Ten Tips for Developing an Edited Book

By Sally L. Grapin, Montclair State University

Developing an edited book can be a valuable activity for school psychology scholars and their field at large. Unlike authored books, edited books represent the voices and contributions of multiple authors. One advantage to edited books is that they allow editors to connect with authors outside of their established networks, which can be a valuable activity for early career scholars. Additionally, early career scholars might consider developing an edited book when they feel a topic is best addressed from multiple perspectives or when they wish to feature expert voices in areas related to but somewhat beyond the scope of their own work (e.g., a scholar with a particular focus on antiracism seeks to develop an edited book on social justice more broadly). Like many other forms of scholarship, edited books are one way in which scholars can support the advancement of their field and fill in knowledge and resource gaps for practitioners, researchers, and others. 

At the same time, edited books are a tremendous undertaking, and coordinating submissions from multiple author teams can present challenges for producing a cohesive product. The following describes ten tips for early career scholars seeking to develop an edited book.

1. Identify a publisher that is a good fit for your project.

Numerous academic publishers are interested in recruiting school psychology book projects. Whereas some publishers may focus primarily on books for higher education students or practitioners (e.g., many trade publishers), others may focus on books for scholars and researchers (e.g., many academic publishers). Examining recent titles from the publisher and talking with editorial staff (e.g., at conference exhibit halls) may help you identify a publisher that is a good fit for your project. Moreover, some publishers produce book series edited by school psychology scholars; talking with these series editors may be helpful for finding a home for your book. Before signing a contract, you might consider asking publishers (and authors who have worked with these publishers) questions such as:

  • How long are authors typically given to develop the book?
  • How will the book be marketed?
  • Who will prepare the index? Who will be expected to secure and pay for permissions?
  • What are the criteria for determining if a second edition is warranted?

Once you have identified a publisher and are ready to sign a contract, be sure to read the contract carefully and ensure that the timelines specified (e.g., due dates) are feasible for you.

2. Carefully consider and clearly identify your audience.

Many books for school psychologists may also be appropriate for other audiences. Because school psychology scholars, practitioners, and/or graduate students constitute a relatively small potential audience, you might consider targeting your book toward a broader range of school-based professionals, mental health providers, students, and/or caregivers. Books that have a wider audience may ultimately be more attractive to prospective publishers.

3. Use the book proposal as an opportunity for in-depth planning.

Publishers will typically request a formal proposal for your book project. While the structure and requirements of these proposals may vary, areas you may be asked to address include: (a) the book’s intended audience; (b) rationale or need for the book; (c) potential competitors; and (d) detailed table of contents with brief chapter summaries. If you are developing a book that could be used in an undergraduate or graduate classroom, you may be asked to specify relevant courses. Often, the questions posed in these proposals will prompt you to think carefully about the content and unique features of your book. Spending time on this proposal at the outset may ultimately benefit you in the long run.

4. Set realistic timelines for your contributing authors and yourself.

Edited books can take a long time to develop (often a full year or more), in part because they involve coordinating multiple rounds of chapter submissions across multiple author teams. Inevitably, authors will experience delays due to work or personal commitments. Being understanding of these circumstances is important, especially given that authors are taking the time to support your work. To minimize potential delays, give authors adequate time to develop and revise their chapters, accounting for summer and holiday breaks as well as particularly busy times of the year (e.g., beginning or end of the semester). More time should be given for initial chapter submissions, whereas timeframes for revision may be somewhat shorter. You might consider staggering due dates for chapters such that you can edit submissions at a steady pace rather than reviewing them all at once.

If you are planning to invite a foreword author, consider securing a commitment from that individual early on. Be sure to let them know when they can expect to review the final (or near final) draft of the book and when their contribution would be due, as there is often a shorter window for preparing a foreword than a chapter.

