In essence, a commissioning editor is a buyer. In the book industry, the commissioning editor looks for books and other related materials to publish. The editor does this by scouting for talent and reviewing book proposals and manuscripts submitted by the authors themselves.
In magazines, the commissioning editors are in charge of finding writers to write specific articles. This position is more associated with book publishing, however. Due to cost cutting measures, the role of the commissioning editor is now usually rolled up into the duties of editors in general.
A commissioning editor develops the product list of a publishing house. They attend book fairs to look for manuscripts that are publishable and attend conferences. The goal here is to build a marketable list of titles that will be of interest to certain critics and certain demographics of the reading public.
The job is, therefore, a balance between critical evaluation and market research into the trends and tastes of bookworms of all types.
Salary & benefits
Entry level employees earn around £20,000 a year, while qualified editors earn more than £25,000 a year. Senior editors can earn more than £40,000 a year. These do not include benefits, which can be quite plentiful for successful editors.
Success can be determined by the market success of a book or product brought in by an editor. Moreover, as a commissioning editor you will never have to buy another book in your life!
The job usually entails overtime, although there is no need for weekend and holiday work (except when there are book fairs and conferences to attend). Although the job is largely office-based, book fairs offer opportunities for ‘working holidays’ in the cultural capitals of the world.
Although this sounds like bookish chit chat over champagne in exotic locations (and to a large extent, it is), such events are the focal points of the calendar and require a lot of work and organisation. It’s still a great perk if you love the job, as are the tonnes of books that you will inevitably be swamped with throughout the year.
Commissioning editors work closely with the finance department of a company to ensure that the writers and materials brought into the company are compensated within the budget. Editors also work with the marketing and layout departments after the material has been approved for printing.
There’s no standard requirement here. Editors, in general, are expected to be well versed in publishing, sales, and some basic law concepts (mainly in contracts and rights).
However, niche or special interest publishers may look for specific credentials from their editors. Needless to say, a publishing-related degree would be extremely useful. Above all, however, a commissioning editor should be a voracious reader with a critical eye and an understanding of market forces.
Internships, usually unpaid, in publishing houses tend to be a prerequisite for jobs. The good news though is that these internships do ‘pay off’, both in terms of employment and in terms of practical skills acquired and contacts made.
Training & progression
Commissioning editor is actually a mid-level position. New graduates who aspire for this position start as editorial assistants and work directly under commissioning editors.
In magazine publishing, experienced journalists and editorial assistants can be promoted to the position of commissioning editor.
Commissioning editors can eventually be promoted to head editors in publishing companies. Similarly, in magazines commissioning editors can be promoted to higher editing positions.
There are short training courses - usually involving aspects of web publishing, marketing, and copyright - facilitated by organizations such as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders as well as other publishing-related groups.