Thursday, August 4, 2011

Building a Law and History Review Issue

Al Brophy, who served for many years and so splendidly as LHR’s associate editor for book reviews, asked me to comment on the process of manuscript selection. Because LHR is so well established and has such a large editorial board, I don’t have to spend much time soliciting manuscript submissions. Instead, I devote my time to “in-housing” reviewing, inviting outside reviewers to evaluate submissions, and helping authors to complete their final production drafts.

The creative part of the job is figuring out how to build an issue. In the past, this involved too much math. Every issue had to equal 224-pages + signatures (i.e., a signature is 16 pages). And, as Al can tell you, we often had to lop off book reviews during the production process to get the right page count. Fortunately, we now have 1,000 to 1,100 pages to work with a year, and we don’t have to worry about multiples of sixteen. Our issues no longer need to be identical twins.

There are three components to building a compelling issue. First, I need to decide whether to include a forum. There is an opportunity cost because a forum uses at least 30 journal pages (the equivalent of a short article). Yet a forum provides an opportunity to include multiple perspectives on an important legal historical issue. For example, the reviewers’ reports on a manuscript may be strongly supportive of publication, but suggest alternative ways to conceptualize or approach the historical issue. In those cases, I have invited one or more of the reviewers to contribute comments on the article (or several articles) for our readership.

Second, although many scholars read articles in isolation and online, journal editors build an issue around a theme that will interest a broad readership. Moreover, because I have to plan issues at least a year in advance (I’m working on our issues for 2012), I often think about the relationships between manuscripts as they move through the review process. Ideally, the theme should cross time and space.

Third, a good issue needs a strong lead article as an anchor. The opening article sets the tone for the issue and should entice people to read outside of their own area of history.

Finally, because LHR has such a broader readership I try to build issues that reflect the diversity of the field. And, as I mentioned in my earlier post on the mysterious inner workings of LHR, I like to include articles that push boundaries and help us attract an even wider readership.