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Commissioning editor

In the US often known as an acquisitions editor. A person who acquires the titles making up a publisher’s list, by active commissioning of new projects and/or selecting from among the book projects submitted by authors. This key person in a publishing house may also take on the role as publisher.

Contrary to popular belief, commissioning editors do not spend their days in soft chairs surrounded by big piles of manuscripts. Indeed, they rarely read entire manuscripts submitted for publication, relying instead on advice received from peer reviewers. Nor do they spend their evenings in cosy restaurants chatting up prospective authors, not least because money is tight these days and the good presses receive far too many book proposals anyway.

The work of a commissioning editor can involve a certain amount of travel and hustling for authors, hence why some people find the job glamorous – and why editorial assistants left behind at the office put up with so much drudgery in the hope of promotion to this job (nor are these hopeless dreams given the burn-out rate for commissioning editors).

Attending academic conferences and calling in on different university departments is part of the job. It is also the commissioning editor to whom authors offer material, and it is she alone who assesses both solicited and unsolicited book proposals and manuscripts to decide whether to take a book project further through the formal review process to potential acceptance for publication.

When a proposal is accepted, usually it is the commissioning editor who negotiates the author contract, provides advice during the writing process, discusses any changes that are necessary either as a result of the peer reviewers’ recommendations or for financial reasons, and ensures that the final text when submitted lives up to the standard that has been agreed (or delegates such unpleasant work to another – more about that in my post on the Style Nazi).

After final submission, the editor often remains active as the author’s go-between in relation to all the other staff at the publishing house. She also plays a starring role at the book launch.

Note my use of ‘she’ throughout. The vast majority of editors (commissioning and otherwise) are women, and paid badly as a consequence.

This definition is extracted (and expanded on) from the book Getting Published: A Companion for the Humanities and Social Sciences by Gerald Jackson and Marie Lenstrup. It was first referred to in the blog Getting Published in a post on different editorial staff.

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