Should You Pitch your Academic Book to an Acquisitions Editor at a Conference? What to Consider.

Are you working on your first academic book? Thinking ahead to the proposal? Wondering if you should pitch a book to an editor at a conference? Curious about when to meet with acquisitions editors?

Answering these questions depends on a lot of variables. Ultimately, the decision is yours. Use the information below to help you make the most informed decision possible.

What Does Pitching a Book to an Acquisitions Editor at a Conference Entail?

Keep in mind that book exhibits at large professional conferences are chaotic. So, as Karen Kelsky argues, if you want to talk to editors about your book you should contact them well in advance to meet with them outside of the book exhibit. 

Because you will need to not just explain your project but also why that press in particular would be interested in publishing it, you will need to do extensive research on the presses that publish in your field. See my series on doing this exact research to tailor your book proposal. Expect to spend at least 10 hours of research before you even contact editors.

If acquisitions editors agree to meet with you, you will need to practice describing your book’s major argument, narrative arc, contributions and significance, audience, and unique selling points to an intelligent non-academic.

Factors to Consider

  1. Current state of the book project: When to meet with acquisitions editors? Ideally, within 3-6 months of your entire book manuscript being ready to send straight to peer reviewers. Not sooner. If you meet before this point, you risk an editor losing interest in your project, or a project changing so significantly that the meeting wasted your and the editor’s time. Or, you risk an editor leaving that university press.
  2. Your confidence in the project’s fit for the press: Do you know which university presses publish books like yours? Can you cite books that university press has published that your book builds on? If not, you risk seeming unprepared for academic book publishing.
  3. Your command of the project: Is the scope, argument, and trajectory of the book set? Can you describe how all of the pieces fit together?
  4. Your confidence in your pitch to an intelligent, non-academic audience: Can you describe your project to intelligent non-academics in ways that get them excited about the types of questions you’re asking and objects you’re analyzing? If not, do you have the time and energy between now and the meeting date to craft such a description, and to rehearse it to the point that it no longer sounds rehearsed?

Of course, scholars talk to acquisitions editors all the time in less formal settings about their book project at very early stages in its development. However, especially for a first-time author, the stakes are high in an increasingly competitive academic book market.

Should You Pitch A Book to an Editor at a Conference: Potential Advantages

If the timing is right, meeting with acquisitions editors can benefit your book. You can get on the acquisitions editor’s radar, which can, in turn, cause her to act more quickly on your proposal.

Because you will tailor your pitch to the university press, you can also confirm that the press is a good fit for your project. The editor, for instance, might reject your request for a meeting because she has too many current projects. Or, she might reveal that the press is heading in a different direction. While these seem like negative outcomes, they actually save you valuable time you would have spent preparing a tailored book proposal.

The biggest advantage to pitching your academic book to an acquisitions editor in person, though, is the potential for invaluable feedback. Some, for instance, will tell you that the editorial board has not approved any contracts for books about one author. Or others will tell you that your proposal must address gender. You can use these tips to tailor your book proposal.

Potential Disadvantages to Meeting with Acquisitions Editors about Your Book

There are definite disadvantages to meeting with acquisitions editors at conferences. First, if your pitch falls flat, the editor might leave with a bad impression of your project. When your proposal comes across her desk, she might prioritize other projects.

Second, being underprepared can cause editors to question your professionalism.

Finally, editors like to move fast on projects that interest them. So, if you meet with an acquisitions editor more than 6 months before your book manuscript is finished, you risk her losing interest. You also risk her leaving the press before you’re able to complete the proposal.

Practical Resources to Consult, if you Decide to Meet with Acquisitions Editors

If you decide that you do want to pitch a book to an editor at a conference, here are all the resources you need to consult well in advance:

  1. Karen Kelsky (The Professor Is In)’s article “How to Pitch your Book to an Editor at a Conference.” She answers all of your practical questions (like how early you should contact editors) and includes a sample pitch.
  2. Rachel Toor’s “Ph.D.s Are Still Writing Poorly” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her main takeaways: speak (or write) as if you are teaching. And be sure your passion and enthusiasm for your book’s questions permeate your pitch. Remember: acquisitions editors are intelligent non-academics
  3. Rachel Toor’s “The Reality of Writing a Good Book Proposal” published inThe Chronicle of Higher Education. Like most of Toor’s writing, this article pleads academic authors to reconsider how they write. She dispels the myth that editors are only evaluating “the work”:

Some academics forget that when they send in manuscripts and book proposals. They seem to think that showing up in the equivalent of tatty jeans, with unwashed hair and without an intriguing opening gambit will suffice. It’s the work that’s being evaluated, they think, and that speaks for itself. Why should you have to get all gussied up to merit evaluation?

Further Academic Book Proposal Reading

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