Acquisitions Editors vs Series Editors: Who they Are, What they Do, and How that Affects your Book

Acquisitions editors versus series editors

You know that you will eventually work with an “editor,” on your book’s path to publication. But did you know that, beyond developmental editors or copy editors (people you or the press hire to help revise and perfect the manuscript), you might also work with two very different types of editors at your university press? Specifically, you will definitely encounter an acquisitions (also called commissioning) editor. If your book is published with a series, you will also work with a series editor.

In this post, I explain their very different roles when it comes to your book, and give you information to help contextualize the publication process.

Embarking on the journey of academic publishing involves collaboration with various editors, each contributing distinct expertise to refine and bring your book to the public eye. Beyond developmental or copy editors, two crucial figures at a university press are acquisitions editors and series editors, each playing a unique role in the publication process.

Acquisitions Editors: Gatekeepers of the Press

Overview: Acquisitions editors, also known as commissioning editors in the UK, are integral members of a press. Their primary responsibility is to identify and acquire promising projects, guiding them through the intricate process of book publishing. Acquisitions editors specialize in specific areas, often holding Ph.D. qualifications.

Role for Your Book: When authors refer to “my editor,” they generally mean their acquisitions editor. These editors assess your book’s potential, review proposals, identify suitable reviewers, and present your project to the press’s editorial board. Despite the name, acquisitions editors typically don’t edit the manuscript extensively, focusing more on project shaping and limited developmental editing.

Meeting Acquisitions Editors: Acquisitions editors frequent major conferences within their acquisition areas, showcasing recent publications and connecting with prospective authors.

Most acquisitions editors are happy to meet prospective authors–even those at very early stages (like authors still working on their dissertation). Whether you hope to get a bit more information about the press, get on the editor’s radar, or formally pitch your book, it’s a good idea to do research on the press well in advance to make sure they acquire books like yours.

Additionally, their schedules tend to fill up, so if you hope to connect with an acquisitions editor at a conference, it’s a good idea to email them several weeks in advance. If you’re unable to connect with them before the conference, but you still want to chat with them, you can certainly stop by their booth. Listen to what Bridget Barry, editor-in-chief at the University of Nebraska Press and Chloé Johnson, commissioning editor at Liverpool University Press, have to say about this topic.

Series Editors: Scholars Nurturing Conversations

Overview: In contrast to acquisitions editors, series editors are esteemed scholars, usually faculty members collaborating with a specific press. Their commitment lies in cultivating intellectual conversations within their discipline. Series editors assess proposed books within their series, potentially influencing the selection of peer reviewers and providing developmental input.

Role for Your Book: If your book aligns with a particular series, series editors review and evaluate your project. They might play a more hands-on role, akin to developmental editing, and serve as valuable sounding boards for your ideas.

Meeting Series Editors: Since series editors are senior scholars in your field, you likely already know of them (and their work). You will meet them at conferences and in the course of your normal professional activities.

Listen to what Denis Provencher, series editor at Liverpool University Press, has to say on this topic.

FAQ: Acquisitions Editors vs. Series Editors

If my project seems to be a good fit for a series, should I contact the acquisitions editor or the series editor first?

If you are at the point of submitting your proposal, you should likely start with the acquisitions editor, who, if they agree that the project could be a good fit for the series, will forward the proposal on to the series editor.

If you are still several months from the proposal stage and would like to get more information about a particular series (and your project’s fit), it’s fine to start with the series editor.

Interested in learning more? Laura Portwood Stacer talks about series, series editors, and acquisitions editors in The Book Proposal Book, Chapter 12, and in her blog posts and newsletters.

A series editor approached me and said they were interested in my project, but I’m not sure. Help?

Series editors tend to see potential and promise in books. Before beginning to talk or work seriously with a series editor, I highly recommend you research the series and the press, ask any colleagues you might know who have published with that series or press about their experiences, and query mentors about the series’ and press’ prestige. Do not send materials to a series editor unless you would be happy to be published with that series and press.

If an acquisitions editor already declined the proposal, but I think the project could be a good fit for a series, what should I do?

Do not approach a series editor after the acquisitions editor has already declined the project. Doing so has no real possible positive outcome.

What “editing” will acquisitions editors and series editors do for my project?

Neither of these editors will usually “edit” your project. Generally speaking, series editors play more of a developmental role than acquisitions editors do, but neither will copy edit the manuscript.

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