Challenges and Anecdotes From Acquiring Editors

Whether you’re looking to break into the editing field, or just learn more about the so-called gatekeepers of the traditional publishing world, it’s always good to know more about what happens behind the scenes.

As a reminder, acquiring editors work for the publishing houses and are the ones who actually make those large-figured book deals — in addition to revising and editing manuscripts.

At WorldCon 2019’s “Editors’ panel: Challenges and Anecdotes”, I got to hear industry veterans Michael Rowley, Eleanor Teasdale, Ginjer Buchanan, John R. Douglas, and David Thomas Moor talk about their experiences.

The Strangest Part of the Job

  • When you’re doing it right, they pay you. – John R. Douglas
  • The need to cheerleader in-house to sell the book you’re working. – Ginjer Buchanan
  • The job is to find joy and passion and beauty and personality. And edit it out. Then, digest the book down to a single line. – David Thomas Moor.

The Biggest Challenges

  • Authors who don’t want to take edits
    • Usually – they don’t want to
    • Occasionally – they try to counter-argue the grammar or the rhythm, etc.
  • When you give your heart and soul and rah-rah to a book and it just didn’t work out. (Thanks to timing, a bad cover, or just fate).
  • The book(s) you didn’t get — that end up best sellers.
    • Other divisions of the same company over-bidding you
    • Get told ‘no’ at the publisher’s meeting (by Marketing/Sales/etc)
    • Ones you passed on
  • Getting the right cover
  • John Douglas tried to win the Game of Thrones proposed series at auction, but George RR Martin accepted the deal that offered $75k in marketing, over the book deal with more upfront money.

Favorite Book They’ve Worked On

Several of the editors refused to “pick between their children”. But, we got a few answers.

  • Maybe Mike Brooks’s Dead Sky – Michael Rowley
  • John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting – John R. Douglas
  • Charlie Stross’s Halting State duology. Also, media tie in novels for Quantum Leap. She read fanzines and hired the best writers. Asked them to pitch her — the writers loved the source material and it showed. Working on that was ‘nothing but fun.’ – Ginjer Buchanan

Practical Advice On Breaking In As An Editor

  • Move to London or New York
  • Get any job at a publishing house and work your way up
    • Private assistant
    • Intern
    • Marketing/Sales/etc
  • Take a job at a small press to build your resume
  • Get a degree in English/editing
  • Earn the “Society of Editors and Proofreaders” certificate [UK]
  • Network (conventions/etc)
  • Look on bookseller websites for jobs or [UK] the IPG
  • Luck

As with everything book or writing related, hard work and luck seems to be a large part of it.

Thanks for tuning in. I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

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