Thank goodness, Philippa J. Benson, PhD, and Susan C. Silver, PhD, have created exactly that: What Editors Want: An Author's Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing, just out from the University of Chicago Press. It's well organized, it's comprehensive, and it's authoritative. I fervently hope that medical schools and university science programs everywhere will make it part of their curriculum. Medical and science students are taught how to do research, and often how to report it, but they generally aren't taught about the publication process and how to navigate it. That makes the process unnecessarily frustrating both for researchers and for the editors-in-chief of journals—and hey, journal staff members and freelance manuscript editors too.
Before I tell you more about the book, I must disclose a few things that you may or may not believe predispose me toward writing a favorable review:
- The University of Chicago Press sent me a free review copy of What Editors Want, at coauthor Benson's request.
- I have a connection to Benson via Facebook. On Facebook and on Twitter, where I post a lot of publishing-related and science-related information, I have become friendly with Jennifer Kuhn, who provided administrative assistance to Benson during the process of writing the book and is now assistant managing editor for the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. Kuhn connected me with Benson.
- I adore the Chicago Manual of Style, published by the same press as What Editors Want, and I am guided by it for some of the book-length manuscripts that I edit.
- I am a member of the Council of Science Editors, one of the organizations through which the authors met.
- I have been invited, by one of my longtime author-clients, to travel to China at some point and teach the young researchers in his hospital department about writing for publication. I plan to use What Authors Want to guide me in teaching those researchers.
The writing is straightforward and a pleasure to read. As an editor who works closely with a lot of authors outside the United States who are non-native speakers of English, I believe that the writing is accessible to authors with that background. I plan to highly recommend the book to all of my authors, whether they are native speakers of English or not. Benson and Silver even have a sense of humor, as evidenced by their advice in chapter 10, "Dealing with Decision Letters," about what authors should do if they receive either a rejection letter from their target journal or a decision letter from the journal noting that heavy revision of their research paper is required:
As mentioned earlier, you should never allow your emotions to influence your response to a rejection letter. Usually, a little time and the immediate ingestion of chocolate or alcohol will sooth[e] the pain and you will start to see what you can do to get the manuscript back on track. Do nothing for at least twenty-four hours or until any strong emotions have subsided.
Part of what makes this book so valuable for researchers who are navigating the U.S. publishing world for the first time is that Benson and Silver have been on both sides of the author–publisher relationship. Silver said, of the process of writing the book, "On a couple of occasions, we completely failed to take our own advice about the book. ... It took us a while to ... see that there were some useful points [made by one of the manuscript's reviewers]."
There's an aspect of the book that editorial professionals like me might find surprising, though it is minor compared with the importance of the book's content: Throughout the book, the word editor is capitalized. I wondered about that style choice, so I asked the authors about it. Silver explained that the University of Chicago Press "argued with us a lot about that because it's against their style. Our point was that in this book, [editors have] a starring role. It's their wants and needs that are being discussed. They were an important character in the book." Benson added, "We wanted to build the persona of the editor, and one of the ways to do that was through capitalizing [the word editor]. We had to pick our battles carefully with Chicago. We really were very mindful about the things we pressed hard for, and this was one of them."
The book takes readers through these issues:
- Who cares what Editors want?
- Changing perspective from author to Editor
- Judging the newness of your science
- Authorship issues
- Choosing the right journal
- Understanding impact factors
- How to write a cover letter
- Preparing for manuscript submission, or "What Editors wish you knew"
- Who does what in peer review
- Dealing with decision letters
- Ethical issues in publishing
- Trends in scientific publishing
The authors' coverage of those issues is thorough, and I did not find myself wishing that they had dealt with additional topics. All of their advice is on target, especially for would-be authors to look at issues of their target journals before definitely deciding to submit manuscripts to those journals, to read and follow in detail the author instructions of their target journals, to educate themselves about the permissions process, and to learn how the peer-review system works.
I found only one problem with the book: The cross-references in chapters 4 ("Authorship Issues") and 5 ("Choosing the Right Journal") to sidebars 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3 from chapter 8 ("Preparing for Manuscript Submission, or 'What Editors Wish You Knew' ") are incorrect. For example, in chapter 4 the authors refer readers to the sidebar on choosing a language-polishing service, and they note that this is sidebar 8.3, but it is actually sidebar 8.1.
Benson heads the firm PJB Consulting, where she is currently working with organizations such as PLoS One and the American Society for Nutrition on author education and publishing-services projects. She is also on the faculty of the Master of Professional Studies in Publishing program at George Washington University. Silver is editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, published by the Ecological Society of America. She has held editorial positions at Academic Press and the British Dental Association and was editor of Biologist and The Lancet Oncology.
Benson and Silver told me that they got to know each other through annual meetings of such U.S. organizations as the Council of Science Editors and the Society for Scholarly Publishing. The book grew out of workshops that they later led together in China to teach, as Silver said, "young researchers how to navigate the Western journal landscape." Silver said that some colleagues wondered why she and Benson were "going all the way to China" to teach this material, saying, "We need this stuff here." Benson said that the content of the workshop evolved each time they taught it, and it occurred to her that it would be very helpful to have a textbook to use in teaching. Benson suggested to Silver that the two of them should write that textbook, and Silver, the more cautious of the pair, eventually agreed.
The authors have impressive credentials, but they told me that they thought it would be good to have input for the book from other authoritative sources in journal publishing. The pieces that those contributors wrote became helpful sidebars scattered throughout the book. "With the exception of one person, everybody [we asked] immediately agreed" to contribute to the book, Benson said. Here are some of the sidebar authors and their topics:
- Carol Anne Meyer of CrossRef: "What authors need to know about CrossRef DOIs [digital object identifiers], CrossCheck, and CrossMark"
- Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science: "Honesty in authorship"
- Kepin Ma, professor at the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of the Sciences: "The challenges of publishing as an international author"
- Catriona MacCallum, senior editor of PLoS Biology and consulting editor of PLoS ONE: "Choosing open access for your paper"
- Carol Edwards, publishing manager of TESOL International Association: "The permissions process"
- Lyndon Holmes, president of Aries Systems: "Online manuscript submission and peer review systems"
- Diane Sullenberger, executive editor of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: "Ethics in scientific publishing"
- Robert M. Harington, publisher for the American Institute of Physics: "The future of publishing"
The authors told me that they welcome feedback on the book because they would like to make any necessary corrections or additions to its next edition. You can write to them at email@example.com. Silver added, "And if there are any additions [for the book], we can still include it in our teaching."
Without reservation, I recommend this book for those new to the publish-or-perish atmosphere of science, to those who work with science authors, and especially to those who teach them. There are already other resources available to teach researchers about good science writing, but What Editors Want is the first map that I know of through the U.S. science publication process. It's a map that no one who plays any role in science publishing should be without.
What Editors Want: An Author's Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing, by Philippa J. Benson and Susan C. Silver, from the University of Chicago Press. Available in several formats: cloth (ISBN 978-0-226-04313-5; US$55), paperback (978-0-226-04314-2; US$20), and e-book (978-0-226-04315-9; US$7 to US$20); 192 pages.
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