Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Getting there

Good news today: my co-editor and I are getting a book contract.

Several people have asked me recently whether the volume coming out of the conference last autumn has been published yet. Which shows how little they know about book publishing.

For the conference, we asked for full papers. It means that we had a vague idea of what people would be talking about. We went deliberately to different sessions to hear as many papers as possible. A good written paper doesn't always make a good presentation, and a conference paper does not necessarily make a good volume chapter. Publishers don't want conference proceedings these days, because these don't sell. And frankly, I hate conference proceedings that lack coherence and are very uneven in quality. So we decided from the beginning that we would select no more than twelve papers. It was a hard decision, because there were many good papers that simply didn't fit into the book. I sincerely hope they have been or will soon be published elsewhere.

The conference was last September, and by the end of October we had made our selection, informed the lucky few and asked them for abstracts to be included in the proposal, at the same time asking them to revise and expand the papers to almost three times the length. I have never yet met an author who was upset by the request to expand their paper. Mostly we are asked to cut them down.

By December, we had collected all abstracts and written an introduction. We had completely opposite ideas about what an introduction is supposed to be doing, so it was a very useful exercise. We also wrote a formal proposal with specifications of audience, competition on the market, estimated length and other stuff. I have a file in my computer for this, where I just insert the relevant info.We submitted the proposal early in January. We also sent the outline to our authors asking them to take each other's chapters into consideration.

Sometime mid-March we received the positive first response from the editor who requested two sample chapters, one by an established and one by a less known scholar. Since we had asked all our contributors to submit their finished chapters by first of March, and surprisingly enough some of them did, we chose two and resubmitted. Meanwhile we chased the rest of our authors and edited all chapters for correct format. At least a couple of submissions were really late, but it didn't matter much at this point. We kept our authors posted about the progress. Authors tend to get impatient because they want to include their chapters in their CVs as forthcoming. We told them they could do it at their own risk. Personally, I'd never put anything on my CV before I had a contract.

About a month ago we had a generally positive response from the editor who had received two reader reviews. Now, reader reviews can be extremely helpful or they can be hopelessly stupid. Most of the comments were helpful, some were stupid, but what we were asked to do was address every single comment, either agreeing with it or arguing why we didn't agree. The fact that we didn't quite agree between ourselves wasn't quite helpful, but we did it. Meanwhile, we chased the tardy authors and corrected format and footnotes. If you ask authors to correct the footnotes you can be sure that they will make new errors, so it's just as well to do it yourself.

Today - happy news! The Board has approved the proposal, and we are getting a contract. So when is the book coming out? Take it easy. Since we have been so optimistic and prepared the manuscript while we were waiting, we can now submit it very quickly, probably next week. The editor has sent us, once again, Author Guidelines, with a really helpful note that we don't have to keep to them. So much for all our efforts. After we have submitted, the ms will go out to another round of reviews. It means that it is pointless to ask the authors for further revisions, even though we would like some. But we'll wait till we have the reviews, which may be helpful or stupid. In any case, we will have to report back to the editor how we are going to address the comments and then send the chapters back to authors for revisions. Are you with me? We are now probably in September-October. We will have to give our authors a couple of months for revisions. Meanwhile, we cannot do anything. When we have received all revisions, we will do the final editing and send the ms to the editor. It will then go to copy-editor and return to us with queries, helpful or stupid. Some copy-editors like to show that they have done their job well and change your spelling from British to American or the other way round, or change double quotes to single, or insert new paragraphs where you don't want them.

I think we are well over Christmas now. Copy-editors deserve their Christmas holidays. A few months later there will be page proofs, which always, I mean always, come when you least want them, and it's always urgent, after all those months. Hopefully, this publisher will not send out proofs to all authors individually. I much prefer to proofread myself than chase contributors who happen to spend their sabbatical in Antarctis without internet access.

Eventually, about two years after the conference, the book will be out. Our publisher is very proud of their short production cycle.

No comments: