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Selecting a Publisher: Finding the Right Editor

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.

Referrals

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…

Enthusiasm

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.

Experience

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!

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