After my second edited book, I promised myself I would not do one again, at least not for a long, long time. Authors that write God-knows what but not what we asked them to write; others that refuse to return emails and messages for months on end; and finally, those who suddenly forget how to write- it was enough to make me go mad.
Yet here I am, half way done collecting chapters on my third edited book, and my colleague and I are thinking of two more.
Well, never say never, right?
So, you are probably asking- why? Why the reluctance, and why the sudden surge of energy toward this type of project that I recently swore off.
My reluctance stems from two main areas: the above mentioned issues with authors, and the lack of respect for edited books and their decline in today's market. I will deal with the second issue in another post.
So, issues with authors, sigh..
First, authors flake. You might think they will not, but they will flake. On one of my two published edited books, "Social work Practice with Latinos: Key issues and emerging themes," one author just did not even return my calls or emails after agreeing to do the chapter. I became concerned and called his home department secretary, only to find out that he was just smashing! To date, I hope to see him at a conference!
So, if you are going to consider an edited book, I have a few recommendations based upon this.
First, choose your authors carefully. Check for ambivalence, pay attention to any communication issues in the initial phase, and back out if you get the sense they will not follow through. Be careful of the biggest names in the field, but also realize that at times, even your own friends will be the one's that are most problematic! After all, you will understand (they seem to reason :)).
Second, have back up authors. Make sure to choose people ahead of time, and go to this list if you are not getting responses. Set your guidelines for when you will go to this list and stick to it.
Third, give yourself enough time to be able to meet these challenges. If you ask the publisher for a year to complete the book, plan on having your chapters done in 8 months. This way, you can have a four month grace period to get those last few chapters you need.
Forth, when you write your prospectus, give the publisher a range for the total word count for the book, and shoot for a few chapters above the top of the range. In my current project on the criminalization of immigration (with Alyssa Ackerman), we contracted for our book to be between 100,000 and 120,000 words. At an average of 5,000 words per chapter (we gave authors the range of 4,750-5,250 words), we would need 20 chapters to meet our minimum, and 25 for the maximum. So how many did we seek out: 27. W figure that we will get at least two people that flake out or have health or personal issues, and perhaps one or two chapter would fall away somewhere in the process after that. If we get all 27, I am sure the publisher will be fine with us going over a bit, given how we wrote our prospectus. If things go very poorly, we still should be in the 20 chapter ballpark, or we can write a chapter or two ourselves.
This is a lot for one post- I think I will stop here and continue with some of the other issues in my next post.