As the editor of two edited collections, I can say that the process of compiling an edited volume is both enjoyable and exhausting in equal measure! The editor needs patience, negotiating skill and the ability to work across several time zones with authors located in different parts of the world. Editors will slowly learn that a deadline is often a movable feast, with some polite cajoling required on occasions to keep a project on track.
The importance of marketability
Recent experience has taught me that the success of an edited collection depends on the coherence of the themes brought together. For example, my first co-edited volume, Consuming Behaviours (Bloomsbury 2015) looked at the identity, politics and pleasure associated with British consumers’ behaviour in twentieth century Britain. While the topics were wide-ranging, the organisation of the volume into different sections helped to maintain continuity and focus on the themes under discussion, with its main focus on consumer behaviour in twentieth century Britain. Oftentimes, the ability of a proposed collection to be awarded a publishing contract will depend not only on the coherence of the proposal, but also its marketability. Edited collections are not the same as a monograph, where one topic is examined in detail by a sole author. An edited collection brings together a range of essays on topics that can be used as required reading for specific university courses. It can also serve as a book for a general audience.
Formulating a central theme
The process of formulating a central theme to the edited collection can take several forms. It can come as a result of a series of papers delivered at a conference or workshop, or it can evolve as part of an organic process achieved through various networking methods. Edited collections arising from conferences are relatively common, since some conferences or smaller workshops are organised around a central theme. Perusing networking websites for academics will reveal a list of scholars who have expertise in your area of interest, and can be a good starting point for your preliminary enquiries. Additionally, you could start a discussion through the e-mail list of a learned society requesting contributions, or information on who may be researching in the areas in which you are interested. This could be used as the starting point for a discussion with interested scholars on your chosen topic.
Choice of contributors
Contributing a chapter to an edited collection will hold a different purpose for contributors, depending on their professional rank. For younger scholars, it can be an excellent opportunity for them to get noticed in the form of a publication with other recognised experts, although the professional ‘weight’ attached to the publication of a book chapter will vary according to institutions. For example, some institutions, for various reasons, do not recognise book chapters for promotion applications, which may discourage some scholars from contributing. The choice of collaborators is a very important task for an editor. While the presence of senior scholars can give the volume additional gravitas, this should never be done at the expense of coherence. Thus, editors should be careful about who they contact and the topics that contributors can provide.
Setting a realistic timeframe
Establishing a realistic timetable is also essential for the completion of an edited collection. A formal proposal should not really be presented to a publisher until you are clear about who will be contributing, their topics, and the overall structure of the book. Moreover, it should be relatively clear as to whether you believe that those who have agreed to contribute will actually be able to deliver their chapter. Thus, in our first co-edited volume, I, together with my co-editors decided to wait until we had received a first draft of all chapters before we formally presented a proposal to the publisher, although we had already made initial contact to ascertain the level of interest in the topic we were looking to pursue. Based on this experience, it took 18 months from the initial point of contact with a contributor to the presentation of a completed chapter ready for submission to the press, and then a further 9 months for the book to be published, taking into account the various corrections and proofing stages to which you as an editor would be responsible for.
Enjoying the experience
There is no doubt that the sense of relief and pride that I felt, together with my co-editors, when our collection was published is very difficult to describe. It is the fruits of over 2 years of labour. Organising over 10 authors to contribute chapters on time, and to organise their argument in a way that maintains coherence with the overall structure of the book is no mean feat! Nevertheless, the process of compiling the collection also has massive benefits for you as an editor. Not only does it demonstrate that you are a recognised expert in your field (in that you have the authority to edit and compile a collection of work by other scholars around a central theme), it also provides an educative function. You, as the editor, will learn a lot from your contributors through reading and engaging critically with their work. This, perhaps, is one of the most worthwhile experiences of completing this work.