to invite or collect proposals, and make the decision about which chapters to include. The editor’s and authors’ identities are known to each other. When the editor, or the editorial review board, choose chapters using a single-blind or editorial review their decisions can be informed by professional reputations or other published writings by known authors.

 

Ways to select chapters graphic

Once completed chapters have been submitted, the next stage will require a slightly different skill set on the part of reviewers. At this point, you need reviewers who can provide some level of guidance on usage, grammar, style and format, as well is content.

Lessons Learned
I used two different selection and review approaches for the books I edited. For the Handbook of Research on Electronic Collaboration (J. E. Salmons & Wilson, 2009), we wanted chapters that represented multiple perspectives from multiple disciplines, so we widely broadcasted a call for chapters. We conducted a double-blind peer review to choose chapter proposals that met our criteria. Reviewers included authors as well as others in the field. The co-editors conducted the second stage review of submitted chapters. Revisions were required for most of the chapters, particularly since for many of the authors English was not the first language.

For the much shorter Cases in Online Interview Research (J. Salmons, 2012), I wanted multiple perspectives on a tightly-focused topic. I invited researchers whose work I knew and respected to contribute to the book. I also put out a targeted call for chapters, and created a page about the book that allowed me to link to the submission guidelines. As editor, I selected the proposals for chapters that best fit my vision for the book. I communicated one-one with authors to make sure they understood the structure and purpose. I was also responsible for reviewing completed chapters. This editor-centric approach worked with a book of ten chapters, but would not be realistic for a more substantial anthology.

Lessons learned from these experiences, as well as from contributing chapters and serving on editorial boards include:

  • Offer specific information about review stages, and timelines.
  • Be clear about the writing style and general approach for chapters, including expectations for features such as definitions of terms, discussion questions or assignment ideas.
  • Articulate and communicate review criteria from the beginning. Explain how criteria align with the book’s purpose.

References

Salmons, J. (Ed.) (2012). Cases in online interview research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Salmons, J. E., & Wilson, L. A. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy. Hershey: Information Science Reference.

Ware, M. (2013). Peer review: Benefits, perceptions and alternatives. Retrieved from London: file:///C:/Users/dream_000/Downloads/PRC%20Peer%20Review%20Guide%20FINAL%202013-07-22%20(1).pdf

 

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