Should I Do an Edited Collection?


Let me say it again: No.

Let’s put it a different way:

You: But, it’s just the papers from a conference panel. Is it ok then?

Me: No.

You: But, I’m co-editing it, so I don’t have to do all the work. Is it ok then?

Me: No. And, please, co-editing? Are you kidding me?

You: But all I have to do is collect and edit the papers and write an Intro. Is it ok then?

Me: No. And you’re doing all this and don’t even have a chapter in it? Are you kidding me?

You: But I’ll have a book for tenure.

Me: No, you won’t. Edited collections don’t count.

You:  But it’ll get me a job.

Me:   You want to know what’ll get you a job?  A REFEREED JOURNAL ARTICLE IN THE TOP JOURNAL IN YOUR FIELD.  Write that!  Write two of them!  Hell, you can write a whole effing monograph in the time you are going to waste fighting with your contributors, waiting for the external reviewers, arguing with your lame press, agonizing over the copy-editing, and trying to market the book because your lame press doesn’t spend a dime in advertising.

You: Really?

Me: Yes.

You: An editor from a really great press I never heard of actually got in touch with me! And asked me to do it! Is it ok then?

Me: No, and never, ever, ever accept an offer of publication from someone from a press you’ve never heard of. Or even a press you have heard of, if they come chasing after you. It’s the prom, sweetheart. Don’t go with the first person who asks you (unless they’re the dream date you’ve been waiting for). Do the work, and get yourself into position to get the date you really want.

You: But I am already committed.

Me: Get out of the commitment.

You: But it’s my friends.

Me: Have drinks with your friends. Go to Vegas with your friends. Do not waste your precious writing and research time gathering up and, god forbid, editing, your friends’ questionable essays and volunteering unpaid, uncredited time to get your friends a publication. And by the way, their chapter in your edited collection is barely going to do them any good either.

You: But I’m going to go ahead and do this edited collection.

Me: It’s your funeral.

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Should I Do an Edited Collection? — 78 Comments

  1. I love how straightforward you are–we need more people who tell the truth!!

    What about a co-authored book? Does that count? 😉

    • I’m glad!

      uhh, co-authored book. Well, depends on your field. But my opinion? Don’t do it. You really can’t afford it to dilute your name, if you’re seeking job or tenure in the humanities and social sciences.

  2. I waited until after I had tenure, then decided that the best way to get the issue I wanted dealt with into mass consideration was a collected volume. But I solicited papers from the top names in the field, paired them with emerging scholars, and then got a reputable press on board. The press’s deadlines, plus the heavy-hitters on board, plus the fact that I had tenure and really could just walk away if it fell apart all made it work. I was never the bad guy (the press wants x, y, or z) and I in fact did drop a senior person for failing to produce. It’s had better success than my monographs, but it is true that it counted for little when it came to merit pay, etc.

    I’d only add to The Professor’s comments that if you want to do an edited collection you must know what you want to do it for. It’s not going to get you tenure or pay increases, but it might increase your profile in your field and/or allow you to network.

    • Stephen, excellent remarks. There are limited ways that an ed. coll. can work in a career, but none of them, absolutely none, apply to graduate students, job-seekers, and junior (pre-tenure) faculty. And yet noone is ever told this directly. infuriating.

      • Although — I thought this was something “everyone” knew. We kept getting told it in graduate school: no edited collections, no translations, no scholarly editions, don’t do any of it.

        Yet, one of my younger colleagues, who is in good shape for tenure, got the proofs for his edited collection yesterday and said it felt good. It was more editing work than he had thought it would be, though, he said.

    • Yes – I am for this and was about to do exactly this one time, for exactly this reason. Also, I had a piece in it and this was a great place to showcase that piece. And the press was great. And so on. Why I dropped it anyway: a couple of people turned out to have double submitted their pieces, and then a third heavy hitter died. Another of the heavy hitters was the editor of a journal and also had a copy of the deceased’s manuscript. Ze published it in the journal. So, that killed three out of 12 pieces and put the balance of the volume off. It was very irritating. But the press wanted those 3 replaced for the sake of balance in volume, and this would have made everything take longer, had it worked at all, so I quit. One reason I felt bad about it was, the other people who didn’t double submit then had to find other homes for their pieces, later, and some were people on the tenure track who, therefore, really needed things to come into print.

