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Commissioning editors are responsible for managing publishers’ book lists and signing agreements for new publications.

Specialist knowledge or a science/languages background may be required for some opportunities.

What does a commissioning editor do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

The majority of commissioning editors begin their careers as editorial assistants, progressing through the ranks once they’ve gained relevant skills and experience.

Commissioning editors are employed by commercial book publishers and professional/academic publishers. Freelance work may be an option for editors with substantial experience.

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/investigating market trends
  • reading, evaluating and commissioning titles
  • liaising with authors, literary agents, marketing and production staff including designers and printers
  • supervising the work of editorial staff
  • attending book fairs
  • writing reports.

Budgetary constraints, tight deadlines and long hours can make the work stressful at times.

Typical employers of commissioning editors

Commissioning editors are typically employed by publishing houses and academic publishers. Many jobs receive little advertising and, as a result, those that are advertised attract intense competition. Networking, job shadowing and speculative applications are essential. Part-time and temporary jobs can often lead to permanent work.

Vacancies are advertised in websites and publications such as The Bookseller and Print Week. Recruitment agencies also advertise opportunities.

Qualifications and training required

Although you don’t technically need a degree to become a commissioning editor, it will be helpful in your application and career path; entry into the profession without a degree is unusual.

A large number of editors are English graduates but any degree discipline is acceptable for entry into the profession. An MA in publishing, specialist knowledge or a science/languages background may be required or an advantage for some opportunities. Read our article on the benefits of postgraduate publishing courses (such as industry knowledge, work experience and networking opportunities) and how you can acquire these elsewhere if you decide not to pursue a publishing masters.

Several years of publishing, copywriting, editing, journalism or media sales pre-entry experience are essential.

To find out how to get into a career in this area via a school leaver route, visit the media section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for commissioning editors

  • Enthusiasm
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to work well under pressure
  • Capable of meeting deadlines
  • IT skills
  • Administrative skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills

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