The Road to Published: The Making of an Edited Volume (Part II)

If you haven’t already, read these first:

Part I – In which I manage to get a publishing contract

Part Ia: Writing a Prospectus – In which I detail how I wrote my prospectus

You’d think that selling a publisher on your book idea would be the hard part.  Once you have a contract in hand, the rest should be easy, right? After all, in my case, the contributors had already presented their work, so they already had at least a draft to work from — all that’s left is for each person to clean up their draft, maybe expand a piece here and there, and tidy up their references.  Right?


Wrong.  You’ve heard the expression “herding cats” before, right? Well, I decided that getting an edited volume put together was a lot like herding glaciers.

What I’m saying is, it goes a bit slowly.

Part of the problem is the academic schedule.  Most academics are bound to a semester-by-semester schedule that a] changes frequently, and b] puts us through periods of intense work interspersed with periods of intense inactivity. During the school session, for all our good intentions, non-teaching projects tend to fall by the wayside.  Some academics are lucky: they have tenure, 1- or 2- class per semester teaching loads, and committee work they’ve learned how to blow off.  Those are not the kind of academics one would expect to find contributing to an edited volume by an unknown grad student.

All those non-teaching projects, then, get put off for breaks — a couple weeks in the winter, a couple months in the summer, a week in the spring — which means that, for all our good intentions, non-teaching periods are over-booked and a lot of projects fall by the wayside. Some academics are lucky: they have research budgets, sabbaticals, and whole semesters to devote to writing up their research.  Those are not the kind of academics one would expect to fond contributing to an edited volume by an unknown grad student.

My contributors are brilliant scholars, committed teachers, and hectic grad students. They are busy people — the kind of academics for whom the word “deadline” isn’t all that compelling (is there another kind of academic?).  By the time the publishing deal was secured, a lot of time had passed, too.  They had moved on to other projects, other work.  Some of my original contributors published elsewhere: George Stocking was already committed to History of Anthropology, of course (and felt pretty strongly against publishing this book, anyway), Herb Lewis, our resident voice of dissent, published his piece in Darnell and Gleach’s Histories of Anthropology Annual, David Price found a place for his work in Threatening Anthropology. Others dropped out for other reasons.

So I had to fill out my roster to book-length.  Again. I had met William Peace at the AAA Annual Meetings when we held the original panel presentation, and I knew he was working on COld War topics, so I emailed him and asked if he’d like to contribute.  Later on, when another author dropped out, I emailed Susan Sperling, who had actually been recommended to me by Mitch Allen at Left Coast Press (if I’m remembering properly). Susan was writing a biography of Ashley Montagu, and I thought she could provide some interesting material on Montagu’s blacklisting.  Peace said yes; Sperling said yes.

I had also asked my commentators, Marc Pinkoski and Rob Hancock, both PhD students in Canada doing work on Julian Steward’s legacy, to contribute. SInce neither of them had written anything to present in the panel, that meant writing from scratch.  Rob’s position was especially difficult, because I asked him to write an afterword, bringing together some of the themes from the book and also suggesting avenues for further research.  Remember, the purpose of this book is not just to win me a spot on The Daily Show, but also to lay the groundwork for a thus-far understudied part of anthropology’s history. But that meant that Rob really couldn’t start until the other contributors had all finished at least a draft.

What this means is that out of six original presentations, there were two that would make it into the final book: Frank Salamone’s on the Rockefeller’s funding of research in Africa, and mine on Sol Tax’s institution-building. I had written mine as a full essay to begin with, and cut about half out for the presentation, so there was little left to do with my piece.  But I would have to write an Introduction, and like Rob, I would have to wait until the work was mostly finished to even start.

I had told Pluto I could have a manuscript ready in 180 days.  It took 14 months.

I was foolish, though. I felt, “these guys are doing me a favor, I don’t want to push them too hard.” Several people told me, way too late in the game to matter, that I should have been sending regular emails asking for their progress to keep them on track.  I also made a dumb decision to wait until I had them all in front of me before I started editing them. I wasn’t prepared for how much work that would be. 

First of all, there’s the copyediting.  Typos to correct, references to make sure line up with bibliography entries, formatting changes to conform to Pluto’s submission style.  The bibliographies had to be standardized.  Footnotes had to be converted to endnotes. The way archival sources were used had to be standardized.

Then, there’s the content editing, the curatorial part of the edited volume editor’s job. What didn’t make sense? What contradictions marred an essay? What was unclear, or could be better phrased?

