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The Scholarly Edition

The other side of the desk: Advice from a university press editor


Having written about working with different publishers in our last post, we thought it might be helpful to hear from a university press editor directly. What follows is advice from Emily Andrew, a former senior editor at UBC Press and current senior editor at Cornell University Press.

When approaching a publisher with a proposal for an edited volume, there are two things to bear in mind: first, know the difference between a successful grant application and an engaging book proposal; and secondly, know the difference between a special edition of a journal and a multi-authored collection – because they are not siblings, only distant cousins.

Explain what your volume aims to do

A good book proposal will speak clearly and confidently to its audience. At Canadian university presses, proposals are shared with fellow editors, the press directors and, in certain cases, with colleagues in marketing, production and finance. So, the language you use, the way you demonstrate your case and convince us that your book matters – in essence, the “pitch” – needs to be different than the one you’d use for granting council panel. Eschew academic jargon! Explain what your volume aims to do, why its contributors are the best people for the job, why they are saying something different and important from what’s been said before, and how their findings speak to common themes.

Editing a collection takes infinitely more work than a journal

Contributors to a special edition of a journal are expected to tie their own research agendas to a core theme or subject matter. Connections are sometimes explicit, other times looser. There is rarely a consistency of “voice” – to whom am I speaking? Will I address that audience effectively with the way I’ve presented my information? – and, while there are word limits, there’s not necessarily even a consistency of length, either with the main text or notes.

An edited collection will be much more integrated, cross-referenced, and intentional. Readers should sense that a conversation is taking place and that there is dialogue between chapters. If the chapters are not addressing each other, peer reviewers will remark on this, which will slow down the process. One of my readers, commenting on a volume that required revision, put it perfectly:

“On more than one occasion I felt that the arguments being made in one chapter were either resonating or conflicting with the arguments being made in another chapter, and I really wanted to hear how the authors of each would respond to their fellow-travelers.”

One way of dealing with this is that each author take up the claims presented in two other chapters to describe how her arguments either converge or diverge.

A final note about multi-authored volumes

Because there will be several chapters that are stellar, and others that need refinement, volume editors and their contributors should anticipate more than one round of review. Do expect that the version of your chapter included in the manuscript for peer review will require revision, possibly even re-writing.

Emily Andrew was a senior editor at UBC Press for over 18 years, where she oversaw the publication of 94 collections. She is currently a senior editor at Cornell University Press.

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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