Things I Learned Editing A Book
Yesterday I read a nice review of a book I co-edited with my friend and colleague Ray in Library Journal. As someone writing in the library sphere, there’s something delightfully meta about that.
Editing the book was, frankly, painful at times. There was paperwork at varying stages of the publishing process, a lot of author tracking, a few panicked moments when we realized certain sections were anemic as compared with others, a lot of back-and-forth regarding cover design, and then of course we needed to request an extended deadline… and still took advantage of the fact that the extended deadline fell on a weekend.
But like the achievement of any long-term goal, the outcome exceeds the various ups and downs. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
With a few tweaks, of course.
The things I wish I’d known before I embarked on this project apply specifically to works in which authors contribute individual chapters.
Ask the publisher for all copyright info up front
I fully own this one. As someone who once worked in publishing, I knew we needed to have contracts in hand with all of our contributors. Eager as I was, I went ahead and created one, we distributed it, collected signed copies from everyone, and then… we got the real version from the publisher. And just like that, I’d doubled our work.
Develop a decent chapter tracking method
We relied on Google drive for the first 80% of the process, and stuck with Google Sheets for the purposes of tracking chapters.
Which maybe could work, after all, with a few slight tweaks (like a controlled vocabulary, and a more consistent method of trading comments on the status of any given chapter). Although I might recommend a more powerful project management system, like Trello.
Create a shared system of author recruitment
We set it up so that one of us did the majority of outreach, while the other followed up with the editing. Which aligns beautifully with our skill sets, until it became clear that having access to both of our contact books from the start would have been helpful.
Set rolling author deadlines
We did an okay job asking our authors to submit with a couple of months to spare before the entire manuscript was due. But we could have staggered deadlines so as to create space around each deadline for a better dialogue with all of our contributors, focusing perhaps on one or two essays at a time.
Assign the task of indexing to one or the other of you
This is a task that is not best done by dividing the book in two equal pieces and indexing each half separately, for goodness sake.
Keep your laptop on hand when traveling during a deadline
I’ll never forget the sheer frustration of logging into someone else’s iPad over spotty wifi while visiting family in the deep south in order to fill out one last overlooked document. I will never, ever leave my laptop home if I am traveling anywhere even remotely close to a deadline ever again.
If I’d known all of these things… well, I’m pretty proud of how the book turned out. As for next time: watch this space for a list of new lessons learned