Here’s what I did. I opened each document in Word, turned on “track changes”, and did all the typo correcting and reformatting and such directly.  This is messy and inefficient, but it works in the end. At the same time, I opened an email to each contributor and wrote comments, indexed by page, about every substantive change I made to their work. Where I couldn’t figure out how to fix a problem or what they were trying to say somewhere, I asked them to clarify.

What I got back was the same document with another layer of tracked changes to work through. This is even messier and more inefficient, but it works in the end.

While I was doing this, I was also writing my introduction.  I had grand plans for the introduction — it was going to be a grand, sweeping condemnation of the entanglement of anthropologists with the military and with intelligence agencies, as well as a resounding defense of academic freedom. That’s not what I wrote, though.  Some of that material made it into the final introduction, but along the way I decided to tone it down a bit, to remove myself a bit and let the collected work speak for itself more. I focused a lot on the historiography of Cold War period anthropology, and much less on the academic freedom issues.

The middle part was your standard review of each of the articles.  This part is a lot harder to write than I’d imagined! This is where the curatorial function really takes hold, because you’re really framing the work in a way that affects what it means. In fact, it was while I was doing this that I decided to tone down some of the other stuff in the introduction — I became a little bit gun-shy, I guess, about wielding that much power over other people’s work.

The last section drew the link between Then and Now, and drew heavily on the critiques of military involvement I’ve written here at Savage Minds. Of course, it all became obsolete almost the second i became too late to make any substantive changes, because the Department of Defense launched their huge publicity campaign bringing Human Terrain studies into the public eye — and freeing up a lot of information that wasn’t freely available when I wrote my introduction.

While I was writing the introduction, Rob Hancock was writing the afterword, and he, too, chose to focus a great deal on historiography.  Luckily, we don’t really cover the same material, so the two pieces end up being complimentary rather than repetitious — and in fact, Rob draws heavily on work that I’m rather dismissive of in my introduction.  Which is good — I wanted there to be some conflict in the book.  I had wanted to publish Herb Lewis’ piece for this reason — I think there’s room for a variety of perspectives. Herb, apparently, did not.

You’d think having the contributions all together, with a good introduction and afterword, would be everything.  But wait, there’s more! You still have to create the front matter — in my case, a table of contents and acknowledgements.  Check the book when it comes out — I thank all my fellow Savage Minders by name.  Because I love you guys! Then all the files have to be renamed according to their chapter numbers.

When all the pieces had been edited and cleaned up by me, the front matter written, and the files all named properly, I checked my submission guide to see how they wanted them submitted.  Pluto requires two copies: one, a zipped file of all the chapters in Word format, and two, a paper print-out.  Mailed to their offices.  In London.  I dutifully took my files on a thumb drive down to Kinkos and paid some $30-odd to have the book printed and shipped overseas.

And that’s it, right? Sit back and wait for the book to hit the bestseller lists in Belgium.

Uh, no. Actually, there’s a lot of work still left to be done.

As it turns out, I’m not a great copyeditor. That printed copy goes to the copyeditor Pluto hires to make me feel bad about my spelling skills. They pay good money for this — Pounds Sterling! None of those weak American dollars! And the copyeditor puts together a chapter-by-chapter account of my failings, which she emails to me, which I then email to my authors, who thought they were done a long time ago. But they’re troopers, so they go through and clean up their work and it’s all good.

Except, one author had moved. And had eye surgery.  And couldn’t find the missing references the copyeditor had noticed and I didn’t. And didn’t have the time to work on it.  And had bad eyes to boot. Fortunately, my publishers are British, so the long string of emails asking me where the last set of copyediting queries was were polite and gentle.  Mostly.

But he got them done, after our editor, Anne Beech, started emailing him.  As it turns out, he likes her, and responded immediately.  Me, he lets stew.  Scurrilous old bastard! (Just kidding — I love you, Eric!)

So, now are we done? Well, there’s another round of copyediting to go through, for reasons which still aren’t clear to me.  And a marketing questionnaire as long as the original manuscript, asking me which reviewers to send it to, what journals to send announcements to, what trade shows to show the book at, where to have the launch party, who my dream reviewers are (Noam Chomsky and Laura Nader — I should have put Montgomery McFate, too.  Ah, missed opportunities…).  For the US, I didn’t have much trouble — remember, I had put all this in my proposal — but they wanted to know about the UK, too. Err…

And there’s back cover copy to be done, most of which came from my proposal, too. And my bio line for the back cover. And then a cover mockup to approve. 

And a sub-title to write.  I thought “Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War ” was pretty self-explanatory: it says “this book is about anthropology during the early years of the Cold War”.  But, well, that doesn’t sell books.  What sells books is McCarthyism and the CIA. A lot of essays in the book aren’t about McCarthyism or the CIA, though.  Some are, but some aren’t.

