Perspective from an Acquiring Editor

A couple weeks ago, I and the participants in the Manuscript Works book proposal accelerator were fortunate to have a Q&A session with Andrew Berzanskis, Senior Acquisitions Editor at the University of Washington Press. Andrew gracefully fielded about a million questions from us, but I want to share a few of the points he made that really stuck with me because I thought they may be surprising to early career scholars who are just starting to think about publishing a book.

In a lot of cases, Andrew knows how he feels about a project by page 1 of the proposal. He’s looking for whether the book fits with his list (the kinds of books he acquires for his press), whether it has a clear contribution and argument to make, and whether the author writes well. Does that put pressure on you to make page 1 of your proposal really good? In some ways, yes, but it also relieves some pressure too. The whole entire package doesn’t necessarily need to be perfect—it just needs to get those three pieces across as soon as possible.

Andrew needs to sign new book manuscripts—lots of them—in order to do his job (this is true of most acquiring editors). That means he’s looking to say yes to projects rather than keep everyone outside the gates. You’re not bothering an editor when you bring them material that helps them do their job. Most of them became editors because they like discussing ideas with writers, so take advantage of opportunities to chat.

A minority of the books Andrew signs come from authors cold-emailing him a proposal. More often, the books he publishes start with him seeking out an author or a project. What does that mean for you if you’re an early career scholar who doesn’t have any connections to editors like Andrew yet? Make your work findable. Especially your current, unsigned book project if you have one. If you’re working on, say, a history of videocassettes in Iran or a book about how media represents tunnel infrastructures at the US–Mexico border, make sure your faculty and personal webpages are updated to reflect that (shout out to my clients who keep their pages updated). Give as many presentations on your topic as you can, and think about SEO when you’re coming up with titles. If an acquiring editor goes searching on Google or in a conference catalog to find out who’s working on a specific topic, you want your name to come up. Some acquiring editors are on social media, so talk about your work there too. Twitter might not always seem like the most professional medium, but an editor can tell a lot about what a writer knows and how they’re able to engage audiences from their social media posts.

I’m happy to say that Andrew has agreed to come back for another Q&A during the fall session of the accelerator, so if you’d like to join us for that, check out the info and enrollment form here. Andrew’s also on Twitter and is always glad to engage with authors, so you don’t need to wait until the fall if you want to go ahead and connect with him directly. And one more announcement: Andrew asked that I put the honorarium I offered him to speak with us toward a scholarship fund for the accelerator. That means I’ll be able to offer at least one spot for the fall at a deep discount. I’ll be giving more info about this in an upcoming newsletter, so keep an eye out for that.

Enjoy your weekend!