Commissioning Editor

    If you are wondering how to become a commissioning editor, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within publishing and journalism, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    A commissioning editor plays a key role in the success of a book publishing company. The job involves selecting new authors and titles that will sell well (known as building the ‘front-list’) and monitoring the performance of titles already published (the ‘back-list’) to make sure the company stays profitable.

    As a commissioning editor your work would include:

    keeping up to date with trends in the book market
    identifying future markets and new products
    deciding whether to accept submitted manuscripts
    developing ideas for books and identifying suitable authors
    preparing publishing proposals, including costings, and projected sales and revenue
    issuing contracts to authors and agents
    making decisions on reprinting, revising, producing new editions or putting titles out of print
    making sure that schedules are followed and deadlines are met.
    You would work closely with other departments, such as sales and marketing, and production. You may also supervise editorial staff.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good commissioning editors include:

    excellent spoken and written communication skills
    negotiating skills
    planning and organisational skills
    financial management skills
    the ability to work to deadlines and within budget
    projects management skills
    commercial flair
    administration and IT skills.

    How to become a commissioning editor
    You would usually need to start in a junior position in a publishing company. This could mean starting as an editorial assistant, progressing to copy editor and then to commissioning editor.

    In academic and professional publishing you might be able to go straight into a commissioning editor position if you have a high level of competence in your subject area.

    You can also take a degree or postgraduate qualification in publishing. This is not essential, but will help you develop your knowledge and skills. For details of degrees, see the Publishers Association website. For specialist areas, such as scientific or medical publishing, publishers may prefer you to have a relevant degree.

    Competition for jobs is strong, so you may need to do job shadowing or work experience before applying for your first job. This is also a good way to develop contacts and network, as many jobs are not advertised.

    Keeping up to date with industry developments is essential. You can do this by visiting book fairs, reading trade publications such as The Bookseller (available in reference libraries) and by subscribing to Publishing News Online.

    Training and Development
    When you are employed as a commissioning editor you would need to keep your skills up-to-date. One way to do this is to complete short and distance learning courses which are run by organisations such as the Publishing Training Centre and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

    Joining professional bodies such as the SfEP, Women in Publishing and the Publishers’ Association would give you opportunities for professional support and networking. As a full member of SfEP your details can be entered on the society’s directory, which is used by companies needing editing services.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Commissioning editors can earn between around £18,000 to around £28,000 a year.
    At senior level earnings can be up to £40,000 or more.

    Job Prospects
    Most large publishing companies are in London or the south east, although academic publishers are also based in university cities.

    You could be employed in general or consumer books (popular fiction and non-fiction books, which account for the majority of book sales), academic, educational, technical, medical and professional books or children’s books.

    Your opportunities for progression would depend on the size of the publishing house. Working in a small publishing house may give you the opportunity to learn all aspects of the industry, but there may be more opportunities for promotion in larger companies.

    If you are successful as a commissioning editor you could progress to senior commissioning editor, editorial manager or director. Your success will usually be judged on how much profit the books you select bring in. You may be able to work as a freelance consultant if you have a lot of experience.

    Useful journalism or publishing resources:
    Publishing Training Centre at Book House
    45 East Hill
    SW18 2QZ
    Tel: 020 8874 2718

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