Deborah Shaw

Professor in Film and Screen Studies at the University of Portsmouth


If you are co-editing a book/special journal issue, establish the working relationship before you begin. This includes division of labour, and order of names on the published output. Working practices may need to adapt to life circumstances, but a guide before you begin should ensure a peaceful relationship.

Ensure that you both read each chapter; two minds are better than one, and each editor will pick up different aspects that will improve the work.

Be prepared to send for external review if the chapter is outside of your sphere of expertise.

Do not be afraid to contact the scholars that you most respect when putting together a book proposal. Don’t be put off by big names; they may well accept the invitation or put you in the direction of equally qualified experts if they decline.  Even if they say no, you are now on their radar and they may contact you to be part of future networks they are overseeing/part of.

Do not be afraid to ‘sell’ the importance of the book you are working on, and its centrality to the field (especially if the invited authors contribute to it).

Flattering egos is a good thing – when you are unlikely to be able to offer any payment for their work, telling someone they are the leading expert in their field (especially when they are) buys much good will.

Contact the publishers informally before sending a full proposal to see if there is interest; this can save you a lot of time.

It’s not considered good practice to submit to more than 1 publisher at a time; word can get out and this can damage your reputation. Usually several experts will review the proposal and you do not want to waste people’s time.


The status of an academic is no guarantee for the quality of work. Very well established academics may be suffering from multiple deadline syndrome, and may produce work of a quality that surprises you. Do not be afraid to critique/edit their work even if they out-rank you in status. They expect this and are looking to the editor for guidance.  Most are prepared to take on board your suggestions.

Avoid people known to be difficult even if they are the leading lights in their field; it isn’t worth it!

Treat all work the same, regardless of the rank of the scholar, and make helpful and constructive suggestions.

Be prepared to dialogue with the contributor and listen to her/him if they contest your suggestions. A compromise is often reached.

If the work is sub-standard or poorly written and the contributor refuses to accept your suggestions, explain that you will be unable to publish the work unless changes are made.  Be prepared to reject the work if it cannot be rescued. Publishers can intervene on your behalf if required in particularly challenging instances.

Be as understanding as possible with regard to deadlines, as academics are busy people who may have legitimate reasons for being late. You can always work on the chapters that are delivered in good time first. Nonetheless, be explicit in communication regarding the final acceptable deadline, and ask the contributor to be honest if they are unable to deliver.

Find a good copy-editor – even after multiple reads you can miss small errors, and a good copy-editor will ensure the work is standardized and readable.