I’ve been doing a lot of editing work for the digital collection that Debra Journet and Cheryl Ball and I are putting together. We’ve done a bunch of work on it already: promoting the cfp, selecting chapters around cohesive themes, and developing an interface to structure the experience for readers with varying interests and orientations toward the material. I have to say that it’s been great so far. I’ve learned so much from working with DJ and CB, as well as working with Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher at Computers and Composition Digital Press, where the collection is in the peer-review process.
I myself have never really done much editing before. CB and DJ are both very experience. CB as long-time editor of Kairos, and DJ as an editor of a few different collections. And both of them have been included as contributors to several collections. And then there’s me. I’ve got a chapter (with Scott Rogers and Julia Kiernan) coming out in a collection this fall or spring. And I’ve also done a LOT of copy editing for literary journals at CU Boulder, North Dakota State, and the Office of the North Dakota Germans from Russia Office in Fargo. But nothing that really prepared me for this project. But that’s not to say that I’m in over my head either. DJ and CB have been incredibly helpful and patient with me getting my sea legs as the process moves forward. And I feel good about what I’ve contributed. Some of my skills have been unique and essential. As can be said for both of my partners.
[pullshow]So where’s all this going? I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the different roles I’m playing on this team, what I’m learning from them, and how I’m contributing from the perspective of each of the different roles. For instance, I’m intensely interested in discussions about “the future of the book.” I’ve done a lot of reading about the topic, and I’ve worked to put that knowledge to work in structuring our collection. Those contributions have directly influenced our thinking about the collections table of contents, digital “cover,” strategies for fostering digital quotation, and discussions about the ways that digital text are and are not “portable” in the same way that books are and are not portable.
I’ve really been fascinated lately working with the authors contributing to the collection. Each of them, either individually or as collaborators, submitted a description for a digital chapter. These descriptions were really compelling. They described the data, argument, conversation, technologies, and textual organization the authors were proposing for various chapters. Great stuff. Innovative. Risky. Reaching. And, well… prospective. (Aren’t almost all chapter proposals, anyway?) Since then, we’ve received chapters in varying degrees of progress and realization. Some have come in late. Some half-finished. Some just getting started. Some not at all.
Part of our editing process has involved challenging authors about deadlines, offering suggestions about technologies they might want to consider for their texts, and much to my surprise… collaborating with them on substantial portions of the texts. I really didn’t see this coming. I don’t have a single complaint about it, though. As a graduate student, [pullthis]I can’t think of a more effective experience for gaining access to and learning from smart and talented scholars. To get to be a part of their working process, to ask questions, to offer suggestions and to get feedback from them about those suggestions.[/pullthis] Wow. This experience is so valuable.
I’d love to regale (and bait) you with detailed discussions about who I’ve had a chance to work with and the texts that are emerging, but this blog probably isn’t the place for those sorts of disclosure. (You’ll have to get me talking over a glass of red wine at our next conference.) But I would like to say that it’s really got me thinking about the different ways of structuring relationships between editors and authors. I wonder how those relationships differ between digital and print processes.
Both processes are speculative in terms of argument. Digital texts, I would suggest are speculative in terms of form and technologies, as well. I’m not sure about how print texts are speculative in ways that digital texts aren’t, though. I’ll have to think more on that.
Both processes require a healthy relationship between authors and editors. I like working in a digital environment because there’s a certain amount of concession that’s inherent to the process. For instance, when I first encounter a text structured as a blog, there’s plenty about that text that I can’t tell just from reading it. There are so many strategies for realizing different structures that there’s no way an editor could be comfortable with all of them… or even most of them.
And then there are authors who start to get a sense that they have something to say about a topic, and then they realize that the argument really needs to be made in a digital text (think YouTube videos, blogging research, collaborative environments, etc). But lots of these authors don’t have the production skills necessary to produce a text. In fact, without some sort of experience with digital tools (software, hardware, practices, etc.), it’s really difficult for some authors to even know where to start considering the affordances of these tools. Instead of tools of invention, the tools might, at best, be tools for capturing or rendering an argument, rather than reinforcing or instantiating it. Working with this sort of author is one of the most rewarding aspects of this project. It might sound something like this: “I have this great idea about (xxxxxxx), but I don’t even know where to start. Should I use a blog? A website? A digital story? What’s the difference? Why would I want to use one more than another?” And some typical responses to these sorts of early questions?: “What do you want to do that print can’t do? Have you seen a text that does the sort of thing you want to do? Are you more interested in learning the production skills or just having a text that performs the work you’d like it to? What tools have you worked with before?”
And then, there’s a flip-side. How much help is too much? What’s the role of the editor as collaborator? As trainer? As code fixer? These are questions that I’ll return to soon. But I’m going to try to address them all through the lens of one, simple aphorism: We’re not in the middle of a digital revolution. Not because it’s not over; not because it hasn’t started, either. If you can accept that, these questions start to look a little different. I’m not sure what, just yet, but I’ll keep writing. You, keep reading.