I was reminded recently of how much you need to keep exercising some skills as a scholar.
What you learn in academia isn’t like ‘riding a bike’ and there are skills that can be forgotten. In my case, I should probably confess that I don’t even know how to ride a bike so we’re talking about being way behind the 8-ball here.
The skills I’m talking about are those involved in editing a special issue journal.
The setting was as amenable as it could be for a good outcome. I was co-editing the issue with one of my best academic buddies. We had worked together on different projects before, including co-authoring a piece of writing, and we knew we could work together.
The journal was one I was very familiar with and had published with a couple of times before. It was a publication friendly to our particular focus and range of topics.
The general editor of the journal was also a good academic friend so, really, it was as collegial an environment as it could be.
I have previously edited six special issue journals, across a range of publications and with different co-editors or solo. Even so, I hadn’t edited a special issue for a few years and I felt rusty.
Added to this was the fact that this was my co-editor’s first time editing a journal issue and I wanted to ensure that he had a good, supported time in doing so. Hopefully, he would gain some insight into journal processes, build his editing skills, and be able to add a couple of lines to his CV.
The conference from which we solicited the developed journal papers took place in late 2015, and the special issue papers have only just appeared online (July/August 2017). Less than two years, more than one and a half.
So, what had I forgotten about editing a journal issue?
Here are three areas where I’d gotten rusty after being away from academia:
1. The timing, the timing
I usually pride myself on being able to plan timelines for projects, with buffers in place, for any number of things. I had thought I’d worked it through for this special issue, too, but I had forgotten just how long everything takes with the to-ing and fro-ing among the editors, authors, and reviewers. It’s not like there was any huge hold-up with any one person or stage, but the whole thing just…yes.
In addition to the special journal timelines, this was the first time I was editing while in a ‘normal’ academic job that was teaching and research. My other experience was when I was a research fellow, or during my PhD years. Juggling editing duties with everyday pressures was a novelty, and resulted in me feeling like I was letting people down on all fronts.
We also co-authored a critical overview for the special issue, and the paper that resulted is much more than a typical introduction, thanks mostly to my colleague. This stage was one that I must admit to misjudging quite badly in terms of time – it was an intensive writing stage in the midst of the editing and administrative aspects of compiling a journal issue.
2. Liaising, interpreting reviewers’ comments, and more liaising
I’ve done this a few times, right?
This is the core business of editing a special issue: getting the papers, soliciting and managing the reviews, conveying/interpreting reviewers’ comments and paper decisions to authors, reviewing revised papers and final stage liaison with other editors and the publisher.
I know all that, but it still took some kickstarting of my editing brain to re-print all those stages in my mind and plan accordingly (so I thought!).
One thing I had forgotten was the trickiness of translating reviewers’ comments and advice to give clear instructions to authors on what was required for the next stage. This is always especially hard if the reviews contradict each other. It requires co-editors having a strong feel for what the special issue theme is, and a vision for how the papers should work together. We also complicated the picture a bit by having papers that were non-refereed in the collection. We did this because the papers were not necessarily by academic authors but the topics were highly relevant and important for the area. These necessitated their own set of processes.
3. The importance of the nitty-gritty
It’s not that I’d forgotten how important it was for editors to be attentive to detail. But when I was again the editor who had to be attentive to detail…I realised how inattentive to detail I felt!
I knew we were also the ones who would have to remind the authors about things like captions and image permissions and specs, as well as the endless iteration of what house-style aspects needed tweaking. Some authors were an absolute dream and we hardly had to touch their work; others needed a bit more shepherding through the process.
I, again, renewed my animosity towards reference checks and working through a document for bibliographic consistency. I know they’re necessary and I need to just suck it up and do it, but they’re so annoying.
Now, when all these aspects are re-skilled in me and we’ve finally seen the special issue come out, this is also when it’s the least likely that I’ll put my hand up to edit anything again for a while.
Give me six months at least.
For those of you who are interested, the special issue I just co-edited and that has just been published online is with the Journal of Australian Studies – table of contents with links HERE (note: paywalled). My co-editor is the wonderful, brain-as-big-as-a-planet Jen Tsen Kwok, who blogs at Borderless Democracy.