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Book publishing commissioning: graduate area of work

Commissioning editors are responsible for managing a publishers' book list and signing agreements for new books/publications.

Commissioning editors (sometimes also called acquisitions editors) play a crucial role in book publishing and are responsible for managing areas of specialism, called 'lists'. Each commissioning editor will be responsible for a list that covers a particular area - perhaps a subject, such as history or children's fiction, or a particular type of book, such as reference works.

Responsibilities of the job include:

  • negotiating agreements and contracts with literary agents and authors
  • planning, organising and monitoring the progress of projects
  • undertaking market research and investigating market trends
  • reading, evaluating and commissioning titles
  • liaison with authors, literary agents, marketing and production staff including designers and printers
  • supervising the work of editorial staff
  • attending book fairs
  • writing reports.

The majority of commissioning editors begin their careers as junior editorial assistants, progressing through the editorial ranks once relevant skills and experience have been gained. They are employed by commercial book publishers and professional/academic publishers; freelance work may be available to editors with substantial experience.

What's required

Although a large number of editors are English graduates, any degree discipline is acceptable for entry into the profession. An MA in publishing, specialist knowledge or a scientific or languages background may be required for some opportunities. Several years of publishing, copy-writing, editing, journalism or media sales pre-entry experience are essential.

Employers seek enthusiastic candidates who are adaptable, able to work well under pressure and capable of meeting deadlines. Good IT, administrative, interpersonal, verbal and written communication skills are also important.

Where to find out more

Most editorial opportunities arise in London and the south east, or with academic publishers in major towns and cities (Oxford, Cambridge etc.). Many jobs receive little advertising; those that are advertised attract intense competition, so networking, job shadowing and speculative applications are essential – part-time and temporary jobs can often lead to permanent work.

A tiny number of publishing companies offer structured graduate entry schemes. Vacancies are advertised in newspapers and publications such as The Bookseller, Campaign, Print Week, The Publisher and Publishers Weekly. Recruitment agencies also advertise opportunities.