“There Are Two Typos Of People In This World: Those Who Can Edit And Those Who Can’t”

Categories Science & Justice

I’ve been spending a bit of time this week working on Science & Justice. We’ve had some interesting new papers come in, there have been some useful reviewers comments to read through, and some decisions to make on manuscripts. Regardless of whether the decision is Accept or Reject, I never take these decisions lightly. I’m an academic myself, and I know what it’s like being on the receiving end of Editors’ decisions. Anyway, this post isn’t about editorial decision-making (as enthralling as that sounds…), but rather looking back at a previous post. I’m coming to the end of my tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Science & Justice. It’s been a wonderful journey (oh yes, I went there…), but it made me think of a post I put on our other (now defunct) blog. I wrote that when I had recently started the role, so I thought I’d dig it out again, and look back over it now that I’ve done this for three years, to see if I was talking bollocks or not…

I’ve been doing a lot of Editor-y things this week. Today I’m compiling the next issue of Science & Justice, and a couple of days ago I signed off the final proofs for my next book, The Archaeology of Cremation.

Nice – I started off with a shameless plug for my new book. Classy move, Thompson… Although saying that, it is still available for purchase…

Have a vision. As the Editor of a book or journal, you set the tone, remit and scope of the publication. Before you start, you need to be crystal clear about what you want the thing to say, and who you want to say it to.

Okay, so this is definitely true. If you don’t have a sense of the end point for your book or whatever it is, you’ll get lost along the way and the chapters will seem disjointed and won’t relate to one another. This is fine for some books (for example, the latest edition of Blau and Ubelaker covers a vast range of subjects, and works really well) but if you want to make something that pushes specific boundaries or philosophies, you need to be focused.

Have a narrative flow. Yes each chapter or paper is a piece of work in its own right, but so is the overall volume. The papers need to flow logically from one to the other. For The Archaeology of Cremation the flow is temporal (Neolithic to modern), or the last S&J the emphasis was biology and each paper linked to the next by method or topic.

Another plug! Subtle. Actually, this one says more about me than anything else. I’ve realised over the years that the need for structure and organisation is my personal need! There are very many books which don’t have a rigid structure, and work out fine. Likewise issues of journals. In fact, I still feel guilty now for inadvertently imposing a rigid structure onto a colleague’s book when it wasn’t necessary. And this need for a narrative structure got me into a bind when working on our latest book (Human Remains Another Dimension). So, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Also, I’ve just realised that I’ve managed to plug a new book in a written criticism of plugging my old book… 

You have a voice, but so do your authors. You will inevitably have to edit the work of your contributors, especially if English isn’t their first language. But you must be careful to maintain the way the authors say things, not just what they say. I can give you a long list of friends who have had their identities rubbed out of their work by over-zealous editors.

This is important, but hard to manage – but I have friends who won’t contribute to certain editors because they don’t want their voice trampled on.

Just because you’re not writing every page, doesn’t mean it is easier than being a sole author. It’s just different, but still a horrifying experience…

Oh my God, it’s totally easier. Why did I say that? Idiot.

Everybody, I repeat everybody, will be late. All of your contributors will have the best of intentions, but they will all miss the deadlines you set! So factor in some extra time for this, and don’t wait around for the really late papers – it’s not fair on the others.

This is one of the three truths of life – the other two being death and taxes. But seriously, give yourself some wiggle room and lie to your contributors about when the ‘real’ final deadline is. Also, I realise now that you’ll lose chapters in every edited volume you do. This is one of my regrets of my cremation book (have I mentioned that one before..?) – it’s a chapter or two shorter than I’d like because some contributors pulled out and I hadn’t given myself some extra ones as a cushion.

Peer review is so important to help maintain the quality of your publication. This is especially true if you are editing a book which is a pet project, or contributions are being written by friends – you can become a little blind to any weaknesses.

It is really important – but what is also really important is how you, as Editor, handle those peer review comments. Give your authors a chance to respond, and remember that you don’t have to agree with your reviewers – it’s just their opinion. With S&J, there have been a few times when I have intervened because I felt that the peer review comments were too personal, or biased, or a bit bonkers. I’ve even had to black-list some reviewers.

The end product will never be quite what you expected, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Remember that every project gives you the chance to hone your skills (especially organisational and diplomacy skills!) for the next one.

Definitely! Each issue of the journal, and each edited book, has been easier than the previous one.

You’ll vow never to do it again. And yet you will. Being an Editor is a lot of work, more so than people realise, but it gives you a wonderful opportunity to create something novel and exciting, and to say the things that you want to say.

Basically I’m saying that Editors are heroes and you should never forget that…

So, I wasn’t too far off then. Would I add any others to this list? Maybe. I think it’s also really important to maintain a good relationship with those you’re working with in the publishing company. The people at CUP were very understanding of the shocking, staggering lateness of Human Identity & Identification, while those good folks at Elsevier have allowed me to try some off-the-wall initiatives with S&J. These are all because of good personal relationships. As an Editor of a journal, I also think it’s really important to be visible and to make sure people can talk to you about their work and what you’re trying to do with the journal. For me, this has meant doing training events and conferences, but as a result we’ve had some wonderful submissions in. Oh, and make a timetable and stick it to your wall!

I hope some of this helps. I learnt through mistakes, so hopefully I can help you avoid some of those. You’ll probably make new ones though…

The title, by the way, is from Jarod Kintz.

I'm a Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University.

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