  3. This is so right. I just had the pleasure of witnessing a friend turn down an edited collection; she’d just left academia so she pulled no punches. It was hilarious to watch. I’m all for protecting your time; I also think if more people refused to do so it would be a small blow to the crazy oversaturated research market.

    • The ed. coll. is the ultimate pitfall for academic women, in particular. It plays into all of their self-sabotaging tendencies—the desire to do things in groups (when you’re ultimately hired and tenured as an individual only), to “help out” and “pitch in” (when these count for nothing), to go for the quick and low-risk option (because someone from some random press asked, instead of taking the much larger risk of submitting it to a major press for potential rejection), and then the ultimate madness—co-editing. Do you EVER see an ed. coll. co-edited by two men? I mean really. (OK, I know they’re out there–please, you don’t need to show me. I’m speaking for effect. )

      Stop. The. Madness.
      Just. Say. No.

      • What Amanda said – hilarious and true. Although it’s harder to say no if you have big names in the collection and a good press, and if it’s on a hot topic you like, and if it’s energizing.

      • I co-edited the MLA approaches to teaching Poe volume with Tony Magistrale. We’re arguably both men 🙂

  4. Hilarious and so, so true! While I was on the tenure-track, I lost TWO excellent papers to two edited collections, both of which bit the dust for various reasons beyond my control, but both things happened when it was too late in the game for me to withdraw the papers and submit them to refereed journals. One was edited by a junior woman who had two children while editing, and never finished writing the intro. The other was dropped by the publisher and then both co-editors dropped the ball. Listen to Karen, folks – true dat.

  5. Is it a bad idea to submit for a chapter for an edited book? I’m a grad student, have two papers lined up for journal submissions in one of my areas, and dont like my chances of publishing as a single author in my second research area (in a prestigious journal. I know one contact who has encouraged me to submit to her journal, but I’m not sure it will increase my standing anywhere… and might do well to sully my name. It’s not a bad journal, by any means, but the it’s a lot less well regarded than the super awesome journals I can get for my first area).

    I’m debating whether to spend time doing this or not? It may only be a few weeks time investment, but time is time is time (and I could be having a summer break instead).

    • I’m in a similar situation as Michelle- I presented at a conference and now the conference organizers are putting together a book. I was asked to submit a paper to be considered for a chapter. I don’t have any articles published in journals yet and fear being rejected when I finally submit a manuscript for consideration. I want to build my CV, but don’t want it to be detrimental to future job prospects. Thoughts?

      • This is precisely what I’m talking about and the reason I wrote this post. This is what grad students inevitably fall for, and then the piece is lost in ed. coll. limbo for years, and even when out doesn’t count. Put it in a ref. journal!

  6. I am a PhD student in English (just completed my first year) and have published one refereed article in the top journal in my field, as well as a second refereed article in a rather obscure literary journal.

    I am currently working on revising and submitting at least two other articles to other top-grade journals by the end of Spring 2012.

    I recently submitted another article to be published in an edited collection, comprising of authors who are pretty well-known in my field. It is supposed to be published by a reputed academic press, though not the biggest in the field. It has been 3 months since submission though, and I have not heard back anything from the editor. Should I be concerned? By what time would it be acceptable to pull the article if I receive no notification on the collection’s progress? I’d appreciate any comments/advice you might have. Thank you.

    • First off, congrats on your amazing publishing trajectory! Wow! How do you have so much publishable material so early in your phd career?

      Re your question: this is one of the things about ed. colls. They tend to drag out endlessly. The editor SHOULD be able to tell you where the manuscript is, and if it’s been sent to reviewers or not. If it has not been sent to reviewers, and the editro is still waiting for other chapter submissions still, then I’d suggest that you remove it now. Those are serious red flags. If it IS at review3rs, then 3 months is not that long, and I’d give it one more month.

      Of course, your getting in touch might prod the editor into action, which could help.

      Now, given that you have journal pubs, it’s really not going to be KOD for you to let the piece languish there for awhile, and if it does align you with some big shots in the field, then it will have some value. But in general, if you feel the piece is good enoough for a top ranked journal, then what the heck, pull it out if nothing arises within the next month! 4 months is long enough to wait for the thing to gain momentum.

