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Keeping up with Contributors
It sounds like an easy job. You approach people to write chapters for you. After a little bit of persuasion, they agree. You sit back and let them do the hard work.
Unfortunately, the process is not necessarily as easy as that. Aware that we had deadlines to meet from Elsevier, we decided to give our contributors a deadline for submitting their chapters a couple of months before they were actually due. This would give us a bit of slack if some chapters arrived late and allow us plenty of time to co-edit. However, considering we had never met our contributors, or in some cases hadn’t spoken to them other than via email, it felt a little unsettling to relinquish control and unnerving to trust that they were getting on with the writing process. After all, they have no real obligation to submit.
In most cases we need not have worried, as our contributors were thoroughly professional. As the deadline approached, much to our relief, many chapters began to be submitted. Some contributors contacted us asking for short extensions but since we had allowed plenty of time this was not a big deal and at least it reassured us that they were getting on with it. However, as the deadline passed a couple of chapters remained absent. We were unsure of what to do. As academics, we are well aware of the many commitments that need to be juggled and we certainly didn’t want to add to the stress of others by pestering them. But if the chapters weren’t going to be written then we needed to know quickly so that we could find replacements.
After a few emails went unanswered we decided to ask Elsevier to step in on our behalf. They were more than happy to email and telephone the contributors to chase things up. For one of the missing chapters, everything worked out well in the end. As predicted the work was slightly held up due to the many commitments on the contributor and, after some delay, we received a good quality chapter. This was not so much of a problem as we were kept busy editing the other chapters and simply put this one at the bottom of the list.
However, for one of our chapters neither ours nor Elsevier’s attempts to make contact were answered. As the weeks ticked by we had to accept that the chapter was never going to appear. This was incredibly disappointing as we really felt that their chapter was going to make a significant impact to the final book. In the end we had a decision to make. Do we continue one chapter short, contact a new team to write the chapter, or take on the responsibility ourselves?
If we contacted another team we were only going to leave them with a very short period of time to get back to us. We decided that we couldn’t ask that of other researchers. We seriously considered writing the chapter ourselves but in the end, with chapters of our own to write, chapters to co-edit, classes to teach, research to carry on with, and lives to lead (unfortunately the last point often gets forgotten! – more on this in future blogs) we felt that we would never be able to do this and remain sane. We contacted Elsevier about this and they were happy for us to proceed a chapter light.
In summary, all of our final contributors were fantastic and submitted chapters which exceeded our expectations in quality in many cases. Now we just had to work out a strategy for how to get through the co-editing process.
About the Authors
Dr. Komang Ralebitso-Senior
I am an early stage academic with a keen interest in research, and research-led teaching, on how microbial communities are studied and then exploited in different environmental biotechnologies. My senior lectureship with Teesside University in 2006 was my first academic post following postdoctoral fellowships in Singapore and Oxford. I really enjoy working in successful partnerships with different colleagues especially where we do research across disciplines, share ideas and learn from each other. So co-editing a book with Caroline will go down in my memoirs as one of my career highlights.
Dr. Caroline Orr
I am a relatively early stage researcher whose area of expertise is in molecular ecology specifically looking at functional microbial communities within the soil. I first joined Teesside University a couple of years ago as my first lectureship position following my PhD and a small amount of postdoc work. When I first joined the University I was keen to establish myself as a researcher not just a member of teaching staff but struggled initially to juggle the two. I was quickly introduced to Komang who was interested in research similar to my own area.
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