Entrepreneurial Editor: How to edit a book more or less gracefully

I have been reading Dorie Clark’s Entrepreneurial You , which is an amazing collection of hands on advice from podcasting to writing blogs to authoring books. Dorie’s main message is that there are multiple ways that we can contribute and develop our careers. What makes the book fascinating is that much of the advice is grounded in her own experiences but she has also interviewed a great number of others who have succeeded in developing a business and built careers.

In this spirit of openness about her lessons learned, I thought I’d share my recent experience in co-editing a book and what lessons I can take from that might be helpful to others. I’d like to make a disclaimer here to say that this blog post is very much about my lived experience and not that of the publisher or my co-editor. For me, capturing experience-based knowledge is very crucial and that is what I’ll focus on here.

Three main ways dominate in how a book gets authored: you either reach out to your contacts whom you know and ask them to contribute, you issue an open call and see what you get (cast a wider net), or you go at it alone. Each approach has their merits and constraints: sole authorship has full control, asking your friends and colleagues means you might get more accountability in quality and timeliness (they don’t want to disappoint you) and casting a wider net means you are able to capture more diversity in authorships, regions and countries. But sole authorship means you might miss some linkages and issues, asking your friends could mean you all share the same way of thinking, and casting a wider net might result in significant delays and controversies what everyone is supposed to be writing about.

The idea for the book Limits to Climate Change Adaptation was based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (2014) that had identified a knowledge gap in regards to the concept of “adaptation limits” and what that means in both practice and theory.. Given that there was not much literature on this, we decided to issue an open call to see who identified firstly their research with the topic and which countries and regions we could cover. The number of responses was great with many people wanting to contribute. But the end result was that once the excitement died down and the reality hit about writing an actual chapter, many early enthusiasts did not return a manuscript draft and/or stopped responding to emails.

As an editor, this was frustrating as I could see the potential in many of the abstracts that had been submitted but I was not able to muster up their courage to get them over the line to start writing. Still, we got more chapters than we had expected and I am very thankful for all the authors for sticking with the process and providing such good insights from their countries and disciplinary backgrounds. I am also pleased that we did an open call because it helped to connect to new people whose research I was not previously aware of.

Because there is not much empirical evidence on what actual adaptation limits are, how they differ from thresholds, and what the actual line is between adaptation constraints and limits, it was challenging to get all the chapters to consider these concepts in the same way. We asked all the authors to build on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (Working Group II, Chapter 16) so that we could provide a more coherent approach that could also be helpful in informing the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. I strongly believe that the book has contributed to this gap, with many specific chapters on relocation, migration, agriculture, coastal infrastructure, and even psychology. The chapters truly showcase how different disciplines approach climate adaptation differently including methods, analysis and the way results are derived.

One thing that I cannot emphasise enough is that a good book cannot happen without great reviewers. I am truly thankful for the people who reviewed and provided comments and their time to improve the chapters. I am lucky that many of the reviewers we contacted were interested in the topic and really took the time to help us to assess the chapters.

One thing that I had not prepared for was the long process that editing a book truly is. This may sound naïve but most editors and authors make a plan in the beginning of the milestones that should be achieved but these often are constantly shifted when people’s lives get busy, reviews take time, and manuscripts have to go through final edits. I was lucky enough to have a co-editor who already has an established contact with the publisher. This made things much easier as he knew the procedures and protocols on agreements, something a newbie to publishing must learn as part of the process. Co-editing with someone more experienced is a great way to learn these things. If you have an idea for a book, it’s worth asking around those in your field whether they would be interested in collaboration.

Getting the book out however is half of the job. If you want your book to contribute to the current discussions on the topic, you need to make sure it ends up in the hands and minds of a broad audience and eventually the right people. I haven’t figured out yet a perfect way to do that but given my work is usually with professional scientific community and policymakers, I’m using LinkedIn and Twitter to spread the news and I am also writing to my contacts who might be interested in the book. I am not getting paid for the book so this is different from those authors/editors who derive income from how many copies are sold. My contribution and passion to have the book read has more to do with wanting to contribute to the scientific and policy discussions on climate adaptation.

Given this is the first published book on the concept of adaptation limits to my knowledge, I do have a need also from the scientific perspective to make sure the knowledge we have collated in the book can feed into science and policy discussions whether it is Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the work that research organisations and NGOs do on the ground.

It would be great to hear from you who have editing and publishing experience how you’ve managed the process of showcasing your work and getting it out there. Any tips on what you’ve found effective? This can be in terms of letting people know about your work or how your research has fed into policy and science processes.

One final thought: people always say look at the competition and see where your ideas fit and can add value. In science, picking up a less examined concept or a knowledge gap can be challenging but it is a good opportunity to contribute to your field and broader scientific community.

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