5. Carefully consider who you will invite to author chapters.

The strength of an edited book relies not only on the work of its editor(s) but also on the ideas, perspectives, and follow-through of its authors. Think carefully about whose voices and perspectives will be represented in the book. For example, editors hoping to cultivate a strong social justice orientation in their work should consider how they will center the voices of scholars and communities with marginalized identities. In addition to considering the lenses, expertise, and perspectives of authors, editors should recruit contributors with strong writing skills and a history of completing projects in a diligent and timely manner. Being thoughtful in recruiting author teams can make for a smoother editing process later on.

6. Provide clear writing guidelines for authors before they begin writing.

Providing clear and detailed guidelines for chapter submissions can be especially helpful for ensuring a cohesive final product. These guidelines should be provided to authors before they begin writing and may include information related to: (a) section headers (e.g., chapter objectives, introduction, recommendations for practice, summary/conclusion); (b) chapter length; (c) guidelines for references; (d) style/formatting (e.g., APA style or other formatting requirements provided by the publisher); and (e) major issues or topics for the author(s) to address (or not address) so as to avoid redundancies or major gaps in content. The more information you provide up front, the less time you will need to spend editing individual chapters for cohesion. Moreover, providing a sample chapter can be especially helpful (perhaps one of your own that you can complete ahead of inviting submissions).

Consider asking experienced book editors about the guidelines they provided to their contributing authors. Sample emails and guideline documents can be helpful in constructing your own, especially if you have the opportunity to see examples from multiple editors.

7. Provide feedback to authors that is constructive but not overly prescriptive.

Providing clear feedback is essential for supporting authors in revising their chapters as well as ensuring timely resubmission. Where appropriate, be as specific as possible about the revisions you hope to see. However, at the same time, respect authors’ decisions about how and where to make edits to their work. One significant advantage of edited books is that they bring together the perspectives and expertise of multiple author teams; as a corollary, it is important to respect authors’ autonomy in deciding which content should and should not be included. Navigating this balance can be difficult, but it may be helpful for you to: (a) clearly distinguish high-priority from low-priority recommendations for revision; (b) give authors the opportunity to indicate which edits they feel are appropriate or inappropriate; and (c) have real time conversations with authors about edits if disagreements arise (rather than going back and forth on email).

8. Implement and maintain a system of organization.

Staying organized is essential for managing chapter submissions, especially when those submissions are at different stages of the writing and/or editing process. Implementing a system of organization early on can be helpful for reducing stress associated with the editing process. For example, you might consider maintaining a Google spreadsheet with chapter titles, author names, due dates, notes about the status of each chapter, and “to do” items. You might also find it helpful to maintain an inbox folder designated specifically for book-related correspondence so that you can easily retrieve email threads when needed. Whatever organization system you decide on, stick with it throughout the project (even if you think you are likely to remember details without recording them).

9. Work efficiently.

The work for an edited book project often ebbs and flows. There may be times when you are waiting on submissions and have little to do followed by bursts of intense editing. As noted previously, staggering submission due dates can help distribute editing responsibilities across the project timeline; however, there will likely still be lags in your workload from time to time. Be strategic about how you utilize these lags. For example, when waiting on initial chapter submissions or revisions, consider working on other components of the book, such as the acknowledgements, editor bios, preface, dedication, or glossary. Although these may seem like relatively minor tasks, they can be time-consuming, and getting them out of the way as early as possible can be helpful.

10. Don’t underestimate the time commitment of an edited book and pace yourself.

Given that edited books often rely heavily on the contributions of invited authors, it can be easy to underestimate the amount of time, energy, and work that goes into developing them. Before deciding to pursue an edited book project, consider discussing the time commitment with experienced editors. Moreover, recognize that committing to an edited book may leave you less time to work on other projects (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles). Before undertaking an edited book, consider whether the project is aligned with your professional objectives. If you are a pre-tenure faculty member or are seeking promotion at an academic institution, you might consider discussing with your department chair or dean whether edited books will be valued in the tenure or promotion review process. Finally, remember that book projects are a marathon, not a sprint! Pacing and self-care throughout the process are critical.

Overall, developing an edited book can be an arduous yet rewarding process. What other suggestions do you have for early career scholars who are considering developing an edited book? Comment below.

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