10 April 2012
If you are someone who has organised a conference and is now being urged to edit the ‘conference volume’, you need to be wary of what you are getting yourself into.
Overcoming the prejudice against edited volumes means that the progression from conference programme to printed book is not simple; it is more than a matter of polishing the papers presented.
- The volume must be given a focus (more of a focus than the conference had, perhaps).
- Papers need to be selected that generally match this focus.
- Inevitably, some papers presented at the conference will have to be excluded; no matter how good they are, their subject lies far beyond the volume’s focus and they cannot be adapted to it.
- Ideally, other papers should be solicited that fit the subject but are missing from the original line-up.
- All papers must then edited to conform with the overarching focus of the volume.
And that’s just the outline. Within this process are a mass of issues, not least those of managing a complex project, handling many authors (some with experience, reputations and egos vastly greater than yours and no doubt all with many other demands on their working time), performing in the delicate role as first-line peer reviewer and dealing with a publisher. And perhaps worst of all, editors are often given little academic credit for such a difficult and delicate task.
Given the prejudice against edited volumes and the demanding requirements to produce something that brings you credit, not opprobrium, it may be that another outcome for the conference is best. Perhaps your best course of action, then, is to suggest publishing the conference papers online, essentially as a cluster of working papers.
Unfortunately, your bosses may think it makes perfect institutional sense to publish a volume based on the conference programme and this year it’s your turn.
Of course, you may not be forced into the role of volume editor; there are indeed a number of good reasons to offer yourself as editor. Editing a book could be a way for you to build your academic network and gain name recognition in a wider circle. You might feel that your field needs a collaborative volume on a particular subject, and that there is nobody else who can make it happen, or happen well. Perhaps you have to offer a route to publication in order to attract good contributions to a workshop or conference you are convening.
But, whatever your reasons, be aware what you are getting yourself into.
10 March 2012
There is a widespread prejudice against edited volumes in the scholarly world, the idea being they are collections of unedited conference papers with a cover slapped on. In a few cases this is true, the culprits even found among the published lists of certain eminent academic presses.
Such blatant inferiority is not the case for most edited volumes but many do have their issues. A commonly perceived fault is that some editing has been done but not enough; the editors have started with a disparate collection of whatever papers came to hand (papers from a conference being the most common source) and not done enough to bring these bits and pieces together into an integrated whole.
As a result, the mere mention of ‘edited volume’ can prompt many people and the majority of publishers to blindly reach for their nose.
But this judgement is unfair, the charge they are rough and raw is far from the truth for most edited volumes. They may have their flaws but many are actually focused and subtle works. Moreover, often these volumes are the earliest channel for new scholars to bring fresh insights in their field to a wider readership. As a result, a few such edited volumes – especially those that can truly focus many minds together (often from different disciplines) on a single subject – can actually be path-breaking works.
Of course, edited volumes require contributors and editors. As can be seen in my next post, authors may have other ideas. Moreover, the role of the volume editor is not utterly joyful (as seen in my subsequent post).