Publishing Commissioning Editor

The Job and What's Involved

Publishing commissioning editors work for book publishing companies. Their main role involves identifying the sort of books that people want to buy and attempting to ensure their company can publish the right products to meet these demands.

The commissioning editor may have a broad overview or, especially in larger companies, specialise in a particular type of book (e.g. children's literature, cookery books, academic or specialist).

Knowing the trends in the book market is an important part of the job of commissioning editors. They follow these trends by looking at market research and surveys, attending book fairs, finding out which books other publishers are intending to produce, and talking to marketing and sales staff in their own company. It is the commissioning editor who has to decide what is likely to be profitable this year, and what could be difficult to sell the next. They use this information to decide on the sort of book titles they will publish and draw up an annual publishing plan to guide them when commissioning authors. They usually have to discuss their plans with other senior staff and prove that their ideas are likely to sell and be profitable.

The commissioning editor may be involved in reading submitted manuscripts, and deciding whether they are the sort of product their company would like to publish. In the larger companies, the commissioning editor may also oversee a team of readers who will make recommendations on the potential of a piece of work. Alternatively, using their knowledge of the market trends, the commissioning editor may be involved in developing the idea for a book and will commission an author to write it, either directly or through an agent.

As well as the above work, the commissioning editor may also be involved in:

  • Negotiating fees, advance payments and royalties with the author and/or their agent.
  • Drawing up contracts.
  • Commissioning artists or photographers to provide illustrations for the book.
  • Setting deadlines for various stages of the work to be completed.
  • Copy editing the book (in larger companies this may be done by a specialist copy editor).
  • Monitoring the progress of the book until it is published.
  • Understanding the skills, strengths and weaknesses of a number of authors and identifying the best author to produce a particular title.

Commissioning editors usually work Monday to Friday, and normal office hours. However, they may have to work additional hours at busy times or close to a deadline. Some part-time work may be available.

Commissioning editors are office based. They may also spend some time traveling, visiting authors and attending meetings. They may travel to attend conferences and book fairs, some of which could be held overseas.

Starting salaries for publishing commissioning editors may be around £18,000 a year. With more experience, they may earn at least £26,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 4,000 book, journal and magazine publishers in the UK, producing over 200,000 different titles each year. Most of these are small businesses, and employ only a few staff. The majority of larger book publishers and magazines are based in London and the south-east, but there are also book publishing centres in Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

This is a very competitive field. Publishing commissioning editor can be a senior role, and is normally a position that people would work towards after several years' experience, perhaps as an editorial assistant.

Many vacancies are not advertised, so it is important to build a network of contacts who can advise on opportunities that may arise. Some vacancies may be advertised in national newspapers such as Guardian Media, book trade publications like The Bookseller and on specialist websites, such as www.bookcareers.com. Publishing organisations like the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) also maintain vacancy databases that are open to members. There is also a number of specialist publishing recruitment consultants who have a range of vacancies and can provide advice on how to get into the industry.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications for commissioning editors. The majority are graduates. Most degrees are acceptable, but in some specialist areas it may be easier to find work with a relevant degree (e.g. law and science).

There are numerous degrees in publishing available. A full list of foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate courses available can be found on the UCAS website: www.ucas.co.uk. The Periodicals Training Council (PTC) also lists a range of approved degree and postgraduate courses on its website that are particularly suitable for those who want to enter magazine journalism.

Entry to a degree course is usually with a minimum of three A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or the equivalent. The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant for this area of work. Entry to a postgraduate course usually requires at least a 2.1 degree. Candidates should check with individual institutions.

It is extremely unlikely that a new graduate would find a first job in publishing as a commissioning editor. In book publishing, the traditional route is to start as an editorial assistant then seek promotion to editor and then commissioning editor. This could take five years or more.

To gain an initial post in the industry it may help if applicants have undertaken work experience in book or magazine publishing. This is usually unpaid, but shows commitment and that a candidate has appropriate skills. Increasingly, an interest in or experience of digital media and IT may help applicants.

As well as the traditional journalistic and publishing routes, commissioning editors may also come from other specialist backgrounds. In academic publishing, it is possible for academics with specialist knowledge of their subject area to be recruited as commissioning editors.

Entry is also possible for people with experience in a department dealing with contracts, permissions and copyright, or sales and marketing.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is usually on the job, although it may be supplemented by short courses run by publishing organisations.

The Publishing Training Centre offers a variety of courses including a four-day residential course in Commissioning and List Management.

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders, the Society of Young Publishers, the London School of Publishing and the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies all offer a range of relevant training opportunities.

The Periodical Publishers Association offers a range of short courses specialising in magazine editorial. Further information on available courses can be found on website: www.skillset.org.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A publishing commissioning editor should:

  • Have a good understanding of the market for books.
  • Be creative and able to come up with ideas for books that will sell.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Have an excellent command of English.
  • Be good at working in a team.
  • Have negotiating skills.
  • Be persuasive and able to convince others to approve their ideas.
  • Be able to liaise with authors, editorial colleagues and production teams to help ensure they meet deadlines.
  • Have planning and organisational skills.
  • Have an understanding of finance.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative.
  • Have an awareness of the different and emerging formats e.g. e-books, mobile content, websites, printed books and magazines.

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Your Long Term Prospects

Opportunities for progression vary depending on the size of the organisation.

In larger companies, experienced commissioning editors may progress to become senior commissioning editor and possibly eventually a publisher, or editorial manager, with overall responsibility for the organisation's publishing programme. Some may move to another department in their organisation, perhaps commissioning in a different area or moving into the contracts and rights or marketing department.

Those working for smaller organisations may have to move to a larger company to gain additional income and responsibility.

A commissioning editor could also become self-employed, perhaps as a literary agent or by setting up his or her own publishing company.

Get Further Information

The Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom &
Ireland Limited (BA), Minster House,
272 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1BA
Tel: 020 7802 0802
Website: www.booksellers.org.uk

Independent Publishers Guild,
PO Box 93, Royston, Hertfordshire SG8 5GH
Tel: 01763 247014
Website: www.ipg.uk.com

Inspired Selection, Hedges House,
153-155 Regent Street, London W1B 4JE
or First Floor Offices, Golden Cross Court,
4 Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX1 3EX
Website: www.inspiredselection.com

JFL Search & Selection,
27 Beak Street, London W1F 9RU
Tel: 020 7009 3500
Website: www.jflrecruit.com

KP Publishing,
90 Long Acre,
London WC2E 9RZ
Tel: 0845 389 2289
Website: www.kppublishing.com

London School of Publishing,
David Game House, 69 Notting Hill Gate,
London W11 3JS
Tel: 020 7221 3399
Website: www.publishing-school.co.uk

Periodical Publishers Association/
The Periodicals Training Council,
Queens House, 28 Kingsway, London WC2B 6JR
Tel: 020 7404 4166
Website: www.ppa.co.uk

The Publishers Association,
29b Montague Street, London WC1B 5BW
Tel: 020 7691 9191
Website: www.publishers.org.uk

The Publishing Training Centre at Book House,
45 East Hill, Wandsworth, London SW18 2QZ
Tel: 020 8874 2718
Website: www.train4publishing.co.uk

Skillset - the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media,
Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800
Website: www.skillset.org

Society for Editors and Proofreaders,
Apsley House, 176 Upper Richmond Road,
Putney, London SW15 2SH
Tel: 020 8785 6155
Website: www.sfep.org.uk

The Society of Young Publishers (SYP)
Website: www.thesyp.org.uk

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