What happens to your book manuscript when your editor leaves a press?

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You may find yourself confronting the reality that your editor has left the University Press you’re working with. This can be a particularly crushing revelation if you liked working with them! Remember that University presses may have a different revenue structure than general-interest presses, but they are still businesses. Employees come and go for any number of reasons. You may not ever think about the people that are behind the books that line your shelves until you are writing one yourself! But people come and go, for one reason or another, in all businesses. So what do you do when your editor leaves?

First, don’t panic! University Presses have a structure that accommodates the loss of staff. Your editor leaving, although it can be jarring to you personally, is likely not going to dramatically affect the overall workflow or reputation of the press you’re working with. Place yourself in the shoes of the press. If your editor left suddenly, the press may struggle to manage the publishing workload. It could take time to find a replacement, or perhaps they just use existing resources—an acquisitions editor gets a promotion, and an editorial assistant becomes an acquisitions editor—and work continues uninterrupted.

Second, what type of editor are you working with? Series editors often stay at presses for years (even decades), because it’s a low-bandwidth appointment for professors that offers a boost in reputation. That said, they do not tend to hold much power at the press. They are like advisors who connect promising authors with the press. Think about series editors more as curators and taste-makers than full-time, paid employees. Most authors work closely with acquisitions editors, which are paid positions at a middle level in the University Press hierarchy. They aren’t senior editors, but they also aren’t editorial assistants, who do much of the grunt work. In rare cases, you may have been working with a senior editor who lost their job because the entire area they oversaw was cut from the press. If that happened, and you haven’t signed a contract yet, you may simply be out of luck. It’s just time to start the search for a new home for your book. But you probably don’t need to read this blog post to understand that. And there are far more other scenarios that are more likely.

Finally, and most importantly, ask yourself: what stage is my book project at? If you signed a contract and your book manuscript is about to move into production, you may only need to steel yourself for some last-minute bumps in the road. The University Press may suddenly demand a final title, become less willing to negotiate the number of images in the book, or push for a cover image that you’re not that excited about. You may feel like your relationship with the press has lost its warmth. That’s unfortunate, but remember that you’ll still have a book coming out soon! Unless the press makes truly outrageous demands, it’s probably worth finishing the project rather than breaking a contract over a minor disagreement.

If you are in the very early stages of pitching a project to an acquisitions editor you really liked, you may want to follow where they go next. My clients routinely tell me that a good acquisitions editor with domain knowledge and a strong belief in their project can make all the difference. Have they been poached by a competing press, and are now building a catalog that they’d love for you to be part of? Or were you mostly into the idea of publishing with the old press, based on its reputation? If the answer is the former, you should reach out to them and pick up the conversation. If it’s the latter, you can always reach out to a more senior editor at the old press to see who took your editor’s place.

The trickiest place to be in when an acquisitions editor leaves is if you developed your book project in response to their feedback, but haven’t yet signed a contract. In this case, any outcome could be possible. The press may be trying to move books into production, and your editor’s replacement could be under pressure to meet a quota. Remember that an acquisitions editor’s job is to vet and sign authors. Or your editor’s replacement could be less personally invested in your project, and not see it as a fit with the press. If this happens, I would simply recommend reaching out to a different press. There’s nothing forcing an acquisition editor to work with you, so it may be wisest to invest your energies elsewhere.

So take a deep breath! Remember that as an author, you are not be in control of every aspect of publishing. University presses often make business decisions that might seem confusing from the outside. If working with an editor who truly sees your vision is a priority, that may dictate how you respond. You may have more limited options if you’ve already signed a contract, but chances are you project is nearing completion. Regardless, the best that you can do is respond to their decisions in a way that is true to your vision for your book project.

Dr. Andrew / Aure Schrock is the Senior Editor at Indelible Voice, an editing service for academic book proposals, book manuscripts, and journal article manuscripts. You can find them on Twitter at @aschrock.