Writing the Edited Volume

by Dianne Van Dien

Until recently I was mistakenly under the impression that creating an edited volume requires far less effort than writing a monograph. Clearly there are differences between the two. In an edited volume you don’t research and draft all the chapters yourself; that work is shared by the various chapter contributors. But the editor(s) still must work on each of those chapters, not only making sure each is well written but also making sure that all contribute to the book’s core vision and that they align with one another. And while the volume editor is hard at work shaping the book, he or she must also communicate back and forth with all the chapter authors. Indeed, this is no small task!

The University of Utah Press has published many edited volumes over the years. A few authors who responded to my survey were volume editors. Here we’ll take a look at what they shared about their experiences working on these books.

What were the biggest challenges to writing an edited volume?

Cover image for Utah's Air Quality Issues. A car tailpipe spewing smoke.

Hal Crimmel, Utah’s Air Quality Issues

“I think the process gets more streamlined in theory, but the challenges are always different, depending on the topic and the people you work with. What was especially challenging with this project is that new data would come in, or regulations would change, or new initiatives start up—and these had to be updated and included.”

Book cover with black background and opal spear heads lined up from the top right to the bottom right of the book

Vance Holliday, Plainview

“I’ve organized and edited (or coedited) other edited volumes, so I was aware that one of the key challenges is getting the manuscripts submitted in a timely manner. And, of course, this means that the speed of getting an edited volume together is determined by the slowest writer. This is ultimately the biggest challenge.”

Book cover is of a haystack but abstract with yellow background and brown and tan textured lines.

Patrick Mason, Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-first Century

“Herding cats and tending to egos. I picked the authors for a reason—they are people I respect who are experts on their respective topics. But some are better writers than others. Also, their contribution to this volume was probably a higher priority for some authors than others. Trying to get thirteen different authors moving forward at an expeditious pace is a challenge—it only takes one to slow down and even stall the whole project (as I’ve seen happen in other edited volumes I’ve contributed to). Editing is also a delicate business. This was especially true because I was still a fairly junior scholar, and a number of the contributors were quite senior. Because my name is on the cover, I felt invested that each of the essays should be the best versions of themselves, and so I pushed some of the authors perhaps more than they were accustomed to. Fortunately, they all responded well.”

Book cover of red fish with the nose of a face representing the fin of the red fish; another fish faces the opposite direction along the bottom

Pei-Lin Yu, Rivers, Fish, and the People

“Managing shifting schedules and priorities of contributors; helping the Press find the right reviewers; responding to highly divergent reviewer comments. The multidisciplinary nature of the volume made this exceptionally difficult. We went through four rounds of review. The Press’s acquiring editor Reba Rauch basically saved this volume through her strong support during the five or more years it took to get it to press.”

How did you recruit your contributors?

“About half of the papers were prepared by those of us at a 2011 conference. The rest were invited in the months following the conference based on work I knew that they were doing.”

Vance Holliday

“The book was based off a conference that I put together in honor of the career and legacy of Armand Mauss. I selected the contributors for the conference. I had a list of themes I wanted to cover, and handpicked the two to three authors I wanted for each section. I was mindful of bringing together a diverse group, especially in terms of gender, disciplinary background, and career stage.”

Patrick Mason

“The contributors are colleagues, so I mentioned the book idea during meetings or phone calls and got an enthusiastic response!”

Pei-Lin Yu

How many hours do you estimate you spent working on the book?

“Surely the number was over one thousand. There were too many nights and weekends and holidays involved to count.”

Hal Crimmel

“Impossible to say. I wrote the introduction, which makes its own substantive arguments in addition to introducing the essays in the book. I’m also a fairly involved editor and spent numerous hours with each of the thirteen contributions.”

Patrick Mason

“Thousands! I wrote the introductory chapter and my own chapter as well as serving as the corresponding editor.”

