Chapter 5: Editor of the SPA Book Series

The book series has been in existence since the early 1990s, under four editorships: Bobby Paul and Richard Shweder, jointly; Roy D’Andrade; Naomi Quinn; and the current editor, Douglas Hollan. Under an arrangement with Cambridge University Press, it has published four authored and nine edited volumes since 1992 (for a list, see here). Its purpose is to promote and disseminate original theory and empirical research in psychological anthropology. Its readership extends beyond psychological anthropology to encompass cultural anthropology, cultural psychology, and other fields that address culture theory. Its impetus comes from renewed interest in culture theory from several disciplinary directions, the patent contribution psychological anthropology has to make to the study of culture, and a recognition that important new syntheses drawing together psychoanalytic anthropology, cognitive anthropology, the study of child development cross-culturally, biological anthropology, and other approaches to culture are emerging within psychological anthropology itself. Through time and the establishment of a quality list, the SPA series has become the premier series in which to publish books in this field.

The book series editor serves a four-year renewable term. Selection of a new book series editor is made by the executive board, under the advisement of an ad hoc selection committee appointed by the board. The size and composition of the editorial board is decided by the editor, and editorial board members’ terms are coterminous with the editor’s.

The book series editor’s duties are to (1) solicit and accept manuscripts for review, (2) oversee the review of these manuscripts, and (3) recommend suitable manuscripts for publication.


Typically, more manuscripts are submitted “over the transom” than come from solicitation. What is submitted reflects the shape and ongoing redefinition of the field. However, active solicitation gives the book series editor some influence in this shaping. For example, the editor may perceive gaps in the field that beg to be filled, or new developments that deserve to be cultivated, or syntheses waiting to be made. Solicitation depends on the editor’s keeping a finger on the pulse of the field, for example, by attending conferences and meetings panels and reading journal articles that might materialize into books.

Convincing authors to write books for a series is difficult, and such solicitations may amount to seed-plantings that only pay off several years later. Edited volumes, and proposals for such volumes, are a good deal easier to produce, and hence to come by. It is up to the book series editor to see to the overall balance of the series, as between edited and authored volumes. The editor also has the important task of maintaining balance among sub-fields and approaches. A final element of balance to be sought is that between junior and senior authors. Junior authors are much hungrier for publication; senior authors are much harder to attract, since many well-established authors prefer to showcase their books outside of a series, or have longstanding informal publishing arrangements with other presses. Publications by established authors, however, enhance the reputation of the series. On the other hand, junior authors can be the most gratifying to publish, since their work often flourishes under the kind of encouragement and advise that the editor and the reviewers can provide.


On average, four to six manuscripts have been reviewed, resulting in one or two publications, per year. The book series editor designs and oversees the review process. This process has five stages. (1) The book series editor screens the submitted manuscripts, turning down, without further review, those that are patently unsuitable for publication in the series. (2) Those manuscripts deemed by the editor appropriate for review are then sent out to reviewers. In the recent past, two reviewers have been used, one reviewer coming from the editorial board and the other, with expertise complementary to that of the first reviewer, from outside the board. Editorial board members typically review one or two manuscripts a year.

Reviewers are compensated with honoraria from the press. Cambridge has traditionally paid $300 in CUP books, or half that amount in dollars. (3) If the reviewers are enthusiastic about the manuscript’s promise for publication, then it will be returned to the author or editor for revision. There is no such thing as a manuscript that does not require revision. If the consensus of the reviewers is that the book is unsuitable for publication, the author or editor is informed, and the process stops there. (4) Once revised, a manuscript is sent out once again for review, normally to the same two reviewers. If the process is going as it should, the revised manuscript should be very close to ready, and the second round of suggestions for revision should be much less extensive than the first. When the author or editor has completed the final revisions, the manuscript is ready to be recommended for publication.

Beyond the initial screening of manuscripts, the book series editor plays key roles in the review process. Upon sending each set of reviews to the book author/editor, the series editor, in a cover letter, synthesizes and summarizes the reviewers’ comments, highlighting the reviewers’ major arguments and their areas of convergence and difference, laying out alternative courses of action that might be taken, and suggesting where there is and is not leeway in responding to reviewers’ suggestions. The series editor also weighs in wherever there is a difference of opinion between reviewers, or between reviewer and book author/editor, or, sometimes, between book editor and contributor. Sometimes the series editor must also soften and restate the substance of reviews that are unnecessarily harsh in tone. And the series editor has the unenviable task of writing to those whose manuscripts are turned down and explaining why.

In addition to these intellectual responsibilities, the editor must see that reviews are timely, which occasionally requires dunning reviewers. Reviews should be returned within three or, at most, four months. The book series editor must then assimilate the reviews and send them to the book author/editor with a cover letter. There is an obligation to book authors and editors not to delay their progress to publication; and this is especially true in the case of authors or editors who are junior and who may be on the job market or coming up for tenure. The series editor sometimes also finds him- or herself encouraging book authors/editors themselves to complete revisions. Given the pace of academic life and the intrusions of family life, revising is typically the longest phase in the development of any manuscript.

Any experienced series editor knows that the review of book manuscripts is critical to the quality of the resulting books. It is vital to encourage editors and authors–and especially, on occasion, author contributors to edited volumes–to take reviews seriously, to view the revision process as a normal part of the publishing process, and, at the same time, not to get discouraged by the extent of the revisions reviewers request. The review process is especially useful to junior scholars–even when, on occasion, their manuscripts are ultimately turned down for published in the series.


This final step in the progress of a successful manuscript to publication requires that the book series editor send the manuscript to the publisher with a substantive cover letter that not only presents the manuscript’s intrinsic merits, but also anticipate and respond to any questions or hesitations the publisher might have about the suitability of the volume for publication. These questions and hesitations often revolve around length, likelihood of classroom use, and other aspects of cost and prospects for sales. The series editor learns not only to defend manuscripts on these bases, but also to read the publisher’s disposition with regard to them, and to work with book authors/editors to see that such matters as appropriate length and classroom appeal are factored into development of the manuscript from the beginning. Nevertheless, series editors may occasionally find themselves having to go to bat for a manuscript they have recommended.

Once a manuscript has been accepted for publication, the series editor may find him- or herself continuing to play a minor role, advising about such matters as cover photographs or permissions to reprint, or smoothing over disputes between the book author/editor and the publisher. But the process is now in the hands of the publisher.