Publishers Corner: Confessions of an Acquisitions Editor

Guest post by Lisa Mangum, Deseret Book

I love books. I always have. I grew up with them. I devoured them by the shelf. I put myself through college selling them. I studied them; I have even written them. And for most of my professional life, I have helped publish them. I have worked in the publishing department of Deseret Book since 1997, and for more than a decade, I was the point person for all the incoming submissions (lovingly termed “the slush pile”). I have seen thousands and thousands of manuscripts of all shapes and sizes come and go through that slush pile. Some manuscripts were good; some were great. Most were returned to the author. But even though some days the stack of waiting submissions threatened to bury me neck-deep at my desk, there was one thing I loved about that part of my job: the possibility.

I loved looking at the stack of manuscripts and thinking, Somewhere in that stack is a book that I am going to fall in love with. A story that will make me laugh or cry or think. A book that will lift my spirits or help me see my life more clearly. Somewhere in there is a dream just waiting to come true.

And then I’d open all the manuscripts and read through all the letters and the queries and the summaries and the stories. Some days I didn’t find that diamond in the rough I was looking for. Some days I did. And the days when I did were amazing. Those days didn’t feel like work at all. On those days, I felt like a kid again, happily devouring a good book—just me and the story.

What made the difference? Why were some manuscripts passed along while others were passed over?

Well, from where I sat, the manuscripts that survived the slush pile were the ones that fit with what we as a publisher were looking for; as our submission guidelines say, we are looking for books and products that reflect the values espoused by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that are of value to our readers, that are well written and well researched, and that are unique. Manuscripts with a compelling storyline, interesting characters, and believable dialogue stood a better chance than those without those elements. And since publishing is a business after all, manuscripts with a strong marketing hook or platform edged out other manuscripts that didn’t. I loved to see manuscripts from writers who were passionate about their craft, regardless of whether or not they had been previously published.

So what have I learned from a decade of sifting through the slush pile? My advice to aspiring authors is this: Write the story that is in your heart. Be honest. Be creative. And then when you are ready to send that story out into the world—out into the hands of agents and editors and publishers—do so with the heart of a warrior. Be brave. Be persistent. And above all remember this: editors and agents and publishers are all just readers at heart. We are all just looking for that diamond in the rough. We all just want to find that book that reminds us why we fell in love with reading in the first place.

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One Response to Publishers Corner: Confessions of an Acquisitions Editor

  1. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    “And above all remember this: editors and agents and publishers are all just readers at heart. We are all just looking for that diamond in the rough. We all just want to find that book that reminds us why we fell in love with reading in the first place.”

    So, what you’re saying is . . . editors are, like, human? :) Naw . . .

    Truly, though Lisa, thanks for the post. I hear so much second guessing going on within my writer’s group when rejections arrive. Lots of writer types I know think a rejection is a sign of failure in the editor. Not a very productive approach for them, I dare say.

    What was the last ms you picked up and can you say specifically what intrigued you about it?

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