But hey explained to me that they’d really, really, really like the words “McCarthyism” and “CIA” on the cover,and could I please, please, please come up with something.  They gave me a few suggestions, which I tweaked and added “Foundations” to, since most of the articles say something about foundations. Not all, but most.  In fact, there’s at least one which isn’t about McCarthyism, the CIA, or foundations at all.

But they know best.  When it comes to marketing, I defer entirely to their wisdom — it is their job, after all. I strongly suggest that if you write a book and they want to change the title, you do the same.  I also fought a losing battle to have a final comma added to the list.  I’m a big fan of the final comma, of “The Influence of Foundations, McCarthyism, and the CIA” rather than “”The Influence of Foundations, McCarthyism and the CIA””.  But, no.  They’ll only be pushed so far.

And then, just when you think it’s all coming together nicely, page proofs come. That’s right, it still needs to be proofread.  You might think that me reading the text and correcting typos was proofreading, or that the copyeditor doing the same was proofreading, or that the second copyeditor doing the same was proofreading, but you’d be wrong.  Proofreading is, literally, reading the proofs.  At this point, you can’t change anything but stray typos (well, you can, but it comes out of the author’s pocket).  This is the almost-final version of the book, the 1.0 Release Candidate version, and it has to be read page by page, line by line, word by word to make sure nothing bad makes its way into print.

Oh, and it has to be indexed.  Now that you know what the final pagination is going to be, you have to put what page everything is on.  And, in today’s world, you can either do it yourself or you can pay someone to do it for you.  I am poor. Can you guess what I chose to do?

So, how does one index a book? Well, turns out the library doesn’t have any books on teh subject (if it did, I’d bet the indexes would be really, really good!), and the Internet has very few resources about it.  The best advice I could find was:

  • Consider the needs of your reader.
  • Cross-index as much as possible — that is, think about all the diffeent ways you reader might look up the same topic, and throw those in as “see x” entries wherever possible.  And put lots of “see also” entries wherever possible.
  • If you have more than 5 page references for a topic, you need to create sub-headings.
  • Only put in the index significant mentions of a topic, not passing references. 

What I thought an index was is where you list all the occurrences of a word — say, “colonialism” — in a text.  Turns out,it isn’t.  What that is is a concordance. Software can do that. An index, on the other hand, is a concise guide to the book, a roadmap if you will, that tells the reader where to find out aboutwhatever it is they’re looking for.

So you read my book’s index, and you say “surely Marvin Opler is mentioned in this book somewhere,” and you’re right (I think), but whoever mentioned him didn’t say anything crucial and specific about him, so he’s not listed in the index. Morris Opler, on the other hand, plays a significant role in one of the essays, so he is listed in the index.

Now, you’d think you’d use index cards to write an index, and in olden days that’s exactly what folks did, but not me.  Instead, I used a normal letter-sized pad and listed words and page numbers I thought should go in the index as I read the proofs.  In the first run-through, I was pretty generous — if I was unsure about an entry, I kept it.  With each chapter, I started a new list, even if that meant there were duplicates.

Then, I opened an Excel spreadsheet, and copied each chapter’s list over with the page numbers.  While I did this, I referred back to the text to see if I felt the mention was significant enough to index. At the end of each chapter, I sorted alphabetically, so when I got to duplicates, one of two things would happen:

  1. I’d remember there was already an entry for this heading, scroll up, and add the page numbers, or
  2. I wouldn’t remember, and when I finished and went through the lsit, there would be two or more entries for the same heading, side-by-side, which I would transfer to one entry.

Pretty slick, huh? Then I just copied my final sorted list to Word, cleaned it up a bit, made sure it fit Pluto’s guidelines, and sent it off.

And that, at last, is it. As far as I know, anyway — the last thing I did was the index, and they haven’t asked me for anything else yet.  As far as I know, the book is due out this month (though I’ve seen publication dates of January, February, and May in different places, so who knows?). All that’s left is for you to buy it 🙂

2 thoughts on “The Road to Published: The Making of an Edited Volume (Part II)

  1. Thanks, Oneman, for taking the time to write about your edited volume publication experiences. I find it really useful to hear about other people’s experiences with academic processes like this. Can we eventually expect a how-to post on tenure review 😉 ?.

  2. Hi,

    I’d like to second lmichael’s thanks for this post. It’s really helpful an instructive for how to go about editing a collection. I’m in the early stage of the same job, and I’m delighted that I read this now before the essays start rolling in.


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