What’s the point of edited books? A step-by-step proposal for social media alternative

Given that I’m two months away from being contractually obliged to submit my first solo edited collection to the publisher, this is a rather depressing question. But it’s difficult not to ask it. If my only other experience of editing a book is anything to go by, a volume jointly produced with a number of others earlier in my PhD, it’s going to be prohibitively expensive and the publisher isn’t going to do anything to promote it. As a result of the latter realisation I actually started a website, hosting a mailing list and a variety of other resources, which was intended in part as a promotional tool for the book. Yet for the website to work successfully to this end, it’s going to have draw people to the site: given the particular characteristics of the field in question, the site is likely to be able to do this (assuming I do it correctly)… so, I wonder, surely a website like this renders the publisher rather unnecessary?

A step by step proposal for a web 2.0 equivalent of an edited book:

  • Decide on a theme for the project, preferably a much more elaborated one that might be the case were it to be pitched as a straight forward edited book
  • Setup a wordpress blog and register a domain name for it
  • Write as much as possible about the theme, collate as many resources as possible, link to as many sites  as possible on these themes
  • Setup a twitter account for the project, connect with as many relevant people as possible (including members of communities being researched if applicable) and actually interact with them, as well as using it to post updates about the project
  • Design a CfP (perhaps collaboratively if enough people are interested at this stage?) and direct interested parties to the project site, rather than operating through e-mail (make sure to try and maintain lines of connection, using twitter etc, with all those who express interest but choose not to submit)
  • Think seriously about how much of the traditional editorial process (particularly the chronology) needs to be directly reproduced – could the peer review be done openly and/or collaboratively on the site? Could shorter articles be allowed as a basis for final formal contributions further down the road? Could the site itself serve as a basis for connecting potential contributors? Will final reviewed pieces (whatever ‘review’ ultimately constitutes) be posted up on an ad hoc basis or will the pieces be compiled into one volume published online at one time?
  • Given no one presumably thinks they’re going to make money out of the project then, without commercial pressures from a publisher, there’s no reason to charge anything whatsoever for the finished product(s). In fact doing so would quite patently defeat the entire point of the endeavour.
  • Experiment with ways of encouraging feedback and discussion after publication of final piece(s)? How can the medium be used to build interaction and connectivity in a way which enhances the experience of everyone involved in the project? How can it feed into future projects, either on the same site or through others?
Given the extent to which I’ve been told that book chapters, as well as edited books themselves, lack REF value vis-a-vis papers, credentialisation issues don’t hold here in the same way they do for much online publishing. The above is a bit sketchy but, in part, that’s because I’m tired and haven’t elaborated on it as fully as I could. Also because there’s open-ended questions I don’t have answers for. In essence though, the idea i had for the website promoting the book (it has a mailing list, hosts online seminars, a pack for the media, researcher profiles, a blog) is the basis for this… it’s just if the website were to come first, rather than having been an after-thought to correct the deficiencies of the publisher. Now I just wish I’d started thinking this through before I signed that fucking contract.

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