Commissioning Editing

Session 1 – Introduction (01.10.15)

Prior to this session, I was ignorant to the fact that there was more than one kind of editing, so straight away I was learning. Led by Anthony Mason, the Senior Commissioning Editor for Manchester University Press, I discovered what was involved in each.
Commissioning editing involves the analysis of proposals and the signing up of books, as well as the consideration of the marketing benefits a book may make. Questions a commissioning editor may ask include: will this book make money? Will this book allow us to meet our target(s)? Looking at past trends also helps commissioning editors to assess the likelihood of profit on a book. In terms of academic publishing, peer reviews from other professionals in a certain area are used to determine the quality of the proposals content.
I discovered that even commissioning editing can be branched off into three categories:

*Proactive commissioning involves undertaking market research, and in academic publishing, academic callings to search for authors.
*Reactive commissioning is when someone has a proposal to present and the commissioning editor has not had to approach or find them.
*Collaborative commissioning combines both proactive and reactive. Arguably, this form is most beneficial and effective to work by due to the fact that you gain more authors, and hopefully, more money.

I feel that I could have contributed more to the group discussion in topics such as publishing cycles, and debate over author anonymity in peer reviews. This is something I will aim to work on for next weeks session: involvement in discussion.
Unexpectedly too, I got the chance to write and send a practice email to an author who had a complaint with their book not being on the shelves of their local Waterstone’s store. Working with a fellow peer, we formulated a response. We had a choice in how to approach the email; whether it be professional and sympathetic, aggressive, or tentative. The point of this was for us to see how the relationship with the author is critical in publishing. It also gave me the chance to comprehend the typical tasks a commissioning editor would likely do.
Overall, the first session was both enjoyable and informative. I definitely feel I have learnt a lot already about commissioning editing.

Session 2 – P&L (08.10.15)

Abbreviated for ‘Profit and Loss’, the P&L assesses the financial position of a proposal or existing book with a possible re-release, and plays a pivotal role within the work of a commissioning editor. As Jane Friedman states: ‘ the P&L is a publisher’s basic decision-making tool for determining whether a book makes financial sense to publish.’ (1) For example, in academic publishing, if a book has sold well in hardback, the publisher may well consider a re-publishing of that book in paperback so as to maximise profit – a re-release in paperback would reduce production costs compared to hardback, and more books can be sold. Often with academic publishing, specific subject cover which won’t sell many copies will likely be made into hardbacks, selling at a larger price to meet production costs.
P&L’s are documented using Microsoft Excel. Due to the necessity of such a document in professional practice, the P&L process is an area in which I will be expected to learn and understand; part of my assignment work will be to produce a basic, successful P&L sheet, ensuring that a book gets at least a 65% gross margin.
* Gross margin – profit based on money coming in minus costs going out.

The reason that it is suggested a minimum of a 65% margin is because there needs to be enough profit coming in from a proposal to make the project worthwhile. A book that won’t sell is a waste of money and resources if it was to be published. Below is a basic P&L spreadsheet. The page shown here is a ‘sales and royalties’ page next to the P&L; this sums up the profit/loss in a shorter space.


I feel that I have made a strong start to this work. During the session, I began practising using P&L spreadsheets by inserting a set of data into an empty spreadsheet, putting in figures which would be realistic for a prospective book. I am happy that I managed to get to 80% percent after my first attempt at using it. As a class, I think the majority of students found this introduction challenging, even overwhelming. Me included. However, by the end of the session, I felt a little bit more at ease so I will be optimistic tackling it in weeks to come.

Another term of interest and definitely worthwhile understanding is the R.E.F (Research Excellence Framework). This ensures academics publish four pieces of work every seven years in order to maintain their academic professor status.

I also gained insight into how to access authors and face up to competitors. Questions commissioning editors would ask are: ‘can this proposal sell well for the company?’, ‘Is this going to compete well against main publishing rivals?’, ‘Does this proposal make sense to publish – i.e does a competitor already have something similar published?’, and ‘what subject areas/genres are not being published by competitors and so pose an opportunity?’. All very insightful. Looking forward, I aim to keep asking myself these questions in preparation for my assignments.


