Passing the Torch: Managing an Editor-in-Chief Transition

Change is hard. Actively helping to bring about that change is even harder. Few journal transitions require a more hands-on editorial office involvement than when a new editor-in-chief takes over. In addition to the challenges of teaching someone a new system—while implementing changes on that system—there also exists the potential for personality clashes whenever new individuals are onboarded.

Although EIC transitions can be difficult to navigate, managing editors at J&J Editorial have facilitated numerous shifts over the years and have developed tried and true guidelines for getting an editor up and running. In this article, I present our best practices broken down into five categories. Whether your new editor is already a whiz or has never used an online submission site, these rules will ensure that you have your bases covered.


1. Making Introductions


This part of an editor transition is self-explanatory. You’ve got a new person in charge! They are going to want all interested parties—authors, reviewers, the editorial board, journal management—to know in order to ensure a smooth handover. Likewise, the outgoing editor-in-chief is going to want these same individuals to be aware that they are stepping down so as not to keep receiving mail during his or her well-deserved retirement.

There are a number of ways to announce a new editor-in-chief.

    1. The journal website. Consider whether you want to have some sort of text present on the journal’s website. Ideally, this can quickly alert your subscribers to the change in leadership. If your editorial duties don’t extend to maintenance of the journal website, this is something with which your publisher can assist. Of course, a lot of the utility of this approach depends on how many users are going to read that notice. If your journal website doesn’t receive a great deal of traffic, this might not be the way to go.
    2. Mass e-mail. Another option is to send a mass e-mail to all authors, reviewers, editors, etc. This is a helpful way to eliminate the problem of the outgoing editor-in-chief continuing to receive journal correspondence. Although people may not spend a lot of time on the journal website, they almost certainly check their e-mail on a daily basis. The downside is that the new editor—or you, depending on who sends the notice—-is almost certainly going to receive lots of bouncebacks, automated replies, and confused responses. Not ideal, especially for someone who is brand new!
    3. In the journal. A third approach is to publish a short, written announcement introducing the new EIC in the front matter of a journal issue. This would be my personal recommendation. A written notification in a journal will reach a majority of the readership and at the same time eliminate the potential annoyance of an unsolicited announcement e-mail.

Finally, if your journal caters to a small or very specialized field, you might not even need to make an announcement, as all interested parties will have heard the news through the grapevine already. Discuss the need to make an announcement with your editors, publisher, and society contacts, and take the route(s) that make the most sense for your community.


2. Updating the Details


Step 2 is where we get down to the nitty gritty. An editor’s name and contact information appear in lots of places, and all of that information must be updated to reflect the change in leadership. This can make for a lot of work, so it’s good to think of ways to streamline the process.

Luckily, there are a couple of tools at your disposal that render this otherwise onerous task much simpler. The first is tags (for ScholarOne) and merge fields (for Editorial Manager). Note that most peer review management systems will almost certainly have an equivalent functionality. When updating templates, be sure to *always* use these. In fact, you really *shouldn’t* have to update your new editor’s name or e-mail on any templates because you should instead be using the appropriate tags or merge fields, which will pull in that information automatically. Nevertheless, you might still need to update some wording or personalized signatures. It’s a good idea to do one thorough check of all templates, just to make sure that you haven’t missed something important. We have seen situations where 99% of the system e-mail templates were set up with the proper field tagging but one or two templates still had editor names hard coded. Editor transitions are a great opportunity to do a full audit of your e-mail templates and ensure they all meet your basic standards.

The second tool is your submission site’s configuration settings. Through these, you can update the EIC contact information, which is a very efficient way to make changes across your site. Remember: although you probably have the capability to make the necessary updates on your journal site, you might need to get some of your other contacts to make changes on the journal website, the journal masthead, and so forth.


3. Permissions


Updating permissions goes hand in hand with updating details, but it’s arguably more important. After all, your new editor-in-chief will need the appropriate permissions to log on and do their job.

Consider all of the permissions that your editor-in-chief might conceivably need. On ScholarOne for instance, the most common EIC permissions are admin, EIC, editor, viewing center, and production center. Other submission sites will have the same or a similar permission structure. Will your editor need any or all of these? Or something else? (Remember ScholarOne users: all permissions other than “admin” are under your control. To assign admin rights, you’ll need to turn to your systems support team.) When assigning or removing permissions, be sure to appropriately set the hard/soft end or start dates for any permissions that you are updating.

For Editorial Manager users, the considerations are largely the same but may require more customization based on the editor’s specific preferences for working in the system. Will they want access to the New Submissions queue or to just wait for assignments to be given to them by the Admin? Will they want to operate discussion forums, run reports, and invite reviewers themselves? Consider the division of labor with the editorial office and how it may change with the new EIC. All permissions can be toggled by specific editor role under System Administrative Functions > PolicyManager. Also, if the new EIC is already in the system and has an existing editor role, you will need to either wait until their open assignments are completed or temporarily transfer their assignments to another user before you can make the switch.

