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Joanne - commissioning editor
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Name: Joanne
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: Publishing
Year of graduation: 2002
Date of Interview: 18/06/2008

Now Playing: Joanne - commissioning editor
Joanne describes her current role as a commissioning editor for an academic press and goes into detail about her work environment and culture and what a typical day might involve.

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What is your current position? 

I am commissioning editor for sociology, criminology and psychology at Palgrave Macmillan publishers.

And how long have you been working in that role?

Two and a half years.

And how long have you been within that organisation?

Two and a half years.

And can you tell me some detail, what your job involves?

I am a commissioning editor so that means I have to, I commission mainly research monographs and upper level texts so it's not undergraduate books and so it involves bringing in projects to the company. I have a target that I have to make in terms, monetary target, I have to get to so I have to bring in a certain amount of books a year and it also means I have to deliver the forward program. So that's making sure we publish a certain amount of books during the year so those are the kind of two ends of it. I manage an editorial assistant who works with me on the list so in terms of commissioning it, it involves going to lots of conferences, going academic calling, you know, making sure I know what are the kind of key interesting developing areas in the subjects, researching new areas we can get into and researching new projects, researching bigger referencey style books or book series that we might do. So then, so as well as scheduling the strategy, the future of the list, how to sort of make it grow and make it, you know, competitively strong in comparison with other presses so people come to us rather than go elsewhere.

And what might a typical day involve?

What's a typical day? (laughter) It's, errrr, it's not really a typical day, there's always so much going on in publishing, there's never a typical day but, so, try to keep on top of your emails, making sure my assistant's forwarding any emails she can be looking after, maybe having a meeting about, an editorial meeting about any big projects we take to a big meeting and we discuss those, dealing with any production issues so once the book's have gone into production, any problems arising there. So say you're dealing with, chasing people for books that they've told you about so doing follow-up emails, making sure they're not going to take the project to someone else, keeping, making sure authors are happy, thinking about, sending things out for review, to get feedback, external feedback on projects, setting up meetings for when I'm [away]. I'm doing that at the moment, I'm going to a conference next week so I'm setting up my meetings and making travel arrangements so it ranges from doing, you know, really mundane, kind of admin which I still have to do even though I've got an assistant you'd probably still have to get involved in some of that to thinking for the next, for my three year plan, you know. So it's, there's loads and loads of elements that you're constantly trying to juggle, it's, it's frantic all the time really.

How many books might you be juggling at any one time?

I've got to publish about 70 for next year and I'd say my, I'm commissioning something like, probably got to look at commissioning between 90 and 100 before the end of the year. So yeah it's a lot of, there's a lot of books and then you're still looking at, you know, any, you're still looking at making sure your, that the books on your backlist are still doing ok, if there's any more you can do for them or and you're still looking after your backlist and making sure that, looking at where you can do new editions or umm you know, reissue stuff and making sure you've still got enough stock there. So you know, you're not always looking forward to the next year or what you're commissioning, you've still got your backlist which, in my case goes back thirty years or more really, to make sure that's sort of still working ok.

And do you have to stay in close contact with authors that are producing books and manuscripts for you?

Yes, yeah. So book parts – so anything new coming in I suppose, mainly day to day would be dealt with by my assistant. So anything I've commissioned she, the idea would be that she sort of takes that over and she, you know, chases them for manuscripts coming in and deals with their problems. But a lot of that is collaborative so when we're looking at cover designs we'll, you know, talk about that together or you know, there'll often be contract issues which we you know, she can't necessarily deal with on her own, we need to talk about umm. And then I'm, I would be dealing with, umm, my series editors and making sure they're in the loop for any projects we were discussing for certain series, or you know negotiating with people that I want to commission with about contract issues or how long you know, how, when are they going to deliver the book or you know myriads of issues that they might have before we would sign something up. So yeah, absolutely I'm talking with the authors all the time, on the phone, when I go and meet them at conferences, you know, that's, I think it's when you're an editorial assistant you're very focussed in the company and when you're a commissioning editor you're much more focused on what's going on outside in a way. Your connections are kind of, you know you're much more connected with those external people – that's the authors –in a different way.

And where do you fit in the company structure?

So we have a scholarly and err reference department which is in the college department who do all the undergraduate books so I've got, there's someone doing sociology and criminology in college, undergraduate textbooks and then I'm in the social sciences team. So there's me, the sociology editor and two politics editors at the moment and my boss is the, errm, associate director for the division and for the social sciences team. So then there's a humanities team and then we've got a boss overseeing the whole scholarly and reference division.

How autonomous are you?

