Yesterday was the first lecture from Tony Mason with a general overview on the work of a commissioning editor. The position is broadly broken down into the following:
- List building
- Business development
In America he would be any acquisitions manager, which gives more of a clue as to the real work involved. Ton’y work at MUP is largely devoted to print books and the core business is found in academic monographs.
The process of getting a book from an idea to market is as follows:
- Proposal submission, usually an author with an idea
- Commissioning editor determines whether it is suitable for his publishing house
- Proposal (usually synopsis and chapter breakdown) goes to peer review
- If approved, a contract is drawn up with the author
- Full manuscript submitted
- Production work takes place, copy editing, typesetting, design and so forth
- Proof copies produced and (hopefully) approved
- Book is taken to market
Obviously the reality is more complex but these posts are required to be 200 words or so brevity is important. The above is reactive commissioning whereby the work comes to the commissioning editor, however he or she may also be proactive and seek out work from talented academics, or may ask an academic to develop and produce a monograph for the publishing house.
Commissioning relies on adaptability, the ability to work with a diverse range of people, departments and concerns. The editor is also responsible for managing the expectations of an author, many of whom will have ideas about their work that are either unrealistic or perhaps too ambitious. His or her or key external relationships will primarily be with the authors, bookshops and peer reviewers. Internally he or she may well end up working with more or less every department, such as production, sales and marketing, designers and more. The reason adaptability matters is that things almost never go to plan. Any agreement in good faith will still have issues and setbacks to cover as, to quote Tony : ‘real life happens’. The way to manage this is not to be punitive, say, becoming vindictive or difficult when deadlines are missed or work hits a hitch, rather one ought to be understanding, bearing and positive in endeavouring to find creative and intelligent solutions.
That being said, as Tony was keen to point out, the test of a good commissioning editor is the sales performance of the books he or she takes to the market.
Given that the aspects of publishing that excite and interest me the most are production and design I feel that this promises to be difficult, hard graft, but rewarding. As Noel Coward said: ‘work is more fun than fun’, and this is fun.