The New Work of Editing

"2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) - 31" via "Nic's Events" Flickr page; see license info below.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.

(img: “2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) – 31” by Nic’s events, via Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

This article has 1 Comment

  1. Hey T,

    Great column. I’m reading it as the On the Media episode of “The Future of the Book” plays in the background. (You should check it out; the first half of the hour-long episode you’d especially be interested in. There’s a good interview with Bob Stein, etc.)

    Originally I was going to respond to this post to also (and only) point out that we also have chapters that came in fully formed that we didn’t have to do much of anything to. Those are rare, rare gifts, but they did happen for this book. And it speaks to where we are with digital media scholarship (despite your saying, which I’m very curious about, that we aren’t in the middle of a digital revolution).

    But then I kept reading and got to near the end, where you introduce questions about editors’ roles in digital publishing (vs. print publishing), and it got me thinking about the different ways I inhabit those roles.

    I’m thinking about these things in relation to some examples. As we know, the C&C book series with Hampton Press is ending, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to keep options for authors to publish in print available through other outlets. Sometimes things need to be said in print. Or at least in print-like form. That doesn’t mean things should be exclusively printed, but some arguments that authors make don’t need to be multimedia, even as they may have multimedia components. (And I think that’s one of the things we’ve been struggling with, in our book: *how much*.) That’s related to authors, audience, and press, and it’s not easily answered.

    The second thing I’m thinking of is a summary of your questions: Basically, at what point and how often does an editor of a digital media publication/venue step in to help an author shape a text? That’s a huge issue, and as always, there isn’t just one answer (for me).

    I think, for instance, of the difference between my job with Kairos when I’m answering an author query or submission vs. my job with Kairos when I’m at a workshop like the C&W authors workshop or DMAC. I’m sure I have a lot more thinking to do about these designations (and thank you for making me think about them now!), but here’s where I see the breakdown I see when answering these questions you pose: “How much help is too much? What’s the role of the editor as collaborator? As trainer? As code fixer?”

    On a fundamental level, and I can’t believe I’m saying this but I do think it’s true, my editorial attention is driven by time and money. I mean, the service part (to our fields) — which is driven by passion for this kind of work — is the foundation, but when I have to *choose* when to help an author and how much, that choice is driven by material resources.

    At the C&W workshop and DMAC, authors have paid good money to interact with “experts” and I owe my complete attention to them during that time, whether it be to discuss a concept, suggest a technological method, provide encouragement, and/or even help them storyboard a project. These are outright teaching moments, publicized as such, and I am the teacher responsible for helping authors through any step of the process.

    When an author queries me as a regular part of the submission process for Kairos, I also attend to that work as teaching, but it simply cannot be in the same hands-on (literally) manner in which authors pay for my “expert” opinion in the workshops we do. Because of the channel of communication, my time resource is more limited, and I have more people to attend to in those situations. I cannot give people direct attention in the same way I can f2f. Experience tells me that spending too much attention helping a Kairos author ready a text for re/submission is counterproductive (in ways that I don’t have time to elaborate on right now).

    My time with authors in the pre-acceptance stages gets spent on attending carefully to what they have already produced, what the board says about their work, and then crafting careful letters that explain exactly (if I can) what I think they need to do next. But it’s up to the authors to get the work done (sometimes with the help of a mentor from the staff, who does NOT work on the text for the author, except in *very* rare cases, but who does point the person towards tutorials, local help, and offers an eye to read drafts). Those mentors don’t do the work for authors because, again, we don’t have the staff, the time, or (in some cases) the technologies needed.

    However, I think where another change happens (one that I hope Kairos authors can attest to) is *after* a text gets accepted for publication in the journal. Then I try to do whatever I can to help. But, by the time authors get accepted to Kairos, they are well beyond the conceptual stage, so it’s more a matter of being a code-fixer.

    (Right now, for instance, it cracks me up that by Fall I will probably have *three different versions* of Adobe Flash loaded on my school machine because I have authors using all of them, and none read across versions. I can’t expect my staff to have these kinds of resources; and I thank ISU everyday that they’ve been able to help me out here!)

    So, while I cannot help authors with the conceptual issues when I’m doing my daily business with Kairos (although I do, but not in any depth via email), and I cannot agree to fix technical issues for all of them just so they can submit work to us (although I can point them towards resources where they can learn to fix them themselves), I choose to spend my online time with the post-submission pieces (note that’s more broad than the post-acceptance pieces). Still, I LOVE talking to authors about their work, especially when it’s in the beginning stages. I just can’t hold their hands. And I think people know that.

    (Even tho it’s not a 1-1 comparison, can you imagine anyone in our field expecting the editor of CCC to help an author by writing his or her lit review for them? To me, that’s the equivalent of writing someone’s code for them. And yet we have been known to send a line of code to an author when it’s a crucial pre-submission fix.)

    Now, as for the book…. that’s a whole different sticky issue πŸ˜‰ Several problems with it, including that the book is in this weird, in-between stage that literally doesn’t exist with print books. We don’t have an advance contract, like USUP or others would provide to an edited collection based on a TOC (although we do have a verbal commitment). We have a partial manuscript with all chapters (not including front and backmatter that would normally be needed for a full editorial review) that will be sent off for review, but according to my tenure guidelines (as an example), the book — despite having gone through one editorial review with success (but with no outcome) — is not “under review” but is still listed as “in progress” until we send it back to CCDP as a complete manuscript.

    We’re not going to copy-edit the manuscript before we send it back, which is not like a book manuscript. It takes too much time and isn’t worth it given that some chapters may have to be radically transformed after review. We just don’t know. So, as editors, with all these chapters we’ve accepted, at what point do we begin to do the code-fixing, etc.? The conceptual work should be done already (although the reviewers might point out other areas that need work), but we know that in digital texts it often needs more work.

    Nevermind the accessibility and usability issues that we haven’t even begun to address. Who’s responsible for those? πŸ˜‰

    So, yeah, these are all great questions. And I think the answers are “it depends”. Ugh. Now back to my chapter πŸ™‚

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