Editors Edit

Ilana Gershon, a contributing editor for the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, asked seven editors for their insights on questions that authors of books commonly ask. Five are press editors (Berghahn, Chicago, Indiana, Princeton, Stanford) and two are series editors. This month’s column explores the following question:

What type of guidance should an author expect in working with an editor?

Fred Appel: That depends on what one means by guidance, and what stage of the publishing process we’re talking about. A first-time author, in particular, could reasonably ask for guidance in how to prepare a book prospectus. Many book publishers offer guidelines for these. First-time authors will also want their editors to enlighten them about various aspects of the publishing process: how peer review works at that publishing house, what sort of engagement they can expect later on with their copyeditor, with the production department, with sales and marketing, and so on. Authors can also ask their acquisition editors for guidance regarding the structure of their book manuscript and can ask for feedback on specific draft chapters. Editors will respond in various ways and will provide editorial guidance with varying degrees of detail and levels of engagement.

Jennika Baines: This, I think, is where book exhibits at conferences can really come in handy. Several weeks before the major conference in your field, make appointments to speak with editors at a few different presses to get a sense of how they would work with you. Some editors might be very involved and would send diligent reminders of due dates, others are happy to let you work at your own pace. Which works better for you?

For the most part, though, editors are going to provide guidance on the review, revision, and publication process. They can answer your questions about revision strategies, they can think through the best way to write your response to readers’ comments, and they can help you make decisions about what form the book will take. They are there to help you make the best book possible, and this is useful because a book has concerns and priorities that are fundamentally different from most of the other writing you will do in your career.

Dominic Boyer: Most press editors these days work primarily as acquisition editors rather than as content editors. That means that they may or may not weigh in on the design and execution of your project, they may instead leave it up to peer reviewers to give you substantive feedback. This has plusses and minuses. Many acquisition editors may not have a strong background in your discipline, which means that they may not be best positioned to help you refine your argument and analysis for the core audience. On the other hand, a more engaged editor can be very helpful, especially to a first-time author still learning the craft. I suspect this is also the case with some series editors. But my hope is that series editors are going to be better positioned to offer substantive feedback on a project. In my case, I have the luxury of being able to pass on projects that I don’t personally find compelling. So if I am working with you, it is because I think it is important work and I’m committed to seeing it in print in its best possible form.

Alessandro Duranti: In my experience there is tremendous variation across editors and also there is a difference between the Editor who works at the Press and the Editor of a series for which the book is being considered. It is good to get your editor to feel involved in your project because it both shows and builds commitment on their part.

Michelle Lipinski: Your editor is your own personal guide in the divine comedy that is the publishing world. If I am permitted to continue this metaphor a bit longer: your editorial guide is in large part responsible for whether the entire experience feels like a journey through heaven, purgatory, or hell. So, choose wisely.

Every editor works differently, even editors within the same press. At the bare minimum, you should expect a university press editor to work with you to peer review your project, secure a contract from the press’ internal approval bodies, and remain a general contact.

At Stanford, editors are internally referred to as “sponsors” and I find this term to be particularly apt, as I am the main conduit, advocate, and source of support for the author and their book throughout the publication process. Behind the scenes at the Press, I champion the author’s project to all the important stakeholders: editorial, design, production, marketing, publicity, and sales. Throughout the life of the book, I remain the main contact, sounding board, emotional support animal, and hard-truth teller for the author.

The guidance I provide depends upon what an individual author needs to help their manuscript emerge as a successful book. But I will always supply you with all the information you need as to timelines, expectations, and processes at the press. You should expect regular communication, feedback, and instructions. Personally, I tend to be very hands-on in the development process. This means providing guidance on proposals, analyzing peer review feedback and helping authors shape revision plans, and providing development work or line editing on full manuscripts to sharpen narratives and ensure the manuscript is crafted for the appropriate readership.

It always helps to have a frank conversation with your editor about general expectations early in the process. And talk to colleagues about their experiences with various editors, what worked for them, and what didn’t. As an editor, my job is to assess where my skills can be best put to work in order to end up with the best possible book at the end of the whole process. And make sure your editor is engaged and excited about your project—that excitement is crucial for sustained advocacy!

Priya Nelson: It depends on the author and editor. Many of us find developmental work to be our lifeblood, the exciting part of the editorial craft that makes the other challenges of academic publishing worthwhile. I tend to give a few line-edited pages to authors as an example of how their writing can be improved, section-by-section advice on the introduction, and general guidance on the shape of the book. Sometimes this feedback comes through guided questions; other times it comes through strong requests. Editors will also help interpret the reader reports and focus an author’s attention on the most important comments. Other projects, especially general interest books, may require more in-depth feedback. If you are unsure about the style and intensity of an editor’s engagements with projects comparable to your own–ask!

Fred Appel is executive editor and acquisitions editor for anthropology and religion at Princeton University Press.

Jennika Baines is an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press, who acquires books in global and international studies, anthropology, Middle East studies, and Russian and East European studies.

Berghahn Books – answers were co-authored by Marion Berghahn, Vivian Berghahn, and Chris Chappell, all press editors at Berghahn.

Dominic Boyer is a professor at Rice University and edits a series for Cornell University Press,  Expertise: Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge.

Alessandro Duranti is a professor at UCLA and the series editor for the Oxford Series in the Anthropology of Language.

Michelle Lipinski is an editor at Stanford University Press who acquires books for their anthropology and law lists.

Priya Nelson is an editor at the University of Chicago Press where she acquires books in anthropology and history.

Featured image adapted from Mari Helin/Unspash

Cite as: Gershon, Ilana. 2018. “Ask an Editor: Editors Edit.” Anthropology News website, May 2, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.850

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