Response to an Acquisitions Editor: Clarifying Intentions
Although no scholar finds it remotely difficult to accept good news from an acquisitions editor, receiving and responding to less than positive commentary can be extremely challenging. The starting point is, after all, one of fundamental disagreement. The author obviously thought the manuscript submitted for consideration was polished and publishable or it is unlikely that it would have been submitted at all. The editor, on the other hand, has obviously identified aspects of the manuscript that render it unpublishable. If he or she has given no specific reasons for this assessment, there is usually little ground upon which to move forward. If, on the other hand, the editor has offered detailed comments about specific problems, as painful as it may be for the author to read them, the situation as a whole has a brighter outlook. The key to success is to clarify intentions on both sides and establish a successful working relationship
From the author’s perspective, it is essential to identify exactly what the acquisitions editor wants in terms of changes to the manuscript, and then determine what the editor plans to do if those changes are made. The message you received may already indicate this by clearly describing the problems, indicating what must be done to resolve them and informing you that the manuscript can be resubmitted for consideration once the revisions are completed. This is an ideal scenario, however, and often there will be some difficulty in understanding the critical comments and a certain vagueness regarding the possibility of resubmission. Such wording should not be read as discouragement, but as an invitation to inquiry.
Before answering that invitation, be sure that you have done your best to comprehend the comments by assessing them alongside your manuscript, and then write to ask for clarification of anything that remains murky. Begin by thanking the editor for taking the time and effort to provide such helpful comments, assert your intention to revise your work in accordance with the criticism offered and ask very specifically for explanation of any point that is not clear to you. An editor interested enough in your work to offer you detailed commentary is unlikely to be irritated by a request to clarify that feedback for an enthusiastic author, and he or she will also not be troubled by a direct question about resubmission. Indeed, the feedback invites it.
There may be a lot of ground to cover in the exchanges between an author and an acquisitions editor before a manuscript is ready for a second and ideally successful submission. Keep in mind, however, that acquisitions editors tend to be incredibly busy. Avoid inundating your correspondent with unnecessary or excessive information. Yes, details and specifics must be discussed, but a good example can effectively represent a more general trend and allow you to say everything necessary. Let us say, for instance, that an editor highlighted a couple of passages in your prose as awkward or incorrect and noted that there were similar problems elsewhere. You will need to use those sample passages to locate and revise all the similar problems in your manuscript, but you need not and should not list every error and revision in a letter describing your intentions and actions. Instead, use the most representative of the problematic passages identified by the editor, make it clear that you know exactly why it is troubling and explain that you are correcting or improving all similarly erroneous or awkward passages. This strategy will work well for many kinds of revisions and allow you to indicate the thorough nature of your editing efforts without burdening the acquisitions editor with the lengthy details of that thorough approach.
By clarifying your intentions clearly and concisely, you will let the editor know what he or she needs to know – that is, exactly what you plan to do with the criticism you have received – and also provide an opportunity for further and potentially helpful editorial feedback as you make important decisions. There will no doubt be a great deal of material on which you and the editor will agree, and you will soon discover that you have achieved a productive professional relationship by working together in this way towards the common goal of making your manuscript as good as it can be for successful publication.
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