As a regular reader, you already know that I get a lot of academic spam: invitations to go to dubious conferences, opportunities to publish a short comment for a little fee, editorial positions at unknown journals – all in fields in which I have zero expertise. However, the missive that arrived yesterday looked like the real deal, then made me question my sanity.
I hope this e-mail finds you well. My name’s [redacted], and I’m a commissioning editor here at [major publisher]. I work across social science handbooks, and it was a handbook idea I wanted to run by you.
In short, I’m thinking about a [book in a field I’m half-way competent], and I wondered if you’d be interested in co-editing?
My take is that this would explore theoretical approaches [redacted] To be clear though, I’m far from a subject expert here. There’s no fixed scope or template.
These are big projects, no avoiding it. But my hope is that it’d be an opportunity for you to further shape and curate the field, and to build on your global network to create a statement reference collection. I think there’d be international appetite for a collection like this.
As pitches go this is quite nebulous, forgive me, but would you be interested in discussing? I haven’t approached anyone else yet.From my actual inbox.
Could this be genuine? Yes.
Is my interest piqued? Yes.
But for the wrong reasons, because there is a problem, or rather two: the [book in a field I’m half-way competent] with [major publisher] does already exist, under the exact same title. Bummer.
And I am already one of the co-editors. Wait what?
My half-formed thoughts went : ‘obscure neurological condition?’ ‘Scam (but what kind of scam?)?’ ‘Elaborate prank’.
My co-editor came up with an alternative, simpler, and entirely plausible explanation: HR (or their AI) had spontaneously decided to replace commissioning editors with ChatGPT. However, when I contacted [redacted] at [major publisher], I immediately got this reply:
I was working with a shortlist of ideas passed on from the previous handbook editor, and clearly mistook new edition ideas for new book ideas.
Next time I do something stupid and embarrassing, I will at least know that I’m not alone in this. As you were, then.