#co-editing – getting the proposal together


I’ve had a look. it’s true. There is actually very little written about co-editing. So it’s not surprising that I’ve been asked to write something about it. Here goes.

It might be helpful to begin with a few important basics … starting from when you first think about doing the book or special issue together.

Co-editors usually get together over the proposal. Perhaps you already know one another. Or perhaps you have engaged in a bit of scholarly speed-dating at a conference or seminar. Or perhaps one of you has invited the others to join in an edited collection. Whatever the process, it’s helpful to make sure that there is intellectual chemistry among the group, as well as broad shared interests. You’re going to be together for a while.

A collective commitment is pretty important in any edited book. You don’t want to start of the process with one of you being half hearted about it. You need to make sure everyone is equally enthusiastic and equally able to commit to the project. If one person is time-restricted then the rest of the editors – be they one or more – really need to know about this at the outset so that they can decide whether to go ahead in present company.

And developing the proposal is a fair litmus test of how the rest of the process is going to go. The proposal –  that’s the crucial publish-me text that goes to the book publisher or the journal – is high-stakes so it’s got to be good. If you start to squabble during the proposal process then it’s a pretty bad sign –  the longer-term editing process may well go just as badly.

Let me just recap what a proposal does. I know you know this but it doesn’t hurt to put it out there again.

  • The proposal has to offer a rationale for the issue/collection and an outline of contents in the form of a list of potential contributors and abstracts. In the case of a journal there are often a few papers already lined up plus a call for participation.
  • The proposal conventionally offers a jointly written editorial. This is where you and your co-editors sketch out the field that your collection addresses, locating the material in current debates and policy/practice/research context.
  • Edited book proposals additionally have to address the question of coherence – how the contributions will hang together. This you show this through introduction and the order of chapters, but you may extend your co-editorial steerage to sections and additional commentaries on chapters. Your process may even include a way for authors to get together at a conference or writing retreat.
  •  A timetable is integral to the proposal so, together, you have to set realistic dates for acceptance, review and revision, and submission for publication.

Preparing the proposal will involve you in lots of discussions with your co-editors. You may jointly have decided – perhaps in a conversation, maybe by email – who to include and how the contacts with authors will be dealt with and who will do it. One of you will probably assume responsibility for putting the proposal document together, dealing with all of the track changes, and sending the finished proposal off to the publisher/journal editors.

If one of the co-editors feels resentful during this process, feels left out, or feels written over or out, then that ain’t going to go away. Most of us don’t bother too much about sorting these things during the proposal stage.  I suspect that we probably ought to put more weight on sorting out potential issues at this point. After all, we are all in this publication together. Same boat and all that.

But you may not have formalised roles during the proposal process. But if you don’t sort out who is going to do what now, at this point, you may find that when you move on to the book or journal issue the early pattern hangs on. Oh dear. One person ends up doing most of the work without this being acknowledged. Or there’s an activity vacuum, where everyone is waiting for someone else to do the work.

Delays are pretty common in academic writing and publishing  as we are all busy. Co-editing works best when there is a bit of give and take in the group, a bit of leniency and understanding about academic workloads. As long as it doesn’t go on too long.

And you may not have sorted out file sharing at the proposal stage. You may have managed on emails alone. But it is pretty useful to get the files stuff sorted now. Right now. There are now lots of tech solutions for keeping in touch with drafts and revisions. It helps to adopt a common file-saving and revising protocol too, and to make sure that nothing is ever erased, but simply saved as a new file.

I’m just going to say it again. It’s probably a good idea to discuss how the co-editing will go at the outset. Who is going to do what when it comes to the actual issue or book? You can start ahead of the game. You can sort out who is going to do what right at the start. Here’s a VERY BASIC check list of tasks to guide proposal co -editing.

There’s no right answer to any of these questions. It’s up to every team to sort out what suits them. It’s the discussion and agreements that will make the difference to co-editing.


  • The idea for the issue/collection– are you all committed and have the necessary time?
  • Overall responsibility – How is the proposal to be written – one drafts then others respond? Collective text? Who initially contacts publisher? Who submits proposal and who is ccd in?
  • Abstract for editorial – who writes? Editor order?
  • Contacting authors – who, when, how?
  • Dealing with suggested revisions – who, when, how?

What’s that last point? Oh yes. Proposals are always subject to review so there will be a further stage of responding to reviews. This can involve quite substantial revision to the initial proposal or maybe just minor changes. But someone has to take responsibility for getting back to the publisher after co-editors have discussed. Someone is the key contact point with the publisher even if everyone is copied in.

And – success. You’re on. You’re in. Now for the next bit of hard work together.

Segue to the next post later this week.

Note:  I’ve done something on why editing a book is a good idea, and I won’t repeat that argument now. I’ve linked to that post, just in case you aren’t convinced that editing might be a Good Thing.