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The Scholarly Edition

Managing authors during an edited book project


Bringing together 10-20 people for any given task can be a challenge. When those people are academics – who you are asking to produce quality essays on a fairly rigid deadline – that challenge can be overwhelming.

In the academic world, authors contribute to book projects as volunteers, so you can’t threaten to cut their pay if their submissions are late and/or simply disappoint. Moreover, if your authors are senior to you, they could be future assessors of your application for promotion or external grants, and being critical of them could end up being awkward. Other authors might be close friends or colleagues, with whom you’ll have to continue to work for the rest of your career regardless of the outcome of your project.

Avoid treating all of your contributors the same

In our experience, there is no single strategy to manage chapter authors. Some authors don’t respond well to pressure; others thrive on it. Some seek praise and reassurance; others prefer strictly professional feedback – in as small doses as possible. Some want to be fully involved in the editing process; others are content to simply sign off on your changes. Some want to read other chapters; others are only be interested in their own work.

The importance of managing authors individually affirms our preference for invited edited collections over open calls for contributions. It’s important to understand the eccentricities, and idiosyncrasies, of your authors before a problem arises.

It’s okay to fudge your deadlines

If you really need chapters in draft form by, say, June 30, set the deadline for the end of May. If you anticipate that the peer review process will take three months, allocate four, or even five just to be safe. In our experience, most authors who struggle to meet deadlines will be late regardless of the agreed upon submission date, so it makes sense to deal with their time management challenges pre-emptively.

Inevitably, however, an author or two will simply fail to produce. In such cases, it’s critical to establish a hard deadline as far in advance as possible (i.e., immediately after the initial deadline has passed). Communicating clearly protects against long-term damage to your personal and professional relationships, even if certain authors can no longer be included in a given volume.

Keeping your authors in line

Other subtle, yet still helpful, ways to help your authors stay on track and in form (in other words, formatting their chapters in accordance with your guidelines) include:

  1. Finishing your own chapter(s) early.
  2. Send your work out to your colleagues, presumably for feedback, but also to increase the pressure on them to finish on time.
  3. Distributing any other early chapters serves the same purpose.

Finally, keep the drama private. Your authors need to feel confident that you have things under control. Use your co-editor, or a mentor, as your outlet if you need to vent.

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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