Becoming an Editor - From Outsider to Insider in Scholarly Publishing - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Becoming an Editor
From Outsider to Insider in Scholarly Publishing
Writing as Professional Development

A faculty member and her doctoral advisee were co-presenting at a conference. To save money, she and the student were sharing a room, so the professor said, “Here’s a learning opportunity for you. I am working to guest co-edit a special issue of this organization’s journal, so I have my evaluations and my co-editor’s evaluations. I’ll keep the identity of the authors confidential. I’m wondering if you might provide a third professional opinion. Your role is to respond as someone who reads the publication regularly, not to edit. Read them as if they appeared in the journal and give your overall impression.” The student agreed and the professor numbered each article and spread them out over the desk. By the second day of the conference, the student had read all of them and jotted down some comments. When it was time to discuss them, there was one article that she felt was “Just—to compare it to movie ratings—only two stars when all others were four and five stars”. When asked why this was the case, the student said, “It’s just dry, dry as dust.” The doctoral student was interested to learn that her assessment of the articles and that of the two co-editors were entirely consistent. So, even at this early stage in her career, she was capable of responding as an editor.

In a way, everybody edits. Authors write and revise manuscripts. Speakers stop in the middle of a sentence to search for a better word. Students go back and refine their lecture notes to make their study time more efficient. All are editing and undertaking the role of the editor: to communicate effectively. In scholarly publishing circles, editors edit journal manuscripts, book manuscripts, reports, and other types of communication. They make sure that the written text of print or online publications are of high quality. They use the reviewers’ assessments to select works for publication, assist in the publication design and manage other responsibilities related to the publication.

In the popular media, book editors often are portrayed in posh New York offices while newspaper editors are seen barking orders at their reporters. Neither expectation applies to editors of scholarly publications. Financial rewards for editing are few, so much so that Plotnick (1982) once commented that disdain for high wages is a very useful attribute of editors. Many times, editors of scholarly publications are “field editors”—meaning that they are employed full time at a university and edit as a service to the professional group. It is likely that they have no clerical support and their office is small space designated for that purpose in their homes. Chances are that they are fellow scholars in the discipline, so boss management and putting writers “on assignment” is unacceptable. Given that many of the scholarly journals and books are published by professional organizations and/or nonprofit groups, financial remuneration often is little to none. Some editors may receive a small honorarium, modest royalties for books, or perhaps no money at all. However, in some instances, their university employers will reduce their teaching loads in exchange for the status of having a respected journal affiliated with the institution.

While the financial incentives are low, the expectations are high. Editors of academic publications need to go beyond their knowledge of grammar, spelling and composition. Ideally, they should be capable of:

· Creating a vision for the publication that takes all of the major stakeholders into account

· Recognizing high-quality, original work that advances thinking in the field

· Keeping pace with technological advances in publishing

· Treating the publisher, authors, reviewers and production staff with respect and fairness

· Anticipating which manuscripts will be well-received by the intended audience

· Identifying modifications to manuscripts that improve their quality

· Envisioning the finished product while attending to myriad details

· Using resources in a cost-effective fashion (e.g., budget, journal space)

· Meeting deadlines despite obstacles

· Responding appropriately to problems, complaints, and ethical quandaries

· Contributing to the discipline through their work

How can you tell if you have potential as an editor? Editors are expected to be fair, competent, and eager to contribute to the discipline. The majority of editors select this role because they are fascinated with language. They find pleasure in identifying the apt phrase to communicate an idea and complex information in a clear way. They are obsessed with detail, accuracy, and correcting errors in publications. They notice unscientific claims, erroneous statistics, and badly written sentences. Editors may differ in their academic education and experiences, but all are proficient in communicating effectively in using the most appropriate structure, format and content for the target audience and purpose. They simultaneously focus their thinking on the writers, the readers and the sponsors of the publication. Particularly if the publisher is a business, rather than a nonprofit professional organization, the editor needs business sense, familiarity with the field, and marketing savvy.

Although there is greater visibility and prestige associated with the role of editor, editors also encounter pressure and stress. Most editorial duties are accomplished outside of the normal work day. They work long hours, on weekends and during breaks or holidays to meet deadlines. As one small illustration of the time commitment, a survey of U.S. and international editors of scholarly journals in the nursing field found that editors spend an average of 3.5 h working on a “revise and resubmit” manuscript to get it ready for publication (Freda & Kearney, 2005). Considering that this is, by far, the most frequently rendered editorial decision on manuscripts gives a glimpse of the time demands.

As a first step in becoming an editor, scholars first amass extensive experience as peer reviewers. Aspiring editors need to review many manuscripts for the journal to be able to understand its guidelines. They can also volunteer to serve on the journal’s advisory or editorial board. The editor-in-chief usually selects members of the advisory board and will sometimes invite outstanding advisory board members to become an associate editor. Aspiring editors can use the associate editor experience as a form of on-the-job training. In some instances, an advisory or editorial board member will serve as a guest editor for one or more issues of the journal. Look into the policies and practices within your organizations to identify guest editing opportunities; usually, it requires a formal proposal and list of potential authors committed to submitting articles for the special issue. When the journal places a call for a new editor-in-chief, scholars who can demonstrate a track record of successful experiences as advisory board or guest editors are more likely to submit a successful proposal and earn support from the organization to become the next editor-in-chief. In the case of journals that are published by businesses rather than nonprofit organizations, the current editor may be asked to recommend his or her successor and, again, a history of service to the publication is a major factor in these decisions.

Some publishers, such as Springer Nature, publish books that complement the focus of their most successful scholarly journals. Many publishers produce series of books on various topics; aspiring book editors need to study the publisher’s list and discuss their future plans with the sponsoring editor who is an employee of the publishing company or professional organization. Some publishers also are interested in handbooks or encyclopedias to which leaders in the field each contribute a chapter or entry. To some extent, proposing an edited book relies on having an expansive network of scholars in the discipline who are respected, competent, and dependable authors/contributors. The first step is to write a proposal that is sent out for review. The proposal is then sent to the series editor to make an initial decision about whether or not to pursue the project. Next, the authors develop their chapters or entries for the volume and the completed manuscript is sent out for review. Book editors need to manage all of these contacts, follow up with authors, and see to it that the recommended revisions are made. After that, the book goes into typeset proofs for final corrections. After this round of edits, the book goes into production. At each stage along the way, the editor is involved.