What’s the hardest part about writing and publishing a book? I’m sure if you asked around you would get many different answers. For me—and for a lot of people, I think—it’s the uncertainty that presents the most trouble. Am I including all the right information in my manuscript? Will my argument make sense to anyone else? Am I knowledgable enough to write this book? What will the peer reviewers think of it? Is my proposal good enough to get an editor interested in my project? As a developmental editor, I try to help authors achieve a greater sense of certainty with respect to all these questions (except the one about peer reviewers because there’s no predicting what they’ll say and some of them are just jerks).
On the last point, the question of whether a proposal is good enough to get an editor interested, I can offer two kinds of help. First, there’s advice about the content and format of the proposal itself. Just knowing that you’re basically providing all the information an editor will be looking for and showcasing your project in the best possible light can go a long way toward keeping imposter syndrome at bay. Many of the tips I’ve given in this newsletter over the past 12 weeks will put you generally on the right track in this regard, so I hope you’ve found them useful.
The other kind of help I can offer is the reminder that acquisitions editors are people too. They are idiosyncratic, imperfect weirdos just like the rest of us. Most of them do what they do because they like working with authors and ideas and putting new scholarship out into the world. And they can’t do their jobs without writers who bring them the raw material that their presses can turn into marketable commodities (i.e. books). So the editor you’re talking to may need you as much as you need them. That should be an empowering thought.
The fact that editors are human is what makes it impossible to remove all uncertainty from the process of pitching your book. But it should also give you some comfort, because a human connection and a shared fascination with an interesting problem will probably get you much further with most editors than a letter-perfect proposal. You can follow all the tips and templates in the world, but ultimately your passion for your project and your desire to make other people (including editors) care about it—whether you convey it at an in-person meeting or on the pages of your proposal—will be what drives your success in scholarly publishing.
Remember this principle if you plan to meet with editors before formally submitting your proposal to publishers. You’ll want to talk about your project, yes, but don’t approach it like your dissertation defense or a job interview. Let it be a dialogue, and give the editor the chance to respond to what you say so you can gauge the degree to which they understand and share your aims. And just see if they treat you the way you want to be treated by other humans. If an editor is rude to you or makes you feel ashamed or exhibits any other behaviors that put you on the defensive, that’s not someone you need to spend your time on. These things do unfortunately happen sometimes, because, of course, editors are people too. It’s where that scary uncertainty comes in: you won’t always know what kind of response you’ll get when you make contact with an editor. But you definitely deserve to work with an editor who treats you and your scholarship with respect, and there are plenty of editors out there who will do just that. Go forth with the intent of making meaningful human connections, and you’ll eventually find the editor who’s right for you and your project.
The summer pilot session of the Manuscript Works book proposal accelerator is winding down this week. We’re talking all about how to connect with editors and troubleshooting various scenarios authors encounter when it comes time to talk to editors about their book projects. If that’s something you’re wondering about too, consider joining us for the fall session, which starts on September 9. There’s more info and an enrollment form here.
I’ll be scaling back on newsletter posts for the foreseeable future now that we’re headed into fall. But I’ll still be here every week or two with tips and Q&A for scholarly authors and announcements about what I’m up to with Manuscript Works. See you soon!