Ilana Gershon asked seven editors for their insights on questions that authors commonly ask. Five are press editors (Berghahn, Chicago, Indiana, Princeton, Stanford) and two are series editors. This month’s column explores the following question:
What is the difference between approaching a series editor and a press editor? For a first author, is there a strategy to this?
Fred Appel: Much depends on context and circumstances. If one of your scholarly mentors or advisors works as a series editor on a series at a university press, and if you think your book is a potential fit with that publishing house (and with the series in question), why not approach your mentor and ask them to have a word with the in-house acquisitions editor about your work? It couldn’t hurt.
Jennika Baines: I’m sure the series editor would enjoy talking over the series and its aims, but when it comes to actually submitting a proposal, it’s best to do so directly to the press editor. Series editors are usually at a point in their career where they have a number of different responsibilities. If you submit to the press editor, they will be able to ensure that the proposal doesn’t slip through the cracks, and they will be able to track its progress. Also, while the series editors will make suggestions based on their extensive expertise, the press editor is almost always going to be the final arbiter of whether the manuscript is a viable undertaking for the press.
Berghahn Books: The series editor is often an important and first gatekeeper for a press. Working with and through a series editor will make your manuscript submission far stronger. Above all, a series editor is a specialist in the field and so they would be the best suited to give more detailed feedback on refining the manuscript before it enters peer review. They are a great resource, especially for a first author.
Dominic Boyer: A series editor is more focused on one set of thematics. If your project is a good fit for those thematics, then it makes sense to reach out. I like to think that series editors can give a first author more attention. But the flip side is that they publish a much smaller number of projects per year. If they are already backlogged they may have to pass on a project that a press editor would snap up.
Alessandro Duranti: It depends. I think that for a first-time author in particular (but this might also apply to more senior and experienced writers) the important thing is to interact with an editor who is responsive, willing to discuss a project, think with you, give advice, and show interest. Usually one would expect this to happen a series editor who is a colleague, but it can also happen with gifted press editors, who will carefully read your manuscript and frankly tell you whether it works for them or how it could work, with some changes, such as a different framework or point of view.
Michelle Lipinski: If you can pique the interest of an external series editor, that may allow you an early endorsement from someone who has the press editor’s ear. And it’s sometimes helpful to have a series editor or author who has published previously with the press make an introduction to a press editor.
Before approaching either press or series editor, check the series submission guidelines. Every editor and series editor collaborate differently. However, keep in mind that as the press editor, I am the gatekeeper and the only person with the ability to offer a contract—the buck stops here.
Priya Nelson: Series editors are an important part of what presses do. If you have a relationship with a series editor, by all means, seek their counsel and submit your work. Remember, however, that generally the editor within the house will be the advocate for the book throughout peer review, board approval, and publication. Series editors can help open a door. Once you are inside, the editor will need to feel invested in and excited by your work.
Fred Appel is executive editor and acquisitions editor for anthropology and religion at Princeton University Press.
Jennika Baines is an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press, who acquires books in global and international studies, anthropology, Middle East studies, and Russian and East European studies.
Berghahn Books—answers were co-authored by Miriam Berghahn, Vivian Berghahn, and Chris Chappell, all press editors at Berghahn.
Dominic Boyer is a professor at Rice University and edits a series for Cornell University Press, Expertise: Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge.
Alessandro Duranti is a professor at UCLA and the series editor for the Oxford Series in the Anthropology of Language.
Michelle Lipinski is an editor at Stanford University Press who acquires books for their anthropology and law lists.
Priya Nelson is an editor at the University of Chicago Press where she acquires books in anthropology and history.
Cite as: Gershon, Ilana. 2019. “Press Editor or Series Editor.” Anthropology News website, July 25, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1227