My past two posts on ‘lessons learned’ in putting together this anthology covered author selection, formatting and setting expectations. This one will cover peer review, editing, and the use of social media in collaborating on the project.
There are a few reasons we decided to use a ‘peer review’ process for this anthology. One is that Sorin had previously participated in a peer review for an anthology, and found that it worked well. Second, most of our authors were never-published or independently published, and we wanted to give people the opportunity to improve their writing through comprehensive feedback, and through flexing their critical reading muscles :). It also helped to cut down on editing time. Furthermore, several of our authors are academics or used to the academic review process, so the group adapted quickly.
The peer review process entailed each author having their piece reviewed, critiqued, and where applicable corrected, by two of their fellow authors. We did this using ‘tracked changes’ in various software, typically MS Word. The author then had a few weeks to implement any corrections before sending the piece to me (Laura) for editing. If there was a comment or suggestion they disagreed with, they were to comment explaining why this was the case—that way, if I picked up on a similar issue, I’d already have the author’s viewpoint. It also showed that the author was having a solid think about whatever issues had been raised (and don’t worry, my piece was also subject to this process, as was Sorin’s).
Overall I think the process worked well. In saying that, I think we should have put some stronger guidelines around it—the quality of the critique varied a bit, possibly because people wanted to be careful of others’ feelings. Certainly, it can be difficult to separate one’s self from one’s work, and perhaps there was the concern that in critiquing a piece, it would be taken as criticism of the author on a personal level. And then we had the opposite end of the scale, where critique was so harsh or was so inappropriately personal, that we had to intervene. Generally however, it was a useful exercise, and I’d definitely employ it again. That seems to have been the general consensus from the other authors, as well.
After peer review was completed, pieces were sent to me for editing. Typically a piece would go between myself and the author 2-4 times: I’d edit, they would accept or disagree with changes, I’d address their disagreements and we’d brainstorm etc etc etc.
After reading the first five pieces, I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be reading exclusively about men. I raised this on the authors’ Facebook group, and we then had some gender-swapping to try and balance things out (you can see the results in our social responsibility metrics).
On average, pieces took just under 6 hours to edit, with further time spent at the authors’ ends. The shortest time spent editing a piece was 2:40, and the longest 9:35. The sum total was 135 hours, which was a lot of cups of coffee, believe me!
After editing, the pieces were compiled—I used Scrivener, though this posed its own issues. This document was sent out for advance reviews, and the authors were each given a copy in order to do a final check of their piece and to provide any corrections for other pieces. I think we did a good job in picking up errors—for the second edition of the anthology, with the fancy new cover, we had only three corrections to make. Go team!
Social media proved very useful for this anthology. While we used email extensively as well in corresponding with individual authors, a lot of updates and feedback were given via the private Facebook group. People introduced themselves, gave feedback, brainstormed marketing and events, and posted progress. It was a pretty exciting environment. It was also useful to be able to conduct polls, or give/get information from the whole group at a time.
We used Twitter much less, though selected the hashtag #InMemoryTribute fairly early on. We set up a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/inmemorytribute), and fairly obviously, set up a blog. At the outset this blog was hosted on blogspot, and then we migrated it to a self-hosted WordPress blog/site as publication approached.
Lastly—and this may or may not be considered social media—Google Drive. As above, most feedback was given via MS Word, and a lot of files were being swooshed back and forth. For my own piece however, and for Sorin’s, we used Google Docs. Basically we did this because we know each other and our writing, we don’t take criticism personally, and it was way faster. We were less concerned about version control and just whipped through the pieces. I think in future, either using Google Docs for collaborative purposes in this way, or using Word Online (and the co-editing facilities of Office365 etc) would speed up the editing process and minimise the back-and-forth of pieces.
This is not yet the last piece in this series, as I still have to cover marketing, copyright, approaching for reviews, and contacting other third parties. Stay posted!