  7. I was just wondering–you say that grad students should not “dilute” their names, but what about co-authored papers? Is there a difference between papers co-authored with other grad students and papers written with advisors? What about a paper co-authored with a professor from another discipline (keeping in mind that in my case, I am in an interdisciplinary field)? Do these count as “diluting” one’s name, or is a peer-reviewed article in a good journal still worth doing if it is co-authored?

    • Ah, co-authoring. I need to write a post on that. So, it’s basically field-specific. You didn’t mention your field. If you’re in an experimental social science or a science, then co-authoring is fine, and you just need to aim to get yourself to as close to first author as you can. If you’re in the humanities and general social sciences, such as sociology or anthropology, then approach co-authoring with great caution indeed. It will seem like an “easy” option but I’m here to tell you that it’s usually the opposite–a miserable slog through a failed collaboration that ends up in the paper languishing in manuscript stage forever and ever… I say this based on what I see from my clients, who all too frequently have “papers in progress” that they can’t bring to culmination because their co-author refuses to get their part done. I suppose a co-authored paper with an advisor would be better than with a grad student…but I know that for my part, I’d assume the ideas were the professor’s!

      So, although I know that co-authoring is common….my basic advice for people just starting out and trying to establish their own profile and legitimacy is..don’t do it.

      • I have four co-authored articles mostly in journals in my field and have a fifth single authored article inspired by the same research study. I worked with a professor, and although people have assumed the ideas were hers, they were proven wrong when they got to know my work. I also am asked frequently to review for good journals based on my published expertise and I was awarded a term at the University of Oxford as a graduate exchange student in part because of my established research profile. To assume, as you would that the ideas were the professor’s is ungenerous indeed.

        • All four of those journals are good and my single authored article is in the leading journal in my field.

  8. How uniform is this, if I may ask? I’m at the end (very happily) of editing an edited volume, from a major scholarly press, which was part of the requirements for a postdoc fellowship. I’m also a second year asst professor in anthropology (biological) at a southern R1. Books, both edited and authored, are a clear part of my college’s and department’s tenure criteria, and I have received in- print confirmation from my Dean and Department Head that they most certainly contribute towards tenure. Edited volumes are extremely common in biological anthropology, and come out from the major scholarly presses, while single authored volumes are very rare. This may just be a feature of the field, but perhaps introduces some heterogeneity into the “anthropology” category mentioned above.

    Also, something to consider, if I may, is that biological anthropology (one of the four sub-fields of anthropology (FYI for non-anthropologists)) tends towards the natural sciences end of the social sciences, and increasingly shares the emphasis on lab work and research groups. This automatically (unless there is dishonesty going on) produces co-authored publications. This is rapidly becoming the norm, and, if you can keep yourself close to top of the author list, when sprinkled in with a couple of single author publications, is seen as perfectly acceptable for tenure in my field. This has been the case in archaeology (another of anthropology’s subfields) for years, as many publications are the result not only of lab work and research groups, but fieldwork and excavations, which are pretty hard to do alone.

    Just something to consider.

    • I would ask whether a piece in a bioanth collection will serve you as well for tenure, though, as a refereed journal article. That’s the litmus test.

      Your larger point that bio-anth is a lab based field, though, is absolutely valid, and so co-authored articles are the norm. Then you have to be sure you’re first author on enough of them once you’re coming up for tenure.

      • Agreed! And no, a peer-reviewed article will trump a book chapter (refereed) any day. But it’s the second runner up, from what I’ve heard. Thanks!!!

  9. I have a multi-year Religious Studies post-doc abroad where my two main responsibilities are to 1) produce an annotated volume of translations with scholarly introduction and 2) organize a small conference of leading scholars, plus a few junior colleagues like me, and edit the proceedings.

    In reply to an earlier commenter who argued against doing translations, I would say that in my field translations drive scholarship because lots of people don’t have the time to read large stretches of primary text in the original language. Good translations are also useful for a longer period of time than all but the best secondary scholarship. Regarding the edited collection, I think organizing a small conference–including the collected volume that is here de rigueur–is a good way to introduce oneself to leading scholars.

    But all my statements could be true and the two together could still not be as good as a monograph from a job-search effectiveness point of view.

