In an earlier post I talked about how areas of expertise
come into play when selecting a publisher. Today’s post outlines some thoughts on finding a good editor and what
sort of questions an author should ask. I believe the task of finding the right editor, and therefore the right
publisher, comes down to three things: referrals, enthusiasm and experience.
What sort of a reputation does this acquisitions editor
have? If it’s a good one, find out
why. You’ll want to know if the reason
that editor is held in high regard matches up with the attributes you’re
looking for. As I mentioned in my
earlier post on agents, references are as critical a part of this decision as
anything. Perhaps it goes without
saying, but be wary of any editor who has a hard time providing references…
Editor enthusiasm might seem like an odd characteristic for
the short list. Nevertheless, it’s
important for an editor to show they are excited about your project. That enthusiasm carries through to the
various editorial and sales meetings where they have to pitch your idea. If they don’t sound overly interested on the
phone with the author, how much are they likely to evangelize the idea to the
sales and marketing departments?
Here’s a question every author should ask his or her
acquisitions editor: How important is this book to your overall program? Get them to tell you whether they consider
this to be one of the most important 3-5 titles they are currently working on
(i.e., their “A-list”). If they say
“yes”, ask them to prove it. Keep in
mind that only about 15-25% of all books make the A-list list in any editor’s
program. Maybe this project is really a
mid-list title and isn’t going to make anyone’s A-list. That’s good information to have as
well. The important point is to make
sure that the editor’s expectations are in line with yours.
One editor may be tied up on a major release and although
your title is important, they have other more high-priority titles above
it. If it’s not on their A-list, maybe
you should talk to an editor from another publisher to see if it will get more
attention there. All other things being
equal, I’d rather have my book signed with an editor who has it on their A-list
(and can prove it) than somewhere else.
Acquisitions editors are always asking author candidates
about their background, writing history, etc. What’s wrong with authors asking editors the same type of
questions? How long have you been in
the business? Do you specialize in any
areas? What are your top-selling
titles? Who are your best authors? What makes them so great?
Perhaps most importantly, you need to decide whether this
person is someone who truly wants to work with you, not just on this particular
book, but as a partner going forward. If this project goes well, are there others the editor might have in
mind for you? The best author-editor
relationships I’ve seen over the years seem to have one common theme: The
authors speak highly of the editors who look at the bigger picture, not just a
single book. They want to work in
partnership with the author to build a franchise together.
Finally, if you’re still on the fence with an editor, ask
them this one: Can I talk to the publisher and gauge their interest in this
project? Whether it’s a phone call or
an e-mail exchange, that line of communication should always be available. Take advantage of it!