Editing is hard work

I’ve just finished a co-edited journal on crowdfunding, which I’ve done with my friends Lucy Bennett and Bertha Chin, and am in the middle of co-editing a book on the same, with the same co-authors, so a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) blog on editing and what I’ve discovered about it seemed timely.

Editing is hard work
I remember talking to my supervisor earlier this year about edited collections. I noted that they were hard work. “Why do you think I don’t do them?” was his reply. And he’s got a point. In terms of labour versus payoff, editing collections and journals isn’t as prestigious as writing for a collection or journal, and it’s hard work. With the crowdfunding book, for example, we wrote the proposal in September 2013 (with most of our contributors already on board following our journal special issue call for papers), signed the contract in November 2013 and promised to deliver the manuscript to the publisher by October 2014. Yes. We may not have thought that through! What it meant was that we were working on a book collection and a journal issue on the same subject at the same time, while still juggling our day jobs, the Fan Studies Network conference (September 27-28 2014, there’ll be a review afterwards), teaching and other academic commitments. We did most of our work on evenings and weekends, with a lot of email correspondence back and forth and much Whats-Apping as well.

The easiest way to keep the editing going, and keep ourselves sane, was to divide the workload into sections. We had three sections in the book (plus and introduction and afterword) so each of us chose a section to take lead on. That involved us reading the chapters for our sections, annoting them and writing up an editors report which was then circulated to the others for comment. That meant that we were all happy with the chapters, but we didn’t all have to undertake an in-depth analysis of each one. We were lucky doing it this way as we’ve worked together before and are all pretty much on the same page. For people you haven’t worked with before (or worse, don’t get on with) this might not work. Doing it this way also means that when we write the introduction to the collection (this week!) we’ll each be able to write in-depth about our own sections, the chapters in them and the contribution they may to crowdfunding scholarship. It really helps break the workload up.

Saying that, though, there are times when things conspire in real life to make things even more difficult, and juggling those on top of everything else we decided to take on was pretty nightmarish at times. Each of us dealt with something/s over the course of editing these two collections that we hopefully won’t have to again. In short, if you’re going to edit or co-edit a collection, only sign up to do one at a time and preferably when you have absolutely nothing else to do!

Filesharing is your friend
Dropbox has made the editing process so much easier. We’ve kept files for each of the projects we’re doing along with spreadsheets where we’ve tracked the progess of reviews, wordcounts, status (finished, final tweaks, revisions); draft versions of our introduction, which we’ve each worked on at the same time; notes on the proposal and a whole list of other things. This proved especially handy when my boyfriend’s laptop decided to play silly buggers last weekend and I ended up writing my part of the introduction on my phone and uploading it to Dropbox. Having a shared folder is so much easier than sending emails with different versions of a document back and for and it can be accessed anywhere, which for me is great. (I have been known to do work on my day-job lunch break on my phone in the kitchen.)

Deadlines will be missed
You’ll curse the author who doesn’t get their essay into you on time and then you’ll realise that a month has gone by without you acknowledging the six others who did. Authors sending work in late is frustrating, but it’s also inevitable. Things will come up that they have no control over and in that situation there’s not a lot you can do but try and help as best you can. Usually that will work out fine. For the most part it did for us and we submitted the journal issue to the publisher when we said we would (fingers crossed the same happens with the book!). Sometimes it won’t, and then you have to make the decision to let the author go. It’s never nice to do that, and trying to find a way to effectively dump a contributor via email is something we all hated doing.

What I also discovered about myself, though, is that if I don’t reply to emails straight away I can (and will) forget to reply for some time afterwards. This is not a good thing when you’re co-editing something. Even though the temptation may be – as mine often was – to reply from your PC when you get home from work rather than firing off a quick ‘received, thanks, talk soon’, don’t. Invariably you’ll forget, something will crop up or the last thing you’ll want to do after staring at a computer screen all day is stare at a computer screen all evening. And then it’s four weeks later and your author is asking if their email arrived and you’re thinking ‘oh shit, I knew there was something I meant to do…’. If I ever edit something like this again, I’m replying as soon as I see an email.

Many hands make light work
Having co-editors to work with, bounce ideas off, rant your frustrations at, take up the reins when you’ve realised something else is due, and a million other things is invaluable. Lucy, Bertha and I started both crowdfunding projects around the same time – about a year ago – while we were also doing other things which included a full time job, teaching, journal editing (for other journals), an MA and life in general. Doing that on our own would have been impossible. I’m grateful for Lucy and Bertha picking up the reins when I’ve had family problems to deal with, and I’m glad I’ve been able to help them when they’ve had other deadlines to focus on. Having other editors who know the process that you’re going through really makes a difference as far as I’m concerned. I’ve co-edited three journal special issues and one book collection now, all with at least one other editor, and I can’t imagine doing it on my own. Even a journal issue of eight pieces requires a lot of work, to say nothing of a book with 16 chapters. The tight timeframe we gave ourselves didn’t really help matters either.

Find co-editors who you get on with and work well with. You don’t need to like them (and you definitely don’t want to lose a friendship over a co-edited collection gone wrong) but you need to be able to work together and communicate. My co-editors have been lifesavers.

You will dream about those collections
And not the nice, ‘my collection’s been published to rave reviews’ dreams but the ‘carrying out an interview with a survey respondent while driving with the window down and losing all of the material to the sound of the wind rushing past’ sort of dreams. You’ll be thinking about the collection all the time. You’ll start drafting the introduction in the shower; think about the feedback you’re giving on a paper while driving to work; remember that email you had to send in the middle of The Walking Dead. It will consume you. And you’ll get sick of it and tell yourself never again. But then the journal will come out, the book will be published, your colleagues will use it in their classes, and someone will say ‘hey, I’ve got an idea for an edited collection on The X-Files‘ 25th anniversary…’.

Expect the call for papers soon.

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