A Cheat Sheet on What to Ask Acquisitions Editors

Another PDF resource

If there’s one topic that is perennially mystifying to prospective authors, it’s how they should be interacting with acquiring editors on the way to getting their scholarly books published. Whenever I open up a Q&A in this newsletter, this is almost always what people want to know about.

Part of the reason the topic can be so confusing is that every editor is an individual with their own preferences and communication rhythms. It also feels very high-stakes: get an editor on your side and you have a shot at getting your book published; alienate them in some way or fail to make the case that your project is exciting and publishable and your opportunity could be lost.

I wish it didn’t feel like this. I wish I could say that you don’t have to worry so much about impressing an editor or saying exactly the right thing. I mean, I do think there’s a lot of latitude here — most editors are not interested in perfection or in authors who have everything figured out before even approaching them.

But at the same time, it’s really hard to know in advance whether they’ll like your project, or what you could say to make your book sound more appealing to this particular person, or whether you might be doing something to turn them off in a way that makes them reluctant to work with you. Of course, I try to give as many tips as possible in The Book Proposal Book and in my programs, but it’s always going to be a bit of an unknown.

I’ve written a bunch of posts in this newsletter about how to talk to editors, how and when to follow up, and how to respond in various nuanced scenarios. Someday I’ll round up all those posts and put them in a nice list for you, but for today, here are the two I recommend starting with: How to Talk to An Acquisitions Editor and Questions for Acquisitions Editors.

I especially like that last one, because I think questions are so important. Not only can they help you gather the information you need to decide whether a press is the right partner for your book or not, but they can actually help you make a good impression with an editor.

Editors want you to ask them questions about how the publishing process works at their press. They don’t know what you don’t know, so you’re actually helping them do their job when you ask them questions. And when you ask thoughtful questions, you demonstrate that you’re an engaged author who’s ready to put in the preparation to make your book a success. That’s exactly the kind of person an editor wants to work with.

This month in the newsletter has been all about PDF freebies, so here’s the one I have for you today: a cheat sheet of several questions you can discuss with editors when you get the opportunity to speak with them.

Download the full-size handout PDF here

I’ve broken the questions out by category, because some questions make more sense when you’re just sort of gathering general information, while some might be better saved until you’re further along in the process of potentially committing to a particular editor and press (after they’ve expressed strong interest in your project).

You don’t need to ask all these questions in one conversation. You might just pick a couple to focus on at first, and also decide which ones you’ll need to get answered at some point before you can make a final decision about whether to work with the editor or not. It is definitely fine to have multiple conversations with an editor before you sign a contract with them, if that’s what it takes to make you certain you’ve found the right collaborator.

I hope you’ll stash a printout of this handout in your bag next time you’re able to go to an academic conference and chat with acquisitions editors. Or keep it next to your computer if you’re able to set up a Zoom chat with an editor you might be interested in working with (that’s totally something you can do). And I hope it’ll make the whole process just slightly less anxiety-provoking (if that’s possible).

I have a quick favor to ask, while you’re here. As I’ve said here before, I know that not everyone needs or wants a book about how to write a book proposal and get their scholarly book published (and that’s fine). But for those who do, I want to make sure they’re at least aware that The Book Proposal Book exists.

For better or worse, Amazon is where a lot of people find out about books. Some readers even use the site like a search engine. While I don’t support Amazon’s monopolistic and exploitative practices, I recognize that if I want people to know about the resources offered in my book, I’m going to have to play Amazon’s game. Therefore, to increase visibility for The Book Proposal Book on that platform, I’ve set a goal to get 50 ratings and 25 reviews by the end of the 2021. I’m not quite halfway there yet.

This is where you come in. If you’ve found The Book Proposal Book helpful and think other scholars should know about it, would you pretty please consider posting a rating or review on Amazon? (I don’t think you need to have bought the book on Amazon to leave a review, as long as you have some kind of purchase history with them.)

Your review doesn’t have to be long and involved. A few words to help Amazon’s algorithms understand that they should be showing this book to people would be great. And I’ll be so, so grateful!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of newsletters featuring free PDF resources on scholarly book proposals and book publishing. If you’re new this week, do check out the newsletter archive to see the previous posts. I’ll be back from my month-long reading sabbatical next week. See you then!