I feel like a newbie still when it comes to working as an editor at AAR/SBL. This year will be my eighth conference in that role. There are people who have been at it a lot longer than I. I work with three of those veterans: K.C. Hanson, Rodney Clapp, and Robin Parry. These three and many other seasoned editors may tell me the following list is mostly hogwash, but I’m guessing some of these tips stand true for all editors at these conferences. The tips are aimed primarily at other newbies, that is those authors who have not run the gauntlet of book publishing yet (or very much). Some of these things I could add to my curmudgeon list.
Be prepared. Everybody’s schedule is tight. While conference goers and would-be authors fill up their schedules by hopping around from session to session, presenting papers, bumping into old friends and long-admired luminaries, we editors are meeting with currently-contracted authors, they-want-to-be authors, and we-want-them-to-be authors in back-to-back-to-back time slots. So being prepared includes planning out your schedule well enough to (1) be on time to your meeting with an editor. But it also means being prepared to (2) wait a few minutes for the editor to show up. The author meeting the editor before you may not have heeded the first tip or some of the ones to follow. You should also be prepared to (3) discuss your writing project succinctly. This tip relates to tight schedules, but it also has to do with the next tip. Leave time to (4) ask questions about the publisher. Meetings with editors are not just for them to hear about you and your writing project. You will want to learn something about the publishing company and what it is like to work with them. Does your book fit their publishing profile? Are there imprints and/or series in which your book might fit best? What is the author’s responsibilities, aside from writing the book, of course? What is the turnaround time for receiving a response to a proposal? What even constitutes a proposal? [Hint: usually, (5) the meeting itself is not a proposal submission.] What is the turnaround time from manuscript submission to book publication? There are dozens of questions you could ask the editor. You’ll want to prepare a list of those most important to you.
Keep in mind (6) you will almost certainly know a lot more about your book topic than the editor. You’re the expert here. You are the one who has spent months or years on the subject. The editor, in the same time, has edited several dozen books on an array of topics. So while you are not necessarily presenting your project to an unknowing layperson, you may still need to “dumb” it down and tighten it up. Offer a thumbnail sketch and (7) let the editor ask questions to draw out more information if needed. These last several tips are really getting at a major tip to keep in mind: (8) these meetings are mostly a way for author and editor to feel each other out. Both of you are looking for a good fit. No definite decision will be made in the short time you have together. More times than not (9) a formal proposal should be submitted later. There are several reasons for this. For us editors at Wipf and Stock Publishers, we prefer to receive proposals electronically and in our proposal form. We have six editors with whom we need to share the proposal so we can make team decisions about what books we publish. A couple of our editors are not at the home office. Sharing a printed proposal with them is not as easy as sending an email with the proposal attached. Also, at these conferences, we have a lot of stuff to pack up and ship back. It is very easy for a proposal to get lost in the mix. I do want to be clear, however. I am not saying do not provide editors with a printed proposal or abstract or synopsis or whatever. (10) Having something to look at while meeting with authors is actually quite helpful for editors. What I am saying is that a “formal,” electronically submitted proposal may be (will be, in our case!) requested. Don’t assume the ball is out of your court if you hand some papers to the editor. And by all means, (11) do not give editors the full and printed manuscript at the meeting. I’ve mentioned before that a full manuscript submission at the proposal stage is not helpful. See #2 here. Given all the tips I’ve mentioned above, receiving a full manuscript at a large conference where we meet dozens of potential authors and pack away hundreds of books and other odds and ends is burdensome. Finally, if you are shopping around your dissertation, take some time to (12) read this and the resources therein.
If you are an editor reading this, I’d like to hear what you think about these tips and know what tips you would add to the list. If you are a potential author, I’d like to hear what tips you have for editors.