What Does an Acquisitions Editor Do?

Agatha Christie book on a shelf to represent acquisitions editor choice

An acquisitions editor is a proactive role, where an editor will seek to “acquire” manuscripts for their publishing house, imprint, press, and occasionally even literary agency. In other words, they find books to publish! But how does the role of an acquisitions editor differ from the role of literary agent, and what do you need to do in order to get your work in front of them?

Acquisitions editors locate manuscripts with a strategic, business intent

Similar to literary agents, acquisitions editors are business-minded, with a view to finding the most commercially successful opportunities. This does not mean that your book will never be acquired if it is not commercial! I just want you to be cognizant of the word “acquire” – your manuscript or proposal is a product, and it is an acquisition editor’s job to find and locate products with marketing and sales potential. Some manuscripts and book proposals (solicited and unsolicited) land on their desks, while they actively seek other projects, forming relationships with content creators of all kinds, authors, agents, PR companies, and even other publishers and presses. This is a job that requires top-notch networking skills. Akin to literary agents, they will usually only acquire in a particular genre or section of publishing.

Acquisitions editors assess work on its commercial viability

As above, your book doesn’t have to be commercial. But the acquisitions editor must see something in it that they think will appeal to others. They must present a business case at in-house acquisitions meeting; a simple “I liked it” will not wash. They must look at the market, and at the performance of similar titles. They must consider their current lists, and where the manuscript or proposal will sit. They must look at domestic and international potential, the author’s reach and following (especially important for non-fiction book proposals), and ultimately, where this book will sit on shelves. There are a number of nuanced factors that come from a combination of years of experience (most acquisitions editors will have worked their way up from interns or editorial assistants), as well as a “Spidey sense” as to the book’s potential to succeed.

Acquisitions editors do the numbers

They prepare sales forecasts. They use tools like BookScan to look at comparable titles and track their sales. They look at the manuscript length and calculate how many pages will need to be printed. They meet with sales and marketing teams to refine their forecasts, looking at distribution methods, similar sales models, and reach. They prepare P&L (profit and loss) statements. Of course, all this talk of numbers and sales figures might well leave you cold, but this a data-driven business. All good business is! Get comfortable that publishing isn’t all about words; numbers play a huge part.

Acquisitions editors pitch your book

An acquisition editor thinks your manuscript is viable. Hooray. However, it isn’t over. They must in turn pitch their plan to the editorial board. Wait, what? You need another “yes”? Almost always, yes. In other words, you pitch an agent, who pitches an editor, who pitches their board. There are so many levels your manuscript has to go to in order to become a book, that it might seem like an insurmountable climb. Have faith, young grasshopper! There are millions of books published because of acquisitions editors who are great at their jobs. Most of these pitches are done weekly, at editorial meetings, where the editor will bring forward their proposal, and the board decides if an offer will be made.

Acquisitions editors define the deliverables

Once the editorial board has agreed to publish your book, acquisitions editors will work with you and your agent to negotiate the advance, contract, royalties, publication date, press, marketing, and more.

Acquisitions editors (sometimes) edit

Some acquisitions editors play a heavy editorial role; others step back and let dedicated editors step in. It depends on how big the publisher is, or how much time the editor has to be hands-on. You will almost certainly be working with a wider editorial team on sub-editing, proofing, cover art, marketing plans, and all those other wonderful factors you need to bring your manuscript or proposal to life on the shelves. A word of caution: this process will take a good year, likely two. Seems like a long time ago you queried your agent, huh? Publishing is slow, slow, slow. This is why an acquisitions editor needs to be sure of the project they are acquiring: they are in it for the long-haul, too.

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