    • When it’s a requirement of a postdoc, you really have no choice, so just make sure you maximize the networking opportunities and minimize the logistical nightmares of doing the volume.

      The role of translations is tricky. In general, they are definitely secondary to a monograph, and you want to plan for the monograph. But they are also valued, as you say. At my higher ranking R1, in a language and literature department, a translation was NOT enough for tenure. At my lower ranking first R1, however, I believe that some lang and lit folks did get tenure on the basis of a lengthy annotated translation with original introduction.

  10. I love that this conversation is still going. Can I add also how irritating it is that everybody these days seems wants to turn conferences and panels into books? I love networking and talking about research, which is why I like to attend events. It’s energizing and gets me excited about crafting an article or working on a book. But I don’t like the Faustian bargain of having to generate a polished paper for an edited volume, especially when I’ve had many experiences with them not coming to fruition. Not only have I wasted (wasted!) perfectly good material on some obscure edited volumes that are not even searchable on google, I’ve had manuscripts languish for years untouched because either the editors can’t get it together or the other authors are flaky. I’m lucky that I’ve been successful enough with books and articles, and didn’t depend on these for tenure. But not everyone is so lucky. If you contribute to an edited volume, there has to be a pay-off, like a free trip to an exotic location, but even so it had better be worth it!

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  14. Karen, thank you for this post and all your countless other pieces of great advice. I had a question: would you say the same for editing a special issue in a solid refereed journal (not the top journal in the field, but certainly a well-respected one)? (I was contacted about this opportunity by the journal’s editor, who read my work during a job interview, which alas did not materialize into a job…) Co-editing the journal issue would also entail writing an introduction and also possibly publishing my own article in it.

    • This is better, marginally. With the journal you do have the assurance that it will in fact be published, so there’s no delay for shopping it around to presses, etc. And you have a guaranteed readership, as well as a greater association with genuine peer review (which is always a bit of a question mark with edited collections). I mean by this editing, of course, NOT co-editing. If you’re in the humanities or social sciences and don’t yet have a job or tenure, please, just say no to co-editing.

      • Many thanks for your swift and really informative reply, Karen! I am in the humanities (without a tenure-track job), and the journal editor gave me the option of either editing (taking responsibility for the entire issue) or co-editing (soliciting essays through networking and writing the introduction). I have one published article (in a peer-reviewed journal), but I’ve been looking to publish another essay–particularly in this journal’s field–so that I can broaden myself as a job candidate.

        • I’ll say it again (as I make this point in many many blog posts and columns)—if you have only one published article and no tenure track job, then don’t spend your time editing anything. Just write and publish your own refereed journal articles.

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  16. I published one piece in an edited volume before I knew any of this. I know it doesn’t count for much, but I don’t regret it because – they paid for me to attend a conference in a far flung location and I was able to tag on some fieldwork, the conference was an amazing networking opportunity, the publication is regional and read by a different audience that US/European journals, it isn’t a piece I would otherwise have written (nor do I think it would be journal appropriate), and it was easy and well organised.

    I just got another invite though, for an unpaid conference closer to home, organised by grad students with people who have a track record of publishing with so-so presses and I’m going to give it a miss due to what I’ve learned since.

    This was a useful piece to read, and yes I fit all the stereotypes – I’m female and I like working in groups. Academia is a bit of a maze, and it’s so useful to have guidance.

  17. What about an edited grad-student special edition of a prominent journal in the field?
    Still no? But it seems it’d be really good for name recognition and profile building.

  18. Oh, why couldn’t you have written this years ago and I stumbled upon this post then????? I got sucked into it all. First, as a grad student I published a paper in one of these things – sorry, this was a book with 3 male co-editors, and I wrote more of their book than they did, and they are all higher paid than I am. Now, I’m the dummy editing one myself. Yeah, I am networking with new folks that helps further my work in a different direction; yeah, the press ain’t bad and it’s going in a series where they’ll market it some. But I surely could’ve used some better articles instead. People, listen to The Professor and stay far far away!