  1. Jane Friedman. (2015). How Publishers Make Decisions About What to Publish: The Book P&L. [accessed 8 October 2015].

Session 3 – Guest speaker: Kevin Duffy (15.10.15)

Kevin Duffy, founder of Bluemoose, came in to talk about various areas of publishing in this session. He predominantly spoke about the editorial side of publishing within an independent publishing house, but he also discussed other areas such as contracts, marketing, and data services.
On several occassions, Duffy discussed the running of publishing companies. He voiced his opposition towards aristocrats being in charge, stating that 99% of commissioning editors are from Oxbridge, which is a hindrance to quality writers being published on account of the authors stories being ‘too working class’.
If literature is anything, it is finding new voices“, he said.
Duffy gave the example of the investments in Terry Wogan’s novel preventing new writers from being noticed. It is an example of publishers concentrating more on commercial matters rather than quality writing. Although he recognises that investments in new writers is risky, he nonetheless feels that it is unjust. Duffy makes it his business to read the opening three chapters of every submission to see if the story has potential. Bluemoose publish five to eight books every year.
Marketing was an aspect of publishing he made very clear is critical, especially for an independent. For Bluemoose, he said, WHSmith Travel outlets – in airports – is a great way to make money. Traveller’s will buy books on impulse, so it is a excellent way for publishers to make a profit on a book if they can get a shelf space at an airport. Exploiting these outlets does make sense.
I discovered that knowing when to publish a book is essential. Duffy talked about how, usually, books will be published and available for purchase in the latter half of the year as 42% of all books bought are purchased from the end of September to December. This is the biggest opportunity for a real commercial success for publishers and booksellers. He said that the editing process for a book begins twelve to eighteen months before publication, with reviewers given a solid two or three months to write a review. I found this very interesting.
Additionally, during production, I learnt that a book will undergo the Bibliographic Data Service (BDS) roughly four months before publication. This gives the book its unique ISBN, and its information will be passed to all UK and English speaking country libraries.
‘Discoverability’ has particular relevance for independents like Bluemoose because it is the prime focus for them to find new writers. Duffy explained that the best way to find such talent is not through book fairs any more – he described them as ‘rights fairs’ – but through literary festivals. He named ‘Wordpool’ in Blackpool as an example. This led on to Duffy talking about the importance of reading in general. He is a big supporter of libraries and believes this is how to get children from poorer backgrounds to start reading. He said, quite emphatically, that “if you can get children to read, it is a passport to life“. What a message!
Also, the pitching exercise  for a book  helped me to see what it would be like pitching books using AI Sheets (Additional Information Sheets). I feel I have learnt much from Duffy’s visit which will benefit me greatly.

Session 4 – List Management (22.10.15)

List management is the area of commission editing I learnt about in today’s session. A list is devised by editors for the purpose of publication. As well as maintaining strong relationships with the authors already on their list, they work with agents [in Fiction publishing], and scour newspapers, magazines and blogs to find the best new writers, often having to pitch against other publishers for acquisition. (Penguin Careers, p.6).
However, in academic publishing, list management is somewhat different. Most often, as Tony Mason explained, list management considers books already published; looking at sales, deciding whether you need to reprint, digitalise, or make new editions. Or pulp it – i.e – dispose of stock. In groups, we were given a list of such information for a few books and we aimed to choose the right course of action for the future of individual titles. Below is a picture of our decisions compared with Tony Mason’s. This was a proactive exercise for me as I was able to think logically about what the appropriate response would be.

Reprint report.png

A significant aspect of list management is the contract with the author. Deadlines of manuscripts from authors are important, but it is rare for academic authors to actually meet that deadline date. Why the delay? There are several reasons but the main reason is the busy nature of academics’ lives. For one, the financial gain is minimal – the average payment is £200 for writing a book, £40 to peer review, so there is often no motivation. Secondly, they have occupational tasks on hand which makes spare time to write or review proposals quite low down on their list of priorities. Keeping within the word count, getting permission to use photo’s and illustrations may take time too.
Backlist management was another area that was covered. Primarily, these are the books that prove to be big money makers for a publishing company. For example, at MUP, the book Beginning Theory is a consistent stream of revenue as it makes 5% of MUP’s yearly revenue alone each year. Such production of lists would most likely be done by the sales and marketing team to give to the commissioning editors. ‘Birthday books‘ also relate to backlists; this involves looking at a books life over a year to see how well it is selling, which is  a good indicator about its future.
This session has taught me a lot about the management of lists and makes me more confident going into the assignments. As for my own improvements from previous sessions, I did contribute to discussion so I am happy on that front. I aim to continue to develop my contribution now as well as research more around studied areas, which will progress me further.

Penguin Careers. [accessed 23 October 2015].

Session 5 – Market Research (05.11.15)

Tony Mason discussed how to approach market research successfully. For example, if a book has done particularly well it is often important for publishers to find out why, and who buys it, asking readers why they bought the book and for what purpose. This is known as development editing.

