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Words to the Wise

What Does an Acquisitions Editor Do?

In the summer Beacon, I did my best to convince you of the value of hiring a freelance editor to take a dispassionate look at your manuscript to show you what's possible and help you gain perspective on your work. I argued that taking this step might make the difference between having your manuscript looked at by a publisher or tossed into the slush pile. Here, I'm going to tell you what an acquisitions editor does—and if this doesn't convince you, then perhaps nothing will.

Publishing houses acquire books in two main ways: 1) by choosing manuscripts received from agents or authors that have excellent commercial promise; and 2) by seeking out authors to write specific projects that the publishing house has determined will sell. Both jobs fall to the acquisitions editor. She is the first to see a manuscript, and if she doesn't like it—really like it—it will go no further. But she must do more than just like it. She must convince her superiors—the publisher and marketing department—to really like it as well. She must pitch it down to the last detail: the superior quality of the writing; the manuscript's uniqueness and slant; its suitability for the publisher's booklist; its favourable comparison to other titles in the market; cost to produce; timing of publication; price; expected profit; longevity. She must also assess the author: How well known is he? How many titles has he published? What are his sales? How much marketing experience does he have? Is he cooperative or a pain in the ass? Does he "show" well at media events and book signings, or does he look like he'd rather be hiding in the weeds?

The acquisitions editor's job is riding on all of this. If the titles and authors she promotes do not end up making money for the publishing house, she's gone. So, this is not really about you, the writer; it's about her! If you want to impress her, do everything you can to produce the best you can; and, please, check the publisher's submissions guidelines.

This is a must:

Elizabeth Lyon, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit: Everything You Need to Know About Queries, Synopses, Marketing, and Breaking In, New York: Penguin, 1997.

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