    • 🙂 Why does nobody speak of these things? I think because everybody who does them is so shamed by the process that they can’t bring themselves to reveal what happened…

  19. I wouldn’t contribute to an edited collection or edit one for the sake of getting tenure, but they do count towards tenure. They may not matter much at R1s, but most people don’t work at R1s. At my small college, the collections that I edited and the chapters that I contributed to edited collections most certainly mattered in my tenure decision, although slightly less than peer-reviewed articles and monographs. I’ve written one book, but as far as the university is concerned I am the author of four. That said, if you are a grad student and have something that could go to an edited collection or to a peer-reviewed journal, send it to the peer-reviewed journal.

  20. When I was a new post doc, my co-mentor had two lab technicians write two (very similar) chapters and then had me do extensive editing & rewriting; the mentor got the senior author slot with very little input (“read this stack of papers and summarize”). I got (I think) 3rd author on them. This did very little to help the technicians’ careers. In fact, I think it was unethical to have lab techs do scholarly work because they are paid from research grants to do specific work. Very little to help my career. The chapters relegated to a “book chapter” subsection on my CV buried way deep under journal articles and and “Other” section that has articles currently under review and a letter to the editor of a scientific journal; I’m actually considering removing them from my CV out of shame. Is it worse to have two fewer entries on the CV or this silly vanity press that I partook in when I was too green to know the difference? (i’m at R1, in a non-tenure track, seeking tenure track position anywhere including SLAC)

  21. Something is to be said about women publishing in gangs by writing about themselves for themselves, helping each other through tenure and appointments often bypassing open searches. Still a man’s world! But hegemony is hegemony!

  22. Excellent ! And right on time too. A couple of days ago I said just about the same thing to my (postdoc) girlfriend. She took it personally, complained and whined that I was putting her down, not supporting her, blah blah blah. Now that -you- have said it she’s my friend again ! We had a good laugh. Thanks !

  23. Do it with a difference. Don’t call it an edited collection – call it a “multilogue” – a really closely edited text, with a thesis. Peer review the lot. Give the work a thesis. If you’re going to be the one in charge of that make sure that everyone knows what they’re buying into if you’re going to impose your thesis on them all. But above all, make sure it has a thesis – rather than being a range of different views on a theme or themes which aren’t brought together. Then you can sell it as something which is not an easy invite, an easy write – and absolutely do not call it an edited collection. Never. Time to move beyond the edited collection to a whole new era of collaborative work where we enjoy collaboration and make it make a difference.

  24. Does the advice still stand if you are involved in co-editing a special issue for publication in a journal? My 2 colleagues and I are doing so and chose the journal route since it’s peer reviewed, we’re also targeting a top publication. We’re each contributing a chapter and are expecting a lot of legwork…..

  25. The guys who ran my PhD. program were always doling out this sort of crappy “reach for the stars”-type personal advice. Yeah, go write “Two Dogmas” kid, nothing else counts. The truth is, most P&T committees outside of a few hermetic bicoastal snob schools get palpitations if your name is found anywhere within five feet of a book of any kind.

  26. I’m a tenured full professor at a R1 ish place. I’ve published about 1/3 of what I do in edited collections of various sorts. I also have journal articles and a book. I have also co-authored several articles. In many ways, I’ve done what you are not supposed to do and yet, I’ve gotten through the maze.

    I agree that the general advice here is “correct.” That’s how the game is played. However, the game continues as it is because no one challenges the rules of the game. I think we limit ourselves and our profession when we just say those are the rules of the game.

  27. Hi,
    Thanks for this post. I have a question.

    What if a PhD student has the chance to edit a volume for a well recognised published (e.g. Blackwell or OuP), and they can include an essay they wrote themselves? Is this not worth the work?

    Many thanks,

  28. Mark, who claims that all of this matters primarily in the “hermetic bicoastal snob schools,” makes a good point. However, even in “fly-over-country,” the refereed article is generally considered more “trustworthy” (especially, when push comes shove).

  29. Not all co-edited volumes are the same. I have just finished one with a colleague. We went through two peer-reviews with experts in the various fields that are represented in the book, the editorial board voted unanimously for the collection and its perspective is new and refreshing. However, as you say, I would never recommend co-editing for a grad student or pre-tenure unless you have a lot else going on. Once again, however, some co-edited volumes, even in the humanities are valuable, peer reviewed and legit.

    • The salient point is this: “as you say, I would never recommend co-editing for a grad student or pre-tenure unless you have a lot else going on”

      My blog is for early career people. My readers should avoid these like the plague, as I say here and elsewhere.