Pei-Lin Yu

How much did you work with contributors to help shape their chapters and how much time did you spend copyediting and polishing their chapters?

“I provided detailed review of each manuscript, multiple drafts in most cases. Some needed more work than others. The other two editors who co-organized and coedited the volume each provided input as well. The three of us spent a lot of time helping to polish each chapter. I think I put in the most time.”

Vance Holliday

“They each wrote their conference papers on their own. But then I did a lot of editing, and each paper went through multiple iterations, both in response to my own feedback and that of the peer reviewers. I have files for four separate rounds of revision, plus the final version of each essay. I spent a lot of time copyediting. I’m a pretty unrelenting editor. Of course, some of the contributors submitted fairly polished papers, whereas others needed a lot more work. I did fairly heavy rewrites of a handful of the contributions.”

Patrick Mason

“There was a lot of indigenous archaeology and traditional knowledge to be shared, so I attended multiple tribal cultural committee meetings to share the intent and scope of the volume and get tribal permissions. I also worked individually with all the authors on their drafts and to address reviewers’ comments. I probably spent 40+ hours with each contributor over the course of the drafting. And for copyediting, probably about three to five hours per chapter.”

Pei-Lin Yu

What would you do differently if you were to take on a similar project?

“I am not sure. One thing that was different here compared to other edited volumes I’ve been involved with is that we had a very specific focus: Plainview as an artifact assemblage and the broader issue of the timing and distribution of Plainview. That helped a lot. Otherwise, this experience reminded me to stay away from involvement in edited volumes!”

Vance Holliday

“I’ve done three edited volumes. Each has its idiosyncrasies, largely dependent on the personalities involved. I’m very proud of this volume, and really am not sure I would have done anything substantially different.”

Patrick Mason

“Strangely, not much. It’s a unique volume. A large sticking point was the introduction of which I was the sole author. It might have benefitted from a coauthor as the intro was the rationale for the book’s existence and a lot was riding on it. That chapter went through three major rewrites”

Pei-Lin Yu

Throughout this series we’ve seen that writing a book can be hugely challenging, and in this post we’ve seen that working on an edited volume has challenges of its own. Yet collaborating with others does have its perks. I’d like to end the post with this wonderful reflection from Joanna Brooks about her time working with her coeditor, Gina Colvin.

Book cover of hands stretching upward with leaves at the tips representing a tree with leaves and white balls of light

Joanna Brooks, Decolonizing Mormonism

“I will never forget the week Gina Colvin spent staying at my house and sleeping on my couch as we collaborated on our introduction to the volume. What a joy to have her here at our 1950s yellow formica kitchen table, interacting with my daughters like an auntie, her generous, fearless spirit filling our house to the rafters. I also remember her unapologetic tokopuaha. No shame in this one! I remember holding a big heavy volume of Hugh Nibley essays on my lap and talking with her through Nibley’s vision of Zion as we tried to imagine what shape a decolonized Zion might take. I remember the two of us travelling home late one night along the coastal highway between Los Angeles and San Diego and blasting David Bowie and singing at the top of our lungs. Gina was a wonderful collaborator. The dream of every scholarly partnership is that in our relationship with each other we can experience or realize, even in short stints, the essence of the world our scholarship gestures towards. I marvel at the chance that two little girls raised sitting on similar metal folding chairs in two chapels at the antipodal ends of the globe should find this common dream and have the opportunity to live it for a few moments.”

This article is part of a series called “What Does It Take to Make a Book?”

See previous posts:

Revising Your Manuscript

On Writing Schedules, Routines, and Daily Goals

How Do Writers Make Time to Write?

Books Take Time

What Does it Take to Make a Book?

Dianne Van Dien began working for the University of Utah Press (UUP) in 2010 as a graduate fellow while earning a MS in Environmental Humanities. Later she shifted to her current role as UUP’s freelance marketing associate. She lives in rural Missouri, from where she also writes and edits for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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