The primary feature that differentiates an edited book from a typical academic manuscript is the diversity of its author contributors. Each chapter is typically written by one or more scholars, some of whom – in these days of electronic communication – have never even met in person. (Indeed, Adam still hasn’t met some of the contributors to a book that he co-edited almost 10 years ago.).
As editor, it is your job to select people who will deliver quality chapters on time and without unnecessary drama. There are two schools of thought on how to recruit the right people.
1. The open, merit-based proposal process
The editors draft a brief summary of their book project and the parameters for each chapter – including subject-matter focus, word length, and annotation style – and invite interested potential contributors to submit proposals, if not entire essays, to be considered for the collection.
This process is often complemented by an author workshop, where accepted or even potential contributors discuss their ideas with a view of improving the flow of the chapters within the collection.
2. Solicit papers from specific colleagues and known acquaintances
While such a process is significantly less democratic, and risks missing out on cutting-edge scholarship (of which the editors might not personally be aware), it offers a number of benefits that make it our preferred approach.
For one, the success of an edited collection depends in large part on mutually respectful relationships between the editors and their authors. Already established relationships carry less risk, and soliciting also allows editors to avoid personality conflicts, not to mention authors who never meet their deadlines.
Soliciting contributions also enables editors to ensure a level of scholarly breadth that a blind application process does not. In other words, an open process might produce a series of proposals on one particular aspect of your subject or from one theoretical point of view. It might yield authors who all come from the same institutions or geographical regions, or who all share the same primary language of work. It might yield exclusively junior scholars, or just traditional ones. (We’ve invited policy practitioners and journalists to contribute to our current project.)
Since sales matter to every publisher, being able to target contributors who will be able and willing to adopt the text for their courses can be helpful (particularly if they teach large ones). If the subject of the text is broad enough, an effort might also be made to solicit participants from outside of Canada, with the goal of potentially opening up other markets.
Open calls for papers have their benefits. But to us, soliciting authors directly makes more sense.