The number of edited books in mental health professions has become overwhelming; it seems like every time I do a search on the Internet, several new edited art therapy books have gone to press. I have been an editor of at least ten edited books over two decades, the first one in 1998 after eight years of editorial experience as a journal editor. To me, editing is far more difficult than writing a book as a single author. It is involves preparing what are often a wide-range of writing styles through careful correction, modifications and improvements. A good edited book has a cohesive format and style that reflects not just copy edits, but also accuracy in content and information.
Edited books generally emerge in one of two ways. Traditionally, an experienced professional with a history of editorial skills recognizes a need for a volume covering a specific topic or domain. In other words, the editor selects a group of highly experienced authors, practitioners and/or researchers to write individual chapters on very specific topics and content. In brief, the editor envisions and constructs a volume with a focused table of contents intended to cover best practices and leading-edge information on the intended topic. A format for submission requiring a particular structure (introductory information, practice guidelines, current research, case examples, recommendations for application, concluding remarks) is generally provided by the editor to assist chapter authors in writing. The chapters themselves are carefully reviewed by the editor (or mulitple editors in some cases) for not only structure, but also for content (aka: fact checking) to ensure that each chapter presents the most accurate theory, research and/or practices in the field. Finally, the publisher provides expert copy edits to not only check for typos and grammar, but also to pose additional questions about content and structure, if case material has been adequately disguised to protect confidentiality, and evidence of written consent has been received for any case material.
A second approach to editing has unfortunately become more common in publishing; it falls more into the category of “curating” rather than editing the volume’s contents. In this scenario, an editor [aka curator] simply puts out a call among colleagues (or through a call for chapters to social media discussion groups or colleagues) to submit chapters they feel are relevant to a particular topic area. Once enough chapter authors agree, the editor submits a table of contents to a publisher and eventually obtains a contract to move ahead with preparing the manuscript [aka the curated chapter authors]. In many cases, eager publishers will agree sight-unseen, providing a contract to the editor for the book if the topic is attractive and will sell based on the current trends for a field or profession. Some publishers provide oversight in copy edits and written consent for case material, but others do not and leave that to the editor-curator to handle [or to hire an individual who will copy edit and perform other tasks related to preparing the manuscript for publication as needed].
So what should you know about when approaching a publisher about an edited book proposal? Here are a couple of recommendations, based on almost thirty years of editorial experience (editing and being mentored by very good editors):
Don’t Be Beguiled. It can be an ego trip for a first-time editor (or curator) when courted by a publisher at a conference to “sign” a book, sight-unseen, for publication, or when receiving a contract shortly after pitching an idea. Try to put ego aside and allow yourself to consider why this is happening. Don’t become beguiled by any offer or contract, particularly one offered quickly without an ask to see your writing style or previous publications. A quick offer does not necessarily mean that you have a best seller or more importantly, that the publisher will stand behind your volume through marketing campaigns and promotion. Do some research on how or if the publisher promotes their authors’/editors’ titles over time through social media, online campaigns and print or electronic flyers to professional audiences. Additionally, check around with others who have worked with that publisher and ask questions about sales, marketing and the amount of support received from editorial staff.
Write, Write, Write. Allow yourself the necessary experiences of having your work edited, and for multiple years; be grateful to be edited because you will learn to be a much better writer and editor in the process. It is that simple. For art therapists who embrace the core belief that all creative expression is worthy, it is often extremely difficult for them to be edited in my experience. After all, we don’t let other people take a red pen or a scissors to our paintings; as an editor, recommending changes to art therapists’ written work is an emotionally-charged experience that is often taken personally rather than professionally, no matter how gently provided to the author. In fact, for this reason many individuals lean toward publishing opportunities that do not involve any copy editing or editorial support or are attracted to publish-on-demand (POD) companies.
So can you get your “edited” book idea into publication? The answer is almost certainly “yes,” particularly because there are publishers who will give you a contract if the topic sounds the least bit marketable. In smaller niche domains like art therapy, certain publishers do compete for proposals in order to grab available turf. If you really just want to get your name on a book cover, there are few worries because there is literally a publisher for anything and everything these days, including edited/curated volumes.
For those practitioners who consider purchasing edited books, be advised that many edited art therapy and related mental health books are no longer technically “edited” [for content or even grammar in some cases] these days; they are really collections of “curated” material and often without much copy editing and generally no peer review or fact checking. My worry as a writer and editor is that this trend may be having a negative impact on the field of art therapy, a domain that is need of much more reliable, valid information to demonstrate its worth to the public and peer professionals. In this time period of “alternative facts,” let’s all endeavor to be not only discerning readers of published literature on the field, but also authors who are as accurate as possible when writing or editing professional publications. We will only support, substantiate and elevate art therapy in the long run.
Cathy Malchiodi, PhD
Enjoy a new website dedicated to art therapy, digital technology and social media-- and learn more about a new edited [yes, edited!] book on the same topic. See www.digitalarttherapyinfo.com to read more about this emerging topic and check back for developments about the book [scheduled for publication in mid-2018].