What Does an Acquisitions Editor Do?
I have spent about half my professional life with the words “Acquisitions Editor” written on my business card. And, last week someone asked me: “Randall, what would you say an acquisitions editor does?” I gave an off-the-cuff five minute answer… here’s my more thought-out version.
I think an acquisitions editor needs to be able to do at least five things really well:
(1) See a Book Where No Book Yet Exists
Sometimes the idea for a book comes in the form of a crystal clear, well-thought-out, perfectly picturable book proposal. This requires skill to see the nascent book. But, even more exciting is when there’s a blog post that could be expanded, a sermon that should be written down, a video that may grow, or a napkin sketch that sparks a whole table of contents. Those are the magical moments. And, it’s where the best author/acquirer relationships are formed.
(2) Assess Quality (Writing, Theology, Purpose, etc.)
This is the gatekeeper part of the job. An acquisitions editor must be able to recognize writing quality or writing quality potential in any given project. They must be able to represent the standards, values, and goals of their publishing house. An acquisitions editor must also be able to read between the lines of a writing sample or a book proposal to see the purpose behind the project. This is also where potential in the writing comes in. At the early stages of the game, an acquirer must be able to see potential where the finished product has yet to be realized.
(3) Add Quality
After assessing the quality or potential quality of a not-yet-book, the excellent acquirer will add value. This may come in the form of encouragement, or direction, or editing, or parsing, or ideating. It may also come in the form of getting out of the way. But, the best acquirers see what needs to be done and then they help make it happen.
(4) Be Able to Communicate to Authors
Authors now have vast choice when it comes to if/how/when their books get published. Overall this is good news for the future of books and publishers. The savvy acquirer sees opportunity in the brave new world to clearly, accurately, and passionately communicate with authors. This might look like coaching, caring, or fleshing out ideas to add value for authors.
(5) Be a Project Champion
There are so many pieces and people that go into creating a great book—way more than just the acquirer, of course. But, the acquisitions editor is usually the earliest in-house champion for the books they work on. They catch or even co-create the vision. The best acquirers become advocates for these books to their own colleagues, publishing boards, bosses, friends, families, pets, and anyone who will listen.
There are plenty more details to what an acquisitions editor does, and I haven’t always done each of them super-well… But, from my experience, these five things are essential.