The best way to gather this information is through surveys and questionnaires – this is where the market research is carried out. There are two types of research: quantitative research, and qualitative research.
* Quantitative research focuses on coming up with numbers – for example, percentages of people buying a certain book.
* Qualitative research uses these figures to find out how people feel about books and what encourages them to spend money on them. Focus groups and open-ended questions are useful for this.
After discussing this, Tony got us to compose a survey online in groups via a free survey service such as Survey Monkey. My group worked together on a survey aimed at students in relation to enhanced e-textbooks. This is a digitalised version of textbooks with additional features such as videos, audio, and other interactive features. This created healthy debates within our group; for example, the issue of not being able to survey students under 16 without parental consent proved to be a barrier to our survey since it meant we could only aim our survey to undergraduate students and upper sixth-formers. Additionally, depending on the course studied, university students do not always use textbooks so the concept of an e-textbook would subsequently not affect those select students; we therefore realised that our target audience was reduced further still. However, we all contributed to the discussion well to make a decent survey. For example, I suggested changes to some drop-down box choices and to ask in what circumstance would the student use an enhanced e-textbook. Overall, I am pleased with my contribution to the group discussion.

Marketing Donut. Available at [accessed 6 November 2015].

Session 6 – Contracts (12.11.15)

This session centralised around contracts within academic and fiction publishing. The examples we followed were that of Manchester University Press (MUP) for academic publishing; Bluemoose for fiction. Interestingly, there were quite distinguishable differences between both forms of contracts, with Manchester University Press’ contract being much more extensive than that of Bluemoose’s. MUP set out their contract in clauses (sectioned off into categories), whereby Bluemoose’s was one list.
A significant difference is the rights the fiction author has compared to an academic writer; for example, whilst many of the legalities remain similar, TV/Film rights and such like mean the fiction author has much more entitlement, realistically, to such rights on the grounds that academic work will not likely get televised. The only exception to this rule would be academics writing for the general public market, known as crossover publishing (Dark, 2015). For example, authors such as Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking write for the general market in their specialized field of study, and make a living out of this from the royalties of book sales and TV coverage. But as a general rule, in fiction, more money is invested towards the book and there is more than just the author to give royalties to; so too does the literary agent.
It was new for me to learn about the legal side of publishing and I found it enjoyable.
Neither author or publisher has definite contractual control. It depends. There is a reliance of both publisher and author – and the agent in fiction – to work and maintain a symbiotic relationship. However, it is not uncommon for a rocky relationship to develop when dealing with contracts. For example, for both MUP and Bluemoose, it is expected that if they are to publish an author’s first book/publication that they have the right to see their next book before any other publishing house. And this can cause disagreements.
Advances may be paid in one go, on signature, but this is often in instalments. This is to stop authors running off with money given in advance. As Chris Holifield states, ‘an advance is literally an advance payment and royalties on sales of the book are set against it.’ (Holifield, 2013). Publishers tend to offer advances than royalty payments; this is most likely to affect academic writers as they often do not have a finished work and would have the incentive to receive money for writing it, especially if the Academic Press approached them.
In addition, we glossed over other areas of contract clauses such as subsidiary, the added on rights, and remaindering rights: books that aren’t sold and are sold on elsewhere for a vastly reduced cost. This terminology was great for me to familiarise myself with for the future.

Tom Dark. (2015) [talk during university visit]. 16 November 2015.

Chris Holifield. (2013). Advances & Royalties – Inside Publishing. [date accessed 19 November 2015].

Session 7 – Wrap up (19.11.15)

Today was the last session on commission editing taught by Tony Mason. As a recap, we discussed the REF, Open Access, and ‘Impact’ as well as the survey results from the surveys we released prior to this week to see what people thought about enhanced e-textbooks.
It was useful to go over all these things since it had been a while since certain topics had been explored, such as the REF, and I came out of the session feeling happy I had sufficient knowledge of commission editing.
A large proportion of all academics have a limited impact. The specialist area in which they write on is often read only by certain academics and students. Yet they still provide something to the argument of that topic, so surely the impact in the context of academia remains to be of high value? It stands to reason then that you can still have an impact even if there is a very low impact upon the general reader. It was an interesting debate.
The overall consensus regarding enhanced e-textbooks was that it would be a good idea, but people would still want to have a hard copy of the textbook too.
In all, I feel like I contributed well to the session – for example, I clarified for people what the REF stands for (Research Excellence Framework). I feel comfortable in all aspects of commission editing now, and aim to build on my knowledge.


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