Best Practices for Writing and Publishing Edited Collections

by | Jun 28, 2024

Edited collections—a compilation of chapters organized around a specific theme and written by varied authors—are a wonderful resource for scholars. They provide multiple entry points into a topic and foster interdisciplinary dialogue.

Edited collections can play a major role in defining a field (e.g., Real Life in Real Time and Queer Game Studies), can shake up existing conversations (e.g., Unsettling Queer Anthropology), or can sum up decades worth of scholarship on a topic (e.g., The Routledge Companion to Gender and Affect and Rainbow Arcade).

The process of creating and publishing an edited collection comes with some unique coordination challenges though, and the experience can be quite different than publishing a monograph.

Here are some best practices for writing and publishing edited collections.

Define a clear and coherent theme

Edited collections tend to be most successful when the theme is clear from the beginning. Spend some time up front figuring out exactly what you want this book to be about and the various directions authors could take that theme in for their chapters.

If you are putting together a public call for papers (CFP) for your edited collection, make sure it clearly outlines the volume’s overarching theme and the types of chapters you are seeking. The more detailed you can be here the easier it is for potential authors to figure out if they have a piece that could fit.

If you are soliciting authors directly, a clear theme is still vital for publishing a successful edited collection. Help them understand the range of topics you are seeking under your main theme and what topics or approaches would be beyond the scope of the volume.

As the volume editor, you need to ensure each chapter contributes meaningfully to the collection and their grouping adds up to a coherent whole. This helps you avoid publishing an edited collection that reads as a disjointed set of essays.

Select contributors wisely

Choosing the right authors is crucial. Whether you’re soliciting folks directly or evaluating submissions from a public CFP, look for authors who can deliver on both the scholarly and professional levels. 

The topic and writing of their chapters should add something interesting to your edited collection’s theme. But you also want contributors who have a proven track record of meeting deadlines and following directions. Chasing after authors who disappear or fighting with authors who refuse to follow formatting guidelines (“it’s no big deal if my chapter uses another citation format!” “it’s just an extra 500 words!”) makes an already challenging editing process even harder. 

When publishing edited collections, aim for a rich mix of established and emerging voices as well as diverse methodological and theoretical perspectives. 

Remember the politics of scholarly knowledge production and understand that which authors you choose to include says a lot about who and what you value in the world. Make a conscious choice to foreground marginalized voices in your text.

Develop a detailed book proposal

Before approaching scholarly publishers, create a comprehensive book proposal. This should include an overview of the edited collection, its stakes and major interventions, and how it fills a gap in existing scholarship. 

Outline the structure of the book, including a tentative table of contents and abstracts for each chapter. If you want to include any images or other supplementary material, make sure you explain your plan for securing image permissions

Finally, highlight the credentials of the volume’s contributors and the significance of their work.

Because scholarly publishers are often more reluctant to publish edited collections in the current publishing market, your book proposal needs to clearly demonstrate the existing market and viability of the project.

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Identify the right publisher for your collection

Choosing the right publisher is vital for the success of your edited collection. Look for publishers with a strong reputation in your fields and experience with edited volumes in particular. 

Consider their distribution networks, marketing strategies, and author support services. 

Keep in mind that you—as collection editor—will be doing a large amount of book marketing before and after your publication date, so choose a press that can support you in this endeavor. 

If course adoption is a key goal for you, make sure to discuss paperback printing with publishers early on. Few students can afford a $150 hardback edition so getting clear up front about formats can save you headaches later. Paperback printing decisions are almost always economic, so ensure your book proposal makes a convincing case for a viable paperback market through course adoption.

Establish clear guidelines and deadlines

Once contributors are on board, provide them with clear guidelines regarding chapter length, format, citation style, and other editorial requirements. 

Establish a timeline with specific deadlines for submitting abstracts, drafts, and final versions—and stick to those deadlines. Schedule reminder emails to contributors ahead of time to ensure they have long lead times, and reiterate that these are hard deadlines. 

Even with reminders and clear guidelines, assume that some folks will blow deadlines and fail to follow formatting directions. Schedule ample time in your own calendar to handle these issues, which may mean setting aside extra time to re-format a contributor’s chapter or chase down an author who forgot they were supposed to submit something.

Consistent communication and reminders will help ensure that everyone stays on track.

Edit for consistency and coherence

Editing an edited collection involves more than just proofreading—there are crucial developmental editing and copyediting issues that need attending. 

As the volume editor, your role is to ensure consistency in quality, style, and tone across chapters. Pay attention to how each chapter contributes to the overarching theme and make necessary adjustments to improve coherence. This may involve requiring authors to make substantial revisions or reorganizations.

Keep in mind that authors only see their own piece, but your job is to see the book as a whole—you’re the wide-angle lens. For example, while an author’s case study in their chapter might make perfect sense within that piece, you need to think about how it works with the other chapters’ case studies.

Editing with this wide-angle lens in mind will allow you to make author revision recommendations that create a cohesive edited collection.

Enlisting professional developmental editors and copyeditors for publishing edited collections is vital. While you—as volume editor—wrangle author relationships and make certain the pieces fit together into a cohesive whole, developmental editors ensure each chapter has a strong argument, clear structure, and convincing analysis. 

Professional copyeditors implement style and formatting consistency, clean up grammar and syntax, and ensure the entire volume aligns with your publisher’s requirements. Budgeting for professional editing ahead of time enables you to have support throughout the publishing process and confidence in the final collection.

Create an engaging introduction and conclusion

The introduction and conclusion chapters are critical components of an edited collection as they help readers understand what unites the varied chapters. 

The introduction should provide an overview of the volume’s theme, outline the structure of the book, and highlight the significance of each chapter in relation to that theme. At Ideas on Fire, we advocate writing introductions last since it allows you to have a full view of the entire book and use that to seed your introduction writing. When publishing edited collections, this can be particularly helpful as you often won’t quite know how all the chapters come together until they’re all assembled in front of you.

The conclusion should summarize the collection’s key insights and can suggest directions for future research. Try not to introduce big new ideas in the conclusion chapter but, rather, use this chapter to sum up the major intervention the collection as a whole has made.

The introduction and conclusion chapters tie an edited collection together and reinforce its unique and interdisciplinary contributions.

Promote your book

Plan substantial time before and after publication to build the collective author platform of you and your contributors and to get the word out about your collaborative text.

Use social media, scholarly networks, conferences, and author events to raise awareness. Emphasize your collection’s unique elements and what readers will get out of it. For instance, if the book would make a great textbook for an introductory course on a particular topic, highlight that in your promotion. If the book introduces emerging authors or engages a hot new topic, foreground those things as they are good reasons someone would buy the book.

One of the best parts of writing and publishing an edited collection is that you don’t have to do book marketing alone. Encourage contributors to promote the book within their own circles—providing them social media graphics, social media prompts, or talking points can increase the likelihood of them taking an active book marketing role.

Consider organizing a book launch or conference session to highlight the collection’s themes and contributions. You can work with your publisher’s publicity staff on these types of events as well.

Final thoughts on publishing edited collections

Creating and publishing an edited collection is a rewarding yet challenging endeavor that requires meticulous planning, coordination, and follow through. By following these best practices, volume editors can create valuable scholarly resources that contribute significantly to their fields. 

The process not only enhances scholarly knowledge but also fosters collaboration and innovation across disciplines. Whether you are an experienced collection editor or considering taking on your first edited collection, these recommendations will help you navigate the complexities of writing and publishing successful edited collections.

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Cathy Hannabach is the founder and CEO of Ideas on Fire as well as the host of the Imagine Otherwise podcast.

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