Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ah, the edited volume...

I knew, going in, that co-editing an anthology was a thankless task. Oh, I knew. William Germano had certainly told me in no uncertain terms, and I'd heard intimations of what I consider to be anthology horror stories. I knew, too, that the level of recognition it generates from the institutional machine, vis-a-vis things like merit and tenure, is far outstripped by the work one puts in. But, I said, sign me up!! (Not without some angst, to be sure...) I really wanted to work on this particular project - really was quite excited about it - and loved the idea of meaningful collaboration.

My co-editor and I - come together, basically, for this - get on famously. The collaborative aspect is extremely rewarding. We seem to have a very similar take on most of the issues that come up - and on the work that we're reading for the volume. And I really value hir extraordinary ability to be both blunt and diplomatic. Also, I'm in awe of hir intellect, and hir nuanced and extraordinarily learned readings.

But, do I ever wonder, sometimes, what we've gotten ourselves into. The majority of the essays we've read have been mediocre. Some quite astonishingly poor: so senseless that I am shocked they would be sent to us as finished drafts. Some we will have to reject altogether. It is clear, too, that the process will drag on far longer than we imagined it would...

I am afraid that I have come to see the wisdom of forgoing the anthology. At least until tenure, when presumably one will have more of a chance to futz around with poor work for draft after draft. Not that I'd want to stop this project at this point - there remains a lot to be gained from it, and from our collaboration. But I might rethink the decision to embark on such a project to begin with. The end result, I feel certain, will be fabulous, but the going is proving to be tough.


Sisyphus said...

One guy in my cohort put together a volume in renaissance stuff the year he went out and didn't get any job offers; he says it helped make him competitive the next year but, yeah, it was a crapload of work and worry.

But obviously you need to put my rejected essay in your anthology! Its only problem is, as the reviewers said, a la Samuel Johnson, that the good parts are not original and the original parts are not good. That and I think it has almost nothing to do with your topic (it does have some women in it, though).

Maggie said...

Gah-- edited volumes. I appreciate your commitment to the project and your work ethic, because every story I've heard has been full of angst.

While I have never edited a volume of anything, I've contributed to two, and my experiences were illuminating.

For the first, I submitted my essay a day before the editors' deadline. This caused them to lavish so much praise on me, I began to worry immediately... and sure enough, the volume was not published for fully three more years.

The second time around was last year. My co-author and I wrote a solid little essay-- certainly nothing earth-shattering, but solid. The editor lavished us with praise, telling us it would be the best in the book.

These instances have scared me off editing anything for awhile, I must say. Because if *I* am the most responsible contributor to something? That's alarming!

Hilaire said...

Sis - Hey, send your article our way. The fit couldn't be any worse than some of the pieces we already have! :)

Maggie - Yeah, I'd say 1/5 of our authors had their drafts ready for us by the specified date. And it's true that - as your editors said - reading a good, coherent essay is a massive breath of fresh air in this process!!

Anonymous said...

Of course the other way to look at that quality thing is to realize that your standards are pretty high and thus anything you think is "pretty good" is probably good enough to send off to a journal or whatever.

Not getting stuff in for deadlines is a pretty notorious problem in academe. Certainly if you are submitting to an edited volume because you think it'll be out faster than a journal article, you should think again. At least journals come out regularly and have editors to harrass reviewers.