Recruiting a journal editor: an HSS challenge
Some of the most important decisions that a journals publisher has to make involve selecting a new editorial team. This process can take many months, and can require careful analysis of both objective and subjective factors. We recruit and pay editors for the journals that we own, while the societies for whom we publish journals usually recruit and pay those editors themselves, sometimes with input from Cambridge.
While each of our 170-plus Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) journals has different editorial needs, there are some qualities that all good journal editors possess. The single most important quality is understanding and believing in the journal’s mission. A journal’s editor is the face of the journal, and the editor’s personality, and approach to scholarship in the field, reflect the things for which the journal stands.
In addition to this fundamental quality, a number of other factors are important. An editor must have excellent organizational and people skills and they must have the expertise needed to select and shape content submitted to the journal. Organizational skills come into play in managing the flow of submissions and the peer review process. Other duties include checking and managing the flow of proofs, and working with the Cambridge production editor to ensure that each issue is produced on time and to our high standards.
Strong interpersonal abilities are also crucial. An editor must manage numerous relationships. Theses may include the wider editorial team, the editorial board, society executives, administrative assistants and in-house contacts at Cambridge Journals. An editor must also have a range of useful contacts (both junior and senior scholars)| who can help as reviewers and in promoting the journal. If they are going to serve as editor-in-chief, will they have the contacts to help assemble the rest of an editorial team? If they are going to serve as sole editor, will they have the resources they need to work effectively and efficiently?
Finally, a journal editor must be objective enough to reject papers that are not suitable, and to recognize important content that might benefit from editorial input before publication. They must be flexible in their thinking, so that they are open to different ideas and points of view that may be presented in papers submitted to the journal. Many editors are at least mid-career, so that they are established in their field of study and aware of new trends and ideas in the field. They must be aware of the competition.
So how does a publisher find and choose the best editorial team for a particular journal? First, we undertake the objective work, by asking some of the following questions about the journal: Is it a new journal, one in need of high quality submissions, or one that has potential to expand into new geographical or research areas? A team for this journal will need plenty of energy and willingness to network and promote it. They will also need to be able to think creatively about new ways of attracting interest.
Alternatively, let’s say the journal is very well established and a leader in its field. In that case, it will need editors with an appetite for sifting large volumes of papers to find those with the quality and potential to publish, and to work closely on workflow issues with production staff and whatever administrative system is in place, perhaps Scholar One or Editorial Manager.
Does the journal have annual, or more frequent, board meetings in a particular location, or is it associated with a particular conference? Editors will need to be able to attend and chair those gatherings. Is a new team replacing one that’s been in place for many years? If so, they will have to have the confidence to take on that mantle, and maintain the journal’s reputation while keeping the content fresh and up to date.
By far the best way to find suitable editorial candidates is by word of mouth, though advertising is always an option. We are fortunate at Cambridge Journals to have excellent books editors as colleagues, who are willing to share their wealth of knowledge with us. Current editors and board members are also good sources of information and contacts. These first stages require a good deal of confidential, tactful communication.
Once we have compiled a shortlist of potential editors, the subjective factors come into play. Does a candidate seem like someone the in-house staff can work with? They will have three main contacts at Cambridge. Their primary contact will be the publishing editor responsible for journals in their subject area, who will be based in either Cambridge or New York. The journal editor will work with the publishing editor on issues of overall management, strategy, development and finance. They will also work with the production editor: together, the two of them will manage and refine the journal’s workflow, so that copy arrives, is processed and published in an efficient, cost-effective manner. The editor will also work with the marketing executive responsible for journals in their subject area. This will require them to be pro-active and flexible, aware of the journal’s readership and the conference field, and understand the benefits of marketing the journal and the ways in which this is undertaken. Current editors are very often invaluable in explaining how things work to their potential successors.
These stages of the editorial selection process call for careful judgment, diplomacy and tact, and face-to-face meetings, when possible, are the best way to assess a candidate’s suitability, and to have a chance to explain the role to them. Given the global nature of our publishing business, Skype can come in very handy.
Finding the right person or people for a particular HSS journal is challenging and time-consuming. Finding, appointing, and seeing a new team and their journal develop together is an immensely rewarding experience for us as publishers.