The Role of a Commissioning Editor

So what does a Commissioning Editor really do? Last night we attended the Women in Publishing event at the Hotel Strand Continental to hear Rukhsana Yasmin from Saqi and Kirsty Schaper from Bloomsbury talk about their experience as Commissioning Editors and tell us a little more about the tools and skills you really need to make the job a success.

Kirsty began her working life abroad teaching English as a foreign language; she came back to the UK and got a job at Continuum as an Editorial Assistant and worked her way up from there before making the move to work on the Sports non-fiction list at A & C Black, now Bloomsbury. It was really interesting to hear about the difference between commissioning for Academic and for Trade; with Academic publishing you can identify the persons qualifications and have their work peer reviewed but with Trade it becomes far more risky, you must quantify the qualifications of your authors within their field of expertise but also assess factors like marketability; Do they have a blog/twitter? How well known are they? Can they market their own brand? The most exciting thing about commissioning is finding an author who can become a bestseller.

Rukhsana came into publishing through an Arts Council programme to increase Diversity in Publishing through Saqi Books, she found that working in a smaller publisher gave her a wealth of experience and knowledge to take forward into her next role at Profile where she commissioned her first book; she is now Commissioning Editor for Saqi’s newly formed Westbourne Press and won the Kim Scott Walwyn prize last year.

A huge part of the role is market research and finding out where your competition is; this might involve doing focus groups or spending a lot of time on the internet (and trying not to get too distracted). Author care is also hugely important, you need to be able to nurture relationships but also be quite firm and ensure that the author is delivering on time in order to get the book published on schedule which also relies on the expertise and backing of other departments.

When choosing a proposal to commission, there are several things to consider:

–          What does a good proposal look like?

–          Structural breakdown

–          Target market

–          Are there any competing titles out there?

You must also consider whether the author can actually write and communicate their ideas effectively and whether the book is going to be commercially viable for your target market.

It is important to remember that publishing is still a business, as a Commissioning Editor you must be both creative and commercially minded and remember that the market is changing all the time; for example with the advance of digital – whilst eBooks are important, they are still only a small percentage of the market; people are drawn to what stands out, if you can turn a book into a beautiful object, people will buy them.

It seems that the role of a Commissioning Editor is hugely varied; it is both creative and commercial as well as relying enormously on building relationships and doing your research. Sometimes there is an element of risk taking but this is backed up by your market knowledge and the support from the rest of your team, and the best thing is that it could just be the gamble that pays off…


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