What an Acquisitions Editor Looks for in a Publishable Book

How can you make the best use of your limited time and energy to ensure that your book will make it past an acquisition editor’s email inbox?
A crowded stairwell seen from the side.

Your book manuscript: Whether it’s in a drawer or a folder on your desktop, it’s constantly lurking in the dusty back corners of your mind, filling you with dread and anxiety even as it clamors for your attention. It’s easy to push it aside in favor of more urgent tasks, especially when you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.

How can you make the best use of your limited time and energy to ensure that your book will make it past an acquisition editor’s email inbox?

Never fear—we’ve got your back. Here is a short list of five surefire ways to make sure your book gets an editor’s attention.

  1. Good fit: Is your field, topic, and/or region a fit for your target press? Take a look through your target publisher’s latest catalogue to get a sense of what kinds of texts they ordinarily accept. Which presses publish other scholars in your field or specialty area? Would your book fit in with their offerings? If not, keep looking until you find a press where your book fits.

  2. Strong thesis: The importance of a clear thesis can’t be overstated. Your thesis should go beyond the “what” of your book to explain the “why” (i.e., why the topic is significant, how it addresses key questions in your field, and the contribution it makes to scholarship). Once you’ve determined your thesis, examine whether it is supported in both the introduction and conclusion, and whether each chapter adequately relates to it. Consider “mapping” out how the overarching thesis relates to each chapter and ensure that each chapter’s subthesis relates well to the whole.

  3. Organization: Your chapters are neither too long (100 pages?!?) nor too short, appear in a logical order, and are individually well organized with section headers and subheaders marking topical changes that signpost where your narrative is headed. Use your table of contents: Does it provide an overview of the overall trajectory of the book? If not, consider rearranging your chapters until they better reflect a clear beginning, middle, and end of your narrative.

  4. Completeness: Unless you are well established in your field, an editor will likely not be as excited about a couple of completed sample chapters as they would a full, complete manuscript. So put an ending on those half-baked chapters and update that conclusion! To impress your editor even more, gather your figures, maps, notes, and bibliography to demonstrate that your book is ready to enter the publishing process with minimal intervention.

  5. Reviewers: Make life easier for both you and your editor by supplying them with a short list of scholars qualified to review your book. Who not to name: your grad school advisor, departmental colleagues, or famous “rock stars” in your field. Focus instead on up-and-coming or mid-career scholars whose work shares elements with yours, either within your field or adjacent to it. These folks are the ones most likely to approach a review as a colleague, not a harsh critic.

Of course, the quickest and easiest way to guarantee all of the above is to find an experienced professional to help you. A developmental editor can help you achieve these goals wherever you may be in the writing process—editing isn’t only for nearly finished authors. In fact, the earlier in the process you begin, the more your work can benefit from a developmental editor’s critical eye.

If you’re feeling stuck, a freelance editor can be just the compassionate colleague you need to help you to define your thesis and organize your chapters the most effectively. Wherever you may be in the process of writing your book, don’t hesitate to ask for help—and don’t give up!

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