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February 13, 2018


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I mostly agree with this, and think that books are good in general, but would add a few points.

As to books being "professionally edited", it is now not at all unusual to find books by major university presses that look like they have had no copy-editing at all. I once reviewed a book published by a major philosopher for Cambridge University Press that had at least one obvious typo every two pages or so, and I'm a pretty bad copy-editor. It was really amazing. That stood out, but sadly, it's not especially unusual these days. Student editors, whatever their faults, do typically do fairly well on this score, often better than "professional" presses.

On peer review, it's correct to say that books are peer reviewed, but the level of peer review is often less rigorous than with journal articles, I think, at least for top journals. (There is also usually less anonymity - when I have refereed book proposals, I've been told the author, given his/her CV, etc., so you don't get blind review. That allows for more "home cooking" than with journals.)

So, there are good reasons to like books, but it's important to not over-state them, either.

Steve L.

Excellent points, Matt.

As I noted in my posts on UPK, university presses have been squeezed lately, especially the smaller ones, which can lead to compromises on the quality of production.

Regarding copy editing, I have also seen some howlers in otherwise very significant books. I must say, however, that my most recent six books (published by Yale, Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford) have all been copy edited very well. There are no doubt some errors -- there always are -- but I have generally been very pleased with the editing.

My observation about "professional editing," however, referred to the substantive edits rather than the copy edits. Here, I have found that the input of book editors has been uniformly excellent -- never trivial, and always directed at strengthening the book's main ideas.

In all of my university press books, I doubt that I have been asked to add more than a handful of endnotes in toto. The average is probably around two or three per book. In fact, the emphasis has been on minimizing notes, not multiplying them.

Law review editors, in contrast, are well known for their fanaticism about footnotes. In my last law review article, I was asked to add over 200 footnotes to a 30 page piece (that was already well-documented with around 50 notes). I was once asked to provide a footnote for the statement that "flagging further footnotes, after all, is one of the main functions of a law review editor." (Rather than refuse, I just cited the editor's email; I don't know whether the journal appreciated the irony, but they were satisfied by the meta source.)

And yes, the level of peer review for books is less rigorous than it is for peer reviewed disciplinary journals, although that may be a benefit. At least among sociologists, there is much frustration with the nearly endless "revise and resubmits" required for publication.

In any case, you are certainly right that books have their problems and we should not overstate their virtues.

junior TT prof

Thanks for the great post. Can you speak to the task of serving as an editor of an academic book? I'm junior faculty and am wondering about the workload and payoff. Beyond, obviously, less work, how does it differ from writing a book? What are the relevant considerations to weigh?

Primarily I am *not* asking about this as it relates to getting tenure, which I imagine is a highly individual question. Let's assume that meeting the publication requirements for tenure is doable and that taking on a book-editing project would have no effect on the tenure decision, neither directly nor indirectly by crowding out law review article-writing. Thanks.

Steve L.

Good question, Junior TT Prof. I've never edited an academic book, however, so I do not know the answer.

Jen Kreder

Junior TT Prof, probably the best benefit of editing a book is cementing your relationship with the other experts in your field. (I'm interested in doing one on DNA and the Law. If you are, too, drop me a line at!) Also, I think co-authoring greatly increases the appeal of academic books and articles.

Dave Garrow

Just a few quick thoughts, in part per Junior TT Prof's question. My net view after 40 years of this is that edited volumes get very little attention in the short-term & even less in the long run, period. With books, perhaps my experience is unrepresentative, but my first book, published in 1978, is still in print, & two others, from 1981 & 1994, have active film options, so I ergo think that books have REAL staying power. In contrast, I think even top-six law review articles can have a big short-term 'footprint,' but tend to get forgotten after about a five-year mark. One oddity of legal academia, in contrast to other disciplines, is the (perhaps declining) number of scholars who presume that the sum total of relevant knowledge can be found in Westlaw. I've long been bemused by law profs who cite something I said in some fairly obscure law review article, but are unfamiliar with the more extended book version of the same material.

junior TT prof

Thanks, all. Very helpful. Jen, very gracious of you to extend the invitation; I work in different fields but wish you the best!

Jeremy Telman

I don't think anybody's experience on this subject is going to be representative. Here's mine. I edited a book. It was a great experience, mostly for the reason Jen gives. It won't make me rich or famous. It was a lot of work. The book has earned me some royalties, which come out to about $2/hour so far (but perhaps a movie deal is in the offing . . . ).
As to stand-alone books, I hope that I don't have to choose between books and law review articles. I am currently at work on a book. I hope to publish most of the chapters as articles along the way, because Dave is right -- law professors are far more likely to cite something they can find in a database. For the book, I will be less obsessive with the footnotes and try to attract some general readers.

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