Updating permissions may dovetail into conversations about an editor’s myriad preferences for workflow and working in the system, but make sure you configure all the basic permissions so they can do their job.


4. Papers in Progress


It’s highly unlikely that there is going to be a hard and fast cutoff date between when one editor-in-chief steps down and the new one officially takes the driver’s seat. There will almost always be a period of overlap—sometimes as short as a couple weeks, sometimes for several months—in which two EICs will be actively working on the journal. This is actually an ideal situation, as it means that the two editors can share expertise and work together to ensure that the transition goes smoothly. It does, however, mean that you will need a plan of action so that everyone knows who will be handling what until the overlap period is complete.

The easiest way to divide and conquer is to assign the new EIC all initial submissions and allow the outgoing person to continue to be responsible for revisions and manuscripts that are already in progress. This is ideal for two reasons: one, it means that the new EIC can learn the system gradually (i.e., starting with new paper check-in) as opposed to becoming acquainted with the entire editorial process at once. Two, it gives your authors a sense of continuity by having the same individual assess their work during both initial submission and revision. If this is not possible for some reason, and the new EIC has to take on revised and in-progress submissions right away, you should inform the authors of these submissions of the change in management. Although not absolutely necessary, it is a courtesy that they are likely to remember.


5. Ideas


Gaston: “Le Fou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking.”

Le Fou: “A dangerous pastime–”

Gaston: “I know.”

I often think of this lyrical exchange from “Beauty and the Beast” whenever an EIC approaches me with an idea of some change he or she would like to implement for the journal. Sometimes these ideas are small and quickly addressed. Sometimes they can lead to upheaval in the form of lost productivity, unhelpful or confusing changes to the submission site, and a soured relationship between the editor and the editorial office

The potential for upheaval is never higher than just after onboarding a new EIC. This is without a doubt the most nebulous and potentially headache-inducing aspect of an EIC transition. A new editor is going to have his or her own ideas on how things ought to be run, and they will almost certainly have a number of ideas that the managing editor is expected to put into action.

Many factors will both be beyond your control and have the potential to make your life more difficult during a transition. These include:

    • Your new EIC’s technical savvy. How much experience do they have with the journal’s submission site/computers in general?
    • Their past experience with the journal. Have they submitted work to the journal in the past? Have they served on the editorial board? Any previous experience will make your life much easier because he or she will already have a good understanding of both the submission site and the workflow
    • What is their nonjournal workload like? Maybe your last EIC was essentially retired and had plenty of time to devote to their journal work, but your new one is a practicing clinician or professor with lots of other things on their plate, or vice versa.
    • What are they like? Some people are just naturally more pleasant to work with; there isn’t really a nicer way to put it.

That said, there is a great deal that is still in your power to control.

    • Communication. This is always important, but it becomes more essential than ever when going through a transition period. It is absolutely crucial to have everybody on the same page, so keep channels of communication open with any other relevant contacts, whether that be production, a society contact, etc.
    • Documentation. An EIC transition involves countless moving parts. Keeping track of everything you do will ensure that all the required actions are completed. Good documentation can also serve as a roadmap for the next time the journal gets a new EIC. Whether it’s you or someone else managing future transitions, good notes from the previous transition will be invaluable.
    • Tech support. Depending on your new EIC’s technical acumen, you may be able to get away with answering an occasional e-mail query to clarify a point. However, you may need to be a lot more hands-on, providing screenshots, handouts, or even a training call. If you don’t already have one in place, it can make sense to set up a monthly call between the editorial office and the EIC. It’s a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page and to anticipate any issues that might arise.
    • Exercise patience. The old adage goes that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true: anticipate many, many stupid questions, but always demonstrate patience and a willingness to work as a team player.
    • Teach them to fish. Another old adage says that it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give them one. If your editor needs help with a task, do it on their behalf, but then send them instructions and or screenshots showing how they can do it themselves in the future. Although this may entail extra work initially, the payoff in the long run will be an experienced EIC who is able to work independently of the editorial office
    • Remember: YOU are the expert. Even though you may not be an authority on your journal’s subject matter, you are an expert on how the journal works. If you think that something your EIC has proposed is not a good idea or is not going to work, say so! You too are a valid member of the team.

Obviously, there is a lot more to EIC transitions than this, but hopefully these tips are a good place to get started. Our experienced editorial staff are well-equipped to assist you with editor transitions, training, and any number of other journal management tasks. For more information on the services we provide, please contact [email protected]


Article contribution by J&J Managing Editor Sarah Wolper.