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When considering to publish a paper in a research journal, the journal's reputation itself is what people usually care about, rather than the editor's expertise and scientific status (although high-standing journals usually have well-known researchers as their editors).

Does the same rule apply to handbook-style books (that cover recent research papers, with each chapter written by a different group of authors)? I have seen a couple of times that a relatively unknown person in a research area is the editor of such a book that is published by a well-known publisher, such as Wiley or Springer.

When considering to write a book chapter for books like this, how should one weigh the editor's scientific status against the publisher's reputation? For example, is it a good idea to publish a book chapter in a book published by a very well-known publisher that has an editor unknown in the research community? (Being unknown while serving as the editor of a title published by a big publisher can raise some red flags such as being a fraud, too.) How would the book editor status affect the writers and the perceived value of their work?

(To clarify, I'm asking this as an applied physics graduate student who is mainly interested in getting a Ph.D. admission and is helping to write the book chapter. This may lower the bar a little compared to an established researcher)

  • This is a thoughtful question, and many people may be hanging back because this seems like a highly field-dependent question; perhaps specifying your discipline would help. I think that the book chapter you're helping to write will be valuable toward your Ph.D. admission, especially if you're working with a good mentor. I've heard recommendations that book chapters may not be good uses of time for graduate students, unless they are high profile or allow you to develop important relationships through the process. – cactus_pardner Apr 9 '18 at 4:07
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    I edited the question and added my field. Thanks @cactus_pardner – Mo_ Apr 9 '18 at 7:29
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    @DavidKetcheson Checking out the editors' status is important when trying to assess a new or unfamiliar journal, but that's not the subject of my question. You don't examine the research profile of the editors of Nature Physics before submitting your paper to it. I am asking about a book published by a top-tier publisher but with an unknown or even suspicious editor. (and have a real-world example for such a book with an infamous editor who even runs a predatory journal for himself, but prefer not to name anyone here) – Mo_ Apr 14 '18 at 0:29
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    @Mostafa It sounds like you have a very different question; namely "should I write a chapter for a book whose editor runs a predatory journal?" To which I would answer "no". – David Ketcheson Apr 14 '18 at 15:16
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    I have a couple of other research projects to work on, and decided to give up on this book chapter. Thanks for the bounty @cactus_pardner it was really helpful. – Mo_ Apr 20 '18 at 16:23
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+100

The expertise and reputation of the editor(s) is of prime importance, with the publisher's reputation being a distant second, at best. I answer from an applied materials science perspective, which should be close enough to applied physics; although I don't see the situation changing much across fields. One exception would be if the field is highly specialised and only a few publishers operate in it.

At the outset, l believe there is no major difference in evaluating a journal and evaluating a book. In both cases, one looks for unflinching ethical conduct, respectability and high visibility. The first is non-negotiable; any hint of predatory publishers should deter submissions immediately, whether journal or book. The presence of a reputed and respected editor is a good indicator that the publication will be handled ethically.

Second, the matter of respectability. It is not much of an extrapolation from respectable editor to respectable book. Remember, any full citation of work published in a book will carry the editor's name, so the association is long-term. Often, such books are parts of series, or are associated with legacy conferences. In these cases, the repute of the series/conference can take precedence over the individual editor's, because different books are edited by different people. In these cases, the priority would be series, editors, publisher.

Finally, visibility. For journals you have an impact factor and other merits. For book chapters, there is none such. Here a well-known publisher is good because they will typically have better distribution than a smaller publisher. You mentioned Wiley and Springer, I'd like to add Elsevier, who somehow seem to be flooding the market. Yet, books tend to generally be thematic, so a well-known editor guarantees enough publicity within the respective field. Incidental/interdisciplinary readership may be affected less by editor and more by publisher.

On the basis of these three points, it's safe to say that a big publisher is desirable, it is not decisive. Why not? Primarily because publishing is ultimately a business, and like all big businesses, all eggs aren't put in the same basket. Every big publisher will have a spectrum of publications, varying in impact, quality and degree of specialisation. You can easily see this in the publishers you mentioned. So the same publisher could put out an average book or a great book, and you'd be none the wiser without looking at the editor.

Secondly, if a book is associated with a conference/seminar series, the publisher is decided by how much financial muscle the organisers have. It's a no-brainer that better finances don't necessarily mean better quality. Again, the visibility to a general audience will be higher for a larger publisher, but in the long term, once the chapters notch up enough citations, this is likely to be offset.

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In Information Security there are common publishers were researchers expect to find materials. If you publish outside of those, less people will find your work (less impact). This is probably less of an issue in Physics since the area is much bigger.

The reputation of the editor contributes to how likely others in the research community are to select that book over others. A well established name will generate more interest.

Both are important if your goal is to have the highest impact possible. You need a large platform (publisher) and you need a interest-generating name (editor).

If possible, also consider the quality of the other chapters. Usually accepted chapters already have at least a one page summary. If the quality is poor, you may not want to be associated.

You say you are undertaking book chapter writing for PhD admission. This is not technically part of your question, but in my experience writing a book chapter was much more difficult than writing a journal article. Also, book chapters in edited books normally get fewer citations. The overall book tends to be cited rather than the chapter (in Information Security). This does not include edited volumes that are part of a conference proceeding.

My recommendation would be to focus on writing a high-quality journal paper instead of a book chapter. You are more likely to be cited directly, and you can show potential PhD advisors that your work can pass peer review.

  • You had a great answer to this question (that even addressed the evolving concerns in the comments) but I think the other answer may be a bit closer to the applied physics case. :) – cactus_pardner Apr 20 '18 at 17:45

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