Being invited to serve as a series or journal editor is a sign that you are held in high regard by the academic community. As such it will benefit your subject area as well as your department, school, and importantly, REF unit of return, feeding in directly to the impact narrative as well as counting as an indicator of esteem. But such a role also demands a great deal from you in terms of time and commitment.
Check out the detail
While it can be flattering to be approached out of the blue by a publisher who wants you to edit a series or a journal, give yourself time to think and to consult with others before agreeing to take it on. Ask the following questions: how much time per month / semester am I expected to devote to this? Is this realistic? Is my role managerial? If a journal, do I commission articles / book reviews? How and when are books received for review? Will I be able to produce special issues (and in that case, commission subject specialists as editor of such issues)? If a book series, am I expected to approach potential authors myself, or manage submissions? Is there an advisory board, how are its members appointed, and what is the extent of their involvement? How much of the final editing will be my responsibility, and will the publisher offer their own in-house copy / proofing services?
Most importantly, before you sign anything agree on the length of time you will be expected to occupy the role, and what the terms for resignation and/or hand-over are. Do not agree to an open-ended commitment, and above all, make sure you have in writing that it is the publisher’s responsibility to find a successor to you.
Weigh up the costs
Think of this – for a moment at least – in hard economic terms. Once you have established how much time you will have to give to the role, consider whether this is an adequate exchange for your time. Some publishers may offer you some sort of honorarium, or discounts on their list, or similar, but by and large these roles are done pro bono. Of course, it may be the case that the publisher, series or journal is well regarded, and that the prestige attached to it will only help you in your career. But tread carefully: this is not always the case.
Once you’re satisfied with the terms offered by the publisher, and have a clear response from them on the scale of commitment involved, go to your line manager / Head of Department/ School, as well as your Director of Research. Make sure you have done your homework about the journal/ series’ standing and consider whether your work on it might constitute part of (or even a whole) impact case study. In the case of editorial roles with considerable responsibilities you need to ask for teaching buy-out for at least some of the time. You might also want to make the case to your DoR that an editorship which contributes to an impact case study or the broader narrative merits a bid for administrative support. You will almost certainly need such support in the case of journal editorships, where you might be receiving tens of books for review at any given period. At the very least, administrative support will be needed to manage the inevitable rounds of emails commissioning reviews, issuing deadline reminders, chasing submissions, and liaising with contributors and publisher.
You might also be proactive about seeking funding for this yourself, if you can make a research case that brings together the editorship and a postgraduate bursary. This would not only relieve you of some of the administrative burden, but would have the additional burden of providing invaluable ‘hands-on’ training in some of the essential skills for an academic career (training in scholarship, textual standards, proof-reading, editing, time management, and even diplomacy).
So if the terms are right, the benefits of an editorship can be considerable, affecting not just you, but your department and wider subject area, and even the future generation of academics in your field.