Uncommon Academic Book Publishing Advice, Tidbit #2: Personal Connections to Editors

After spending years revising my dissertation into a book, I finally found myself at the academic book proposal stage. I’d identified which presses published in my field(s), compiled information about what each press wanted in a proposal, drafted a base proposal, and was seeking advice from my colleagues and mentors on it. I thought I was approximately one month from the submission point, and had the book manuscript almost ready to go. I thought my mentors would have a lot to say about my proposal’s structure and content, but instead most had little to say on those topics. Instead, their response completely dumbfounded me: after asking me how I was connected to the series or acquisitions editor at the press, they asked, “you’re not going to just send these proposals without a personal connection, are you?” they asked.

I immediately panicked and began kicking myself for not having pitched my book to editors at conferences, even though the majority of opinions I had solicited on the topic strongly discouraged me from doing so.

However, now I realize that my initial few days of panic about lacking connections to editors was mostly due to a very narrow definition of what I thought a “personal connection to an editor” meant. Namely, I was working under the assumption that a “connection to an editor” meant “an editor you have met in person, to whom you have already pitched a book idea, and for which you have received a favorable response.” I now understand that this is far from the only way you are connected to editors.

Below, I aim to paint a more complete picture of what a “connection to an editor” can look like, so that you can cultivate such connections more intentionally, and so that you can know how they will come into play when you are at the point of submitting your book proposal to presses.

First-Hand Connection: You Have Met the Acquisitions or Series Editor in Person

The reigning mental model for “meeting an editor” is doing an explicit book pitch at a conference to an acquisitions editor; however, this is far from the only way you can and should meet editors. Here are some others:

  • An informal chat with an acquisitions editor at a conference book exhibit. As many articles point out, do not let the informality of this conversation fool you: if you approach the booth with the intent to talk about your book at all, you should prepare as you would for a formal pitch.
  • Giving presentations at conferences in your field. It is less likely that an acquisitions editor would happen to be in the audience, but it is likely that you will, at some point have a series editor in the audience. Because series editors are faculty members like you, you are likely to meet them in the course of your regular academic work.

Second-Hand Connection: Your Mentors or Colleagues Know Acquisitions or Series Editors

You know many more editors than you think because of your second-hand connections. These connections can take two principal forms when you are proposing your book to presses: either scholars will offer to introduce you to acquisitions or series editors in person or via email, or they will encourage you to use their name in your cover letter when contacting presses. Here are some of the ways you might be connected to an acquisitions editor without realizing it:

  • You know an author who has published with the press (which is why I recommend you take notes on scholars you know first-hand who have published with your target presses as you compile your list)
  • You know an editor for a different series at the same press
  • You know someone who regularly reviews manuscripts for the press

Of course, when using second-hand connections (with that person’s permission!) in your book proposal materials, you want to ensure that that person is well-respected in the field and had a good relationship with the press.

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