The unBalanced ecoLOGist: On Editing

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written a post. I could plead some normal excuses: just back from a sabbatical and nearly 18 months mostly overseas and returning to an avalanche of house cleaning and office work; getting married two weeks after stepping off the 12th plane flight in seven weeks; or that old stand-by, writer’s block. But really, none of them apply.

In fact, I’ve been preoccupied with meeting a contractual end-of-May deadline to deliver a 29-chapter edited volume—Carnivorous Plants: Physiology, Ecology, and Evolution—to Oxford University Press. I’ve cross-checked tens of thousands of in-text citations against nearly 1700 references in the combined bibliography. Wanting to avoid future litigation and unfavorable court judgments, I’ve made sure that the Oxford comma is used uniformly throughout the book. I’ve made sure all 111 figures are either 600 dpi tiff files at 50% of a B-4 page or vectorized eps files that scale well to any page size; that final versions of chapters by authors from around the world are all laid out on U.S. letter-sized paper (which is absolutely not the same as A-4) with equivalent margins and tabs (note to self: 1.27-cm tabs translate in Word to 0.49″, not 0.5″, tabs, and yes, my eye can tell the difference); that the proofing language of every file is set to English, not Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hebrew, German, Spanish, Portuguese, or Australian; and innumerable other details clearly explained in the OUP style sheet and in detailed letters from me and my co-editor that most chapter authors cheerfully, unknowingly, or willfully ignored.

All that after indeed just returning from a sabbatical that took me, over the course of nearly 18 months, to every continent except Antarctica, to dozens of interesting labs and field stations around the world, to new collaborations with friends and colleagues and new friends, and, at the end of it all, to a wedding in Brookline. But those are all other stories for other times (explore this site for all but the last).

Editing a book (my second; the first, Stepping in the Same River Twice: Replication in Biological Research, co-edited with Ayelet Shavit, was published last week by Yale University Press) is very different from editing for a journal (which I’ve also done for nearly 20 years, as a handling editor for American Journal of Botany [1995-2004], Ecology [2002-2015], Ecology Letters [2005-2008], and PeerJ [since 2012]) or editing and running the journal itself (which I’ve done twice, first as the founding editor of Ecological Archives [1998-2001], and second, as the editor-in-chief of Ecological Monographs [2009-2015]).

So I thought I’d jot down seven lessons I’ve learned from editing a couple of scientific / technical books that might be useful to others who are (or are considering) editing such a book and to remind me, if I’m ever asked to edit another one, that saying no might be the best response.

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