A little more than two years ago, I attended a conference on Canada and its place in the world. When I got back, I had an idea. By the time of the next federal election in the fall of 2015, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government would have been in power in Canada for close to 10 years. About half of that time would have been spent as a minority government and the other half in a majority situation.
Although I couldn’t have known that the Conservatives would not be re-elected, the wonkish part of me thought that, regardless of the outcome of the next vote, this rather unique circumstance made a study of the Harper government’s foreign policy, focusing on any potential differences between the minority and majority eras, a book just waiting to be published.
Sure, it would be somewhat more difficult to justify the book if the Harper Conservatives won another majority (I could envision reviewers asking why one might produce a study of Conservative foreign policy while that policy was still being developed and implemented). But the polls at the time were suggesting that Canada was headed towards a period of minority governments, and there were already hints that if Mr. Harper did not win another majority he would likely retire as leader (which would legitimize, at least for reviewers, a book on the foreign policy of Stephen Harper). So I decided to take the risk.
I knew from the beginning that I could not write this kind of book alone. For one, a decade of contemporary foreign policy is too broad a topic for most scholars, especially this one, to tackle by themselves. Just as important, there’s no way that I could have produced the book quickly enough to make it meaningful to my students.
The solution, it seemed to me, was to produce an edited volume – and to find a co-editor to help.
In part because my last co-editing experience, while ultimately a great learning exercise, was not a smooth one (in retrospect, largely because of me), and in part because it had been a decade since I last worked as a co-editor, before I went any further, I decided to seek out advice on best practices.
As readers of this magazine are well aware, the internet is full of guidance about the academic process. I myself have blogged for University Affairs about teaching online for the first time and asking for a reference letter. There is also a lot written about how to publish academic articles, and how to plan and write scholarly books. Little information is available, though, about the process of producing an edited volume.
While some might suggest that the dearth of literature is a not-so-subtle effort to discourage scholars from taking on such a daunting task (it’s far easier, for example, to organize a special issue of an academic journal), I like to think that edited volumes can be valuable, especially in the classroom.
About a year ago, I therefore approached University Affairs about developing a series of blogs about the edited book experience. My plan was to ask, and try to answer, some of the most common, and important, questions that volume editors – real and potential – should consider before and during the publication process.
Over the next few months, as The Harper Era in Canadian Foreign Policy: Parliament, Politics, and Canada’s Global Posture moves through the final stages of publication with UBC Press, I, and my co-editor Christopher Kukucha, a professor at the University of Lethbridge, explore questions like:
- When, if ever, should you consider editing a scholarly book?
- Should you edit alone or with a co-editor?
- How should you select author-contributors?
- What you should look for in a good publisher?
- How do you fundraise?
We will also include a post from our senior editor at UBC Press and another from one of our most experienced contributing authors.
Chris and I come from different academic disciplines (he’s a political scientist and I’m an historian who now teaches public policy), and have had remarkably different experiences as volume editors and contributors (he is the co-editor an extraordinarily successful book that is now in its third edition; I have edited for a vanity publication and co-edited for another university press).
It is our hope that our experiences, as we capture them in this series, will provide University Affairs readers with one of the first, comprehensive inside looks at scholarly publishing from the editors’ side.