What Do Acquisition Editors Want?

By: Jeff Herman

The door. Followed by a portal to another time and place.

It's not as bad as the above, and what follows is my own opinion and mostly pertains the large houses.

Editors are between a rock and rock. They entered the craft due to their overriding passion for words. If money was their king, they would have chosen numerous other paths that offer much more money. Editors aren't businesspersons and aren't recruited for their business skills. Yet they are forced into making business decisions that won't offend the invisible professional money-minders who rule their world.

Art does pay, but art can fail. An editor's career will match the bottom-line results that their decisions produce. Relatively safe decisions will deliver a predictable career of staggered promotions and salary bumps, until the editor costs more than some might think its worth, and then comes a wall called "no where else from here". There are no partnerships or huge parachutes. Simply a job well done for a long time, which is nothing to complain about in a world overflowing in quiet desperation.

Of course there are a few, spotted almost immediately, who are groomed to be the captains, and they get much more of everything. But they in turn are captured within the lowly publishing cocoon, and get no respect from the gods of film, cable, Internet and TV who dominate the international media empire by virtue of the revenues they generate.The book divisions are tolerated by the lords who crave power because power isn't measured only by money. Influence is power and is derived by influencing a loosely defined category of cultural-leaders who read books. A book can take a brain in many directions, and information of any kind is powerful.

For us who love to write, or edit, confronting a matrix doesn't need to be our job; we don't even need to see it. Thousands of fine books are traditionally published every year by an army of talented and dedicated editors, and millions of grateful readers consume the books. Whether digital or paper doesn't much matter; a book is a book. It's the editor's job to to discover and refine the raw material that will fulfill the marketplace's mandate for more and more books. To know what they want today you simply need to be aware of what they published only yesterday and what they've already scheduled for tomorrow (usually posted on the web sites).

For sure, overwhelmed editors have no time and little inclination to clumsily screen whatever shows up, because much too much is showing up; much of it literally from thin air in the form of massive electronic uncharted galaxies of sentences and paragraphs from everywhere. The literary agents are the indispensable tools for writers and editors because they dare to filter all the earth in the name of finding the jewels. They then say to the editor, "This one sparkles so sweetly. Try it on and see for yourself". Yes agents and editors are appraisers of jewels, but only writers can make them exist.

Writers, whether self-chosen or appointed by an angel, are the exclusive source of all the product that feeds the machine. Dependency can breed distorted resentments, so writers need to be tough skinned and patient with the editors and agents who fail to show due deference, because none of them can exist without the writers and they know it.

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