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Publishing Commissioning Editor

Publishing commissioning editors work for book publishing companies, identifying the sort of books and related products that people want to buy and ensuring that their company can publish the right products to meet these demands.

The work involves:

  • researching trends
  • attending book fairs
  • drawing up annual publishing plans
  • commissioning writers
  • reading submitted manuscripts
  • deciding on the appropriate format including print, e-books and mobile phone applications.

Commissioning editors usually work normal office hours, Monday to Friday, with additional hours at busy times or close to a deadline. They are office based with some travel to visit authors and attending meetings and conferences.

Salaries range from around £18,000 to £40,000 a year.

A publishing commissioning editor should:

  • have a good understanding of the market for books and related products
  • 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 awareness of different or emerging markets or digital formats.

This is a very competitive field. Commissioning editor is generally a position that people would work towards after several years' experience in publishing. Most entrants start as an editorial assistant and seek promotion to editor and then commissioning editor.

The majority of larger publishers are based in London and the South East, but there are also book publishing centres in Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Many vacancies are not advertised, so it is important to build a network of contacts.

There are no set entry qualifications for commissioning editors although most are graduates. Most degrees are acceptable, but in some specialist areas it may be easier to find work with a relevant degree. There are a number of publishing studies courses that, while not essential, can help an application stand out.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant.

Training is usually on the job, though employees may have the opportunity to do professionally related short courses.

In larger companies, experienced commissioning editors may progress to become senior commissioning editor and possibly a publisher or editorial manager. Those working for smaller organisations may have to move to a larger company to gain additional income and responsibility.

What is the work like?

Publishing commissioning editors work for book publishing companies. Their main role involves identifying the sort of books and related products that people want to buy and ensuring 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 such as children's books, cookery books, academic or specialist.

Their work includes:

  • researching trends in the book market
  • attending book fairs
  • drawing up annual publishing plans
  • commissioning writers
  • reading submitted manuscripts
  • deciding on the appropriate format including print, e-books and mobile phone applications.

They may also be involved in:

  • negotiating fees, advance payments and royalties with the author or their agent
  • drawing up contracts
  • commissioning artists or photographers to provide illustrations
  • setting deadlines for various stages of the work to be completed
  • monitoring the progress of the book until it is published
  • identifying the best author to produce a particular title.

In the larger companies, the commissioning editor may also oversee a team of readers who make recommendations on the potential of a piece of work.

As well as liaising with marketing and sales staff within the company, commissioning editors work with suppliers, agents and technical companies to produce digital content.

Hours and environment

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

They are office based but may spend some time visiting authors and attending meetings, conferences and book fairs some of which could be overseas.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries for publishing commissioning editors may be around £18,000 a year.
  • With more experience, commissioning editors may earn £26,000 a year.
  • Senior or very experienced editors may earn £30,000 to £40,000 or more.

There may be bonuses based on sales targets.

Skills and personal qualities

A publishing commissioning editor should:

  • have a good understanding of the market for books and related products
  • be creative and able to come up with ideas for books that will sell
  • have excellent communication skills, be persuasive and able to convince others to approve their ideas
  • have an excellent command of English
  • be good at working in a team
  • have negotiating skills
  • be able to work with others to meet deadlines
  • have planning and organisational skills
  • have an understanding of finance
  • be able to work on their own initiative.

Interests

It is important to:

  • have an interest in literature and reading
  • understand new developments in digital content technology.

Getting in

There are approximately 4,000 publishers in the UK who publish approximately 133,000 books.

The majority of larger publishers 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. Some vacancies may be advertised in national newspapers such as Guardian Media, and book trade publications like The Bookseller, and on specialist websites, such as www.bookcareers.com The Society of Young Publishers (SYP) also has vacancies on its website and there are specialist recruitment agencies.

Entry routes

There are no set entry qualifications for commissioning editors, although most are graduates. Most degrees are acceptable but, in some specialist areas, it may be easier to find work with a relevant degree such as law and science.

There are also several degrees and foundation degrees in publishing studies available. While these are not considered essential for a career as an editor, they may help in applying for a job.

Entry to a degree course is usually with a minimum of two or three A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), or the equivalent. Candidates should check with individual colleges and universities. Those without the usual entry requirements can do an Access course.

The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant for this area of work.

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 publishing. This is usually unpaid, but shows commitment and that a candidate has appropriate skills. Experience of working in bookselling or another related industry may also help entrants. Increasingly, an interest in or experience of digital media and IT may help applicants.

As well as the traditional 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.

Training

Training is usually on the job, although it may be supplemented by short courses run by publishing training organisations. These include The Publishing Training Centre four-day residential course in commissioning and list management and a range of courses offered by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, the Society of Young Publishers, the London School of Publishing and the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. Skillset has information on courses on its website.

Getting on

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 for promotion or extra experience.

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

Further information

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

Independent Publishers, PO Box 12, Llain, Login SA34 0WU. 01437 563335. Website: www.ipg.uk.com

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

Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, School of Arts and Humanities, Buckley Building, Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, Oxford OX3 0BP. 01865 741111. Website: www.brookes.ac.uk

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

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

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. 020 7713 9800. Website: www.skillset.org

Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), Erico House, 93-99 Upper RichmondRoad, Putney, London SW15 2TG. 020 8785 5617. Website: www.sfep.org.uk

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

United Kingdom Association for Publishing Education (UKAPE). Website: www.ukape.org

Women in Publishing. Website: www.wipub.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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