  30. If you’re applying to PhD programs (English, in my case) in a couple of years and you’re looking to build your research profile in the meantime – THEN do edited collections have any value?

  31. X2 on Michael’s question. Specifically, if publishing an essay in an edited collection as an M.A. student will help you when you apply to English PhD programs.

    Thanks Dr. Karen!

      • Thanks Karen.

        Probably not. I guess my interest would be if a collection came along that was a good fit for one of my essays, which I didn’t think would be accepted by a well known journal. Your thoughts in that situation?

        • I think that sounds like rationalization, to tell you the truth. I think you should be writing/revising things that WILL get accepted by well known journals (don’t have to be the very top journals, but reputable ones).

  32. I may be the exception, but I have no regrets publishing an edited volume while on the tenure track. A few caveats: I was steadily working on my monograph at the same time, so I wasn’t banking on the volume to get me tenure; I co-edited with people I got along with well and the process couldn’t have gone more smoothly; the volume genuinely addressed a glaring critical gap; and we published with a first tier university press. Most contributors met their deadlines, and the collaborative process was really rewarding–it definitely got my name out there and expanded my professional and personal circle. But I take Dr. Kelsky’s point–you shouldn’t edit a volume in lieu of a monograph or refereed article. If anything, it should be a supplementary endeavor in an already strong research agenda. Done right, an edited volume can really help.

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  35. I’ve read through both your article and the comments below and was wondering if you could comment on the following; I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree in the UK and my supervisor (who is fairly prolific in this topic) has agreed to rework and co-author my dissertation into a paper for a well respected journal in our field (media/humanities), I feel that getting the paper accepted without him at this level could be difficult, so in this circumstance – would co-authoring be an advisable thing to do?

  36. Thank you! I actually got a solicitation from a publisher (my book chapter appears in one of their books). They referenced my book chapter and everything. I decided to “google” what editing a volume does for one’s career and this post came up. So glad I read it. I will back off and work on doing my own research.

  37. Hi Karen,

    I’m an English Phd. One of my professors has offered one of my term papers a spot in a collection (a “handbook”) on a single author with Oxford UP. What do you think? She says I would be the only grad student among 40-45 established scholars. Still a no?

    Thanks for your thoughts!


  38. I am a PhD ABD with an edited volume coming out with Routledge. Although I agree with the general drift of Karen’s post, I would like to propose another view. In my case, I was invited to present at a conference at NYU with a top name in my field. I was invigorated by his ground-breaking work in my field; and so before I left for NYU, I queried a commissioning editor at Routledge. I proposed to edit a volume on this professor’s seminal recent work. The professor gave me the entire editing job when I received the contract, but he also offered feedback on the chapters, and I learned a lot in the process. Since I have an atypical career trajectory (I direct a writing centre), this was an invaluable editing experience. I also published a long chapter in the book, and am in the process of writing the intro. Moreover, reading other scholars’ work helped me to develop their own ideas. As a result of my work (about 6 months of part-time work), this professor is also writing me letters of recommendations if I ever decide to leave my full-time, continuing position as a writing director. In my case, I really wanted to to test some of my ideas. The anthology gave me the rare opportunity to develop as a writer, editor, and thinker. In addition, Routledge is now seriously considering my dissertation for publication. Finally, this anthology gave me a few sessional opportunities, so I earn nearly 100K a year. I do not have regrets editing an anthology, but I do not have tenure either.

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  40. I couldn’t agree more with you. I’m in social science and my dean in grad school told us plainly DON’T DO IT! It’s just a waste of time if you’re a grad student or someone seeking tenure.

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  42. What if you’re a PhD candidate in the social sciences asked to contribute a short piece (5,000 words) that will be a chapter in a book edited by leading scholars in the field with book chapter contributions from other top scholars and published by Cambridge UP (and the editors have a track record of producing an edited volume in a timely fashion with CUP)? Could I publish both the 5,000 word chapter and also a longer, different version (12,000 to 15,000 words) in a peer-reviewed journal? Would that be allowable and advisable? I would just be a book chapter contributor; I wouldn’t have to be involved in editing the other chapters or writing the introduction. Also, there is funding to fly me out to a prestigious institution for a workshop as part of this.

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