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A day in the life of a commissioning editor

When I was looking to get into publishing, I had only a very fuzzy notion of what you actually did when you were ‘in publishing’, let alone what more specific roles such as commissioning editors did every day. Now I know it’s mostly email – no, just kidding. There’s a fair bit of attending meetings, too! Here’s an account of a typical day.

My desk
My battle station

Arrive at work. Stop listening to an episode of Criminal just when the mystery was unraveling! Argh. Say good morning to colleagues who sit around me: one non-fiction editorial director and an editorial assistant and assistant editor for fiction.

Check email. I know, I know, there are those who say you shouldn’t do it first thing, but I find I’m too curious about what might be in there. Find a summary of upcoming literary prizes and awards and spot one that one of my authors would be eligible for. Email him to ask if he would be up for being nominated seeing as the winner must commit to doing some events.

Emails sent: 1

My trusty Filofax

Check what meetings I have coming up today. Wednesday tends to be Meetings Day at Little, Brown, but today there are only two. I’m free until noon. Spend some time clearing out emails that I’m copied into but have nothing to do with me, and reading newsletters.

Read an email from the US publisher of one of my books. Many of the books on the business and personal development list originate in the US, and we acquire the rights to publish them in the UK and the Commonwealth (Australia, India, South Africa…). Often we offset from their files, which means we print the books using the US edition’s text because it’s cheaper. That’s the case with this book, too, but the author had told me that there were some corrections he wanted to make. I have contacted the US publisher to ask them to send the corrected files when they come. The email I’m reading says they will. Forward that to the production person who I think is in charge of reprints, but I’m wrong. After a year at L,B, I still sometimes get things wrong… Make a note in Evernote: this person only does cover corrections.

Remember that this week marks one month before the publication of one of our April books. Email the book’s marketer and publicist to ask for plans that I can send to the author.

Hear from another US publisher of a June book. They have typeset the book and sent the pdf to me. This is the first time I’m seeing what the insides of the book will look like, though I’ve read the manuscript a few months ago. Print the whole thing out so I can mark changes. Forward to production, marketing, publicity and the lawyer who will read it to make sure there’s no reason for anyone to sue us!

Email yet another US publisher to find out what the status is of a book publishing in May. This is a book I’m desk-editing for someone else – so taking care of the production aspects of it. If this was a UK-originated book then I would also organise the copyediting, proofreading and indexing of it, but as it’s not, I will just get ready-to-print files from the US.

Look through my ‘Waiting for’ list and chase a few things: an author for cover approval, a picture researcher about a hi-res image we’re trying to find.

Emails sent: 19

Get a request to send details of one of our author’s Indian family connections to Hachette India, who are publishing his book in India. Email the author to make sure I’ve got the facts correct.

Get another email from a US author about corrections to his book. Forward that to the right production person.

Arrange meetings for London Book Fair which is in mid-April. I’m trying to meet as many US publishers and agents as I can, but I was late to start emailing (beginning of February), so I’m still filling up my schedule. Bag two new meetings – one with UK agent and one with a Finnish publisher.

Put together cover copy for a book publishing in June. A colleague of mine already wrote some for a run of proofs that we did, so it’s an easy job of adapting that. Send it to the commissioning editor to approve (it’s another book I’m desk-editing).

Emails sent: 31

Go to the weekly acquisitions meeting. This is a meeting where commissioning editors present book proposals to the rest of the company – sales, marketing, publicity, rights, finance and legal. They talk through what the book is about and why it would be a good thing for L,B to publish. The other departments give their view and sales say how many copies they would expect to sell in different territories. Then someone from finance will run the numbers and say roughly how much we could afford to pay (as in, what advance we could offer for it).

Meeting room
Where book proposals come to die

This time there are two commercial romance novels being presented, as well as one memoir and one popular psychology book. They all get the green light. There’s nothing for me to do in this meeting except chime in with opinions, which on this occasions I haven’t got.

Lastly we go through the minutes from last time and editors report on which books were successfully acquired. Quite often they just say ‘stet’, meaning there’s no news.

Emails sent: 34

Lunch! Head upstairs to Hachette’s in-house cafeteria, 6th Story. I didn’t get a photo at the time so this one is borrowed from 6th Story’s Twitter feed. Read a friend’s book manuscript as I eat. It’s pretty good.

6th Story
Some of 6th Story’s lunch options

The other half of my lunch hour I spend catching up on personal emails and SYP stuff.

The picture researcher I chased earlier has come back with news about the image. She has found a hi-res version of it but it’s not free to use. We talk about how much it will cost and whether it’s really necessary to get.

Discuss an upcoming audio book with the audio editor. Because of presentation schedules with Audible, an audio book I have just acquired will wait until the end of July to come out. This is the side of publishing that authors typically get frustrated with – and I don’t blame them!

Look through the (at this time of year fairly short) list of proposals and manuscripts I’m reading. I realise one author has waited for a while for a reply. I still haven’t finished reading, however, but I email him to say sorry, and that I will get to it ASAP.

Go to the Editorial Progress, or Ed Prog, meeting. This is sometimes known as a WIP meeting, and it’s where editors come to be hung, drawn and quartered by the production department for failing to stick to schedules and budgets. Or maybe it’s just me. This time I’m pretty well in the clear as everything is more or less on track. Most US-originated projects are coming in later than we would like, but that’s normal.

Critical path
The narrow path

Do battle with my computer. It says no; I say yes!

Find out from sales colleague about a prospective new title. This is actually an older book but the same author’s latest title is doing really well, so it might be an idea to re-publish this one. Do some research into it.

Emails sent: 43

Edit an article that an author has sent for our website, The Improvement Zone. It’s a fun one about personality types (who doesn’t love to analyse themselves?) but it’s a bit too long. Cut and send to author to look over. Find a suitable image on a stock images website, and load the post into WordPress. This is a fiddly process to get right – metadata, ISBNs, etc – but still one of the more enjoyable marketing activities I know! You can see the finished post here.

Emails sent: 48

Attend to the most thorny issue of the day in another violation of good time management theory (see Eat That Frog). I have commissioned a US-originated book whose US cover is unsuitable to our market, so we have to come up with a new one. The author is attached to the US cover, which often happens and is never easy to solve. Talk to our cover designer and try to come up with a way forward that is fair to all. This is one of a few jobs I have where I’m the middle man trying to reconcile multiple parties to a cover, a title, a plan… Such jobs are nobody’s favourites, but it is nice when you manage it. There usually is a solution that everyone can get behind and getting to that point is only a matter on being patient and looking at things from different perspectives. Email colleagues in sales and marketing with images of alternative cover designs and solicit feedback.

Emails sent: 57

Start packing up for the day. Send final email at 17.43 about arranging a delivery of advance copies to an author in the US. Total number of email sent today: 60.

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