Pretty autonomous I would say. I have a meeting with my boss once a week to talk about projects that I'm developing or particular issues but it's pretty, I manage my own time. I get to work at home a bit, you know, I'm often out, academic calling or going to conferences so yeah it's pretty autonomous. So you're, sort of, people are monitoring your, you know, how you're doing in terms of the handovers, delivering, making sure you're publishing enough for the year or how many titles you commission and people are looking at those figures so you might have someone come in and say to you, this doesn't look too good, how are we going to turn this around, but yeah, I pretty much would structure my own day and time and week.

So ultimately a book could be published that you've given the ok to…?

Oh, no. I mean, everything I sign up, I either take to an editorial meeting or I would discuss with my line manager. So yeah, no, I wouldn't sign anything up without it being discussed, but in terms of how my working week works that's pretty much down to me.

And what is the work culture like?

It's really, it's very relaxed, you know, whenever I've worked in publishing it's a very laid back sort of culture. You know, there's no particular dress code in the office, if you're meeting someone obviously you'd but it's not really, you wouldn't necessarily go and wear a suit, you wouldn't really wear a suit in the office. People often wear jeans, it's very relaxed and it's nice. I mean, we're going on a summer day out this week (laughter) so that's something we do every year, we have a division summer day out and you know, always lot of biscuits and cake going around, you know. It's quite a fun, everyone's quite young usually and it's a nice kind of laid back, it's not particularly, in my company it's not particularly competitive. Some companies, the editorial meetings can be very kind of ferocious and viscous and you know you really have to fight your corner for your project but where I work is much more, it's quite supportive and friendly and people are keen to encourage.

So what happens in editorial meetings?

You'll take the sort of the bigger projects – so like a series or a really big book or someone with a really big name. So you'll have the proposal they've sent in, the reviews, then I'll do a kind of overview of the project with the costings, say how much money the books going to make, you know and say, I'll typically give three reasons why we should be doing this book and then comparing it with other books we've done, similar titles and how they've sold. And those will be circulated and the way, I mean, it varies from company to company but we have meetings are more in a way of a discussion, you know, is this, you know, 'why should we be doing this?' But not particularly in a threatening way, just 'what's good about this, what's it going to bring' and my list is something that's kind of quite a new growing list so you know the projects I bring in are often to do with raising the profile or growing in certain directions. And then people will be looking at the costings and you know, 'how shall we price it?' and they'll be concerned with issues like that or people will be saying 'well, I'm doing something in this area you should make sure you market it in a certain way', or 'you can also market it alongside my books because I'm doing something here'. And then we'll look at issues such as the title or, you know, when we should be releasing it or how we should publish it. So whether we should be doing it in hardback only or paperback as well or those kind of things.

Are you sending an awful lot of your time reading manuscripts?

No (laughter). No. Not at all. I wouldn't have time. I absolutely wouldn't have time to read manuscripts. I'm reading, I read proposals and I look through manuscripts when they come in to check them but that's why you would have reviewers, that's why you use external peer review a lot of the time for us, it's to do that work for us. I mean, I think if you're working in undergraduate textbooks you're much more involved with it. My counterpart in the college division, you know, reads her books and she's always slightly shocked that I don't, but you know I have to publish seventy books a year and commission a hundred, there's no way I've got time and these are you know, I don't see that as my role, these are high-level research monographs. I don't see it as, I'm not a sociologist or a criminologist, I'm not going to be able to comment on the academic credentials of the work am I? My authors wouldn't expect it and I think it would be massively presumptuous so I don't see that as my role at all. That's for external advisors to tell me if it's kind of a problem but you wouldn't, if someone was telling you at the proposal stage that a book was academically dubious you just wouldn't sign it up so at that stage you're checking for quality but not the kind of publishing I do which is research monographs.

Do you also have to network with reviewers to find new reviewers to work with?

Umm, yeah, yeah, when I'm going out academic calling I'm, or going to conferences, yeah, you're always looking at people who you think would be good to review and yeah. So umm, or you know trying to build up a kind of group of errm people who you can call on to do reviews, I mean it's kind of again, when you work in textbooks I think you can much more have a group of people you can call upon because you're dealing with much broader subject areas. You know you're doing introduction to sociology so you know, you can, you know, you can have a much more defined group of people that you can call on. Whereas in monographs you might be dealing with something specific so you need to find an expert who'll be able to comment intelligently. But yeah, absolutely, I'll keep, we keep, I've got a list of people I've met and that we might use.

Could you describe the physical environment you work in?

What the building?

And, is it, open plan or?

No, where I work I have my own office but my assistant works out in the open plan area so yeah all the editors have offices and then the assistants are sort of in a more general area. 

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