Post provided by Daniel Caetano

Today we bring the second part of an interview with Dennis Murray and Brett Sandercock about their brand new book in population ecology methods: “Population Ecology in Practice.” This time we talked about their experience as editors, including some useful advice for new editors.

If you missed the first part of the interview, check it out here.

Population Ecology in Practice introduces a synthesis of analytical and modelling approaches currently used in demographic, genetic, and spatial analyses. Chapters provide examples based on real datasets together with a companion website with study cases and exercises implemented in the R statistical programming language.

Did you have a clear idea of the topics you wanted to see covered in the book or the authors for each chapter were free to decide on the contents?

Dennis: The topics were selected based on our sense of the most rapidly evolving or important themes in population ecology, and included some approaches that we felt were currently not receiving the attention that they deserve. I feel that recent technological or computational advances have allowed a number of topics covered in our book to rapidly become focal areas of importance in population ecology, but that the approaches for analysis of these data has not always kept pace with the opportunity for robust inference. More broadly, I felt that there was the need for a review of the state-of-the-art, key concepts, and rules-of-thumb across a variety of topics in ecology ranging from population estimation to species distribution modeling.

Brett: The chapters cover a broad cross-section of key topics in population ecology. The contributed chapters consider study design, estimation of demographic parameters, models for population dynamics and genetics, methods for different kinds of movement and spatial data, and an introduction to Program R. Chapter authors had flexibility to develop manuscripts that emphasized key themes and models that they felt were important. In preparing the initial book proposal for the project, the editors conducted a market analysis to identify the knowledge gaps addressed by our new book. It is an exciting time for new books in population ecology, including related titles in Quantitative Analyses in Wildlife Science (2019, Eds. L.A. Brennan, A.N. Tri, and B.G. Marcot), and Demographic Methods across the Tree of Life (forthcoming, Eds. R. Salguero-Gómez and M. Gamelon).

How much you worked to keep the style of the chapters consistent? Were the authors provided with guidelines?

Dennis: The authors were provided with guidelines and a draft sample chapter at the outset, so they all had a template to follow. All chapters went through peer-review and authors then had two or more rounds of edits to work on so there was opportunity for significant interchange between editors and authors. After the first round of edits, we shared all chapter drafts with the contributors to help encourage consistency in chapter style, content, and formatting. All chapter authors tried to follow the basic guidelines which made our editorial duties much easier. But there was still a lot of work involved to achieve consistency between chapters.

Brett: A considerable amount of editing went on behind the scenes. Chapter authors did their best to adhere to the guidelines but the submitted manuscripts still had considerable discrepancies. The need for additional editing was not really surprising given the range of topics covered in the book. Before final submission to the publisher, Dennis and I both read all of the manuscripts carefully and made editorial decisions on the final format that we wanted for every chapter. We then spent several months editing all of the manuscripts for consistency and adding elements that we wanted in all chapters, such as concluding paragraphs in each chapter describing available software tools and the online exercises.

You coordinated many people writing the different chapters of the book. Can you share a little of your experience leading this project?

Dennis: The book includes 16 chapters from 39 contributors working in eight different countries. Most chapters were senior-authored by established researchers working in either academia or in government, with several chapters also including early career researchers, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students, as co-authors. From my perspective, leading a diverse group was less of a challenge than one might expect because most of our direct interactions were with the senior authors. In addition, we engaged a graduate student to proofread the coding and content for the online exercises, which allowed us to focus our editorial duties on the actual book content. Some of the most challenging aspects of this project arose during the book production stage when we had to scrutinize carefully copyedited manuscripts to ensure that they remained true to the original text.

Dennis Murray

Brett: I was involved with managing the review process, preparing the final manuscripts, and working with the editorial staff during the final steps of production. Wiley-Blackwell in the UK were the publisher that recruited and managed the project, but the final typesetting and editing were completed by a publishing firm in India. We encountered several challenges that arose during production such as equation numbering that was removed and then added back in, and a book index that needed to be redone. We tried to keep authors notified about the issues with formatting and arranged for two rounds of page proofs to make sure that all author concerns were addressed.

What did you edit out of this book? Was the length of chapters limited?

Dennis: Our publisher provided word limits for the book but ultimately we stayed below these limits and chapter authors succeeded in presenting their material within the specified recommendations. Two of 17 original chapter authors were unable to submit final drafts for the book and we ended up adding one additional chapter after receiving approval for the book proposal. These changes gave us a bit of a buffer. In the end, our team was able to work within the contract guidelines and not exceed the word limit, which helped to facilitate our editorial duties.

Brett: The book contract for our project had targets of ca. 300,000 words, 280 line illustrations, and up to 20 photographs. Each chapter was expected to be ca. 16,000 words in length. Personally, I found that staying under the word limits was rather challenging. In total, the submitted manuscripts ended up with exactly 265,135 words, 32 tables and boxes, and 87 illustrations. It was perhaps more fortunate than planned that the final numbers were in agreement and we did not need to make any additional cuts.

Brett Sandercock

Do you have some advice and tips for future book editors?

Dennis: First, choose your team of editors and chapter authors carefully. Your team should include well-respected authorities who are known to be reliable and have high professional standards. In my experience, it is often individual connections that strengthen the trust and respect that is needed for a successful editor-editor and editor-author relationship. Second, it is a good idea to expect that a book project will involve more work than one can possibly imagine at the outset. Some of this work is likely to be time sensitive and come into conflict with other priorities. Last, editors should be prepared for delays and unexpected challenges that arise during the course of a project, including after the book content is finalized and sent for production. An extended timeline is not the end of the world and often arises when one is not prepared to compromise on the vision for the book.

Brett: Completing a book is like any big project, it comes together as a series of smaller steps. The steps in producing a book can have their own trials and tribulations, and eventual success often comes down to stubborn persistence. All setbacks are usually quickly forgotten when the project is complete and the printed copy of the book arrives in the mail. I usually just skim the pages of the final version after receipt because I cannot bear to notice any more typos. We will consider our book to be successful if it reaches an interested audience and provides a useful resource that facilitates future research in population ecology.

We would like to thank Dennis and Brett for agreeing to participate on this interview.

You can order the textbook here and in case you missed it, read the first part of this interview here.