Texts on publishing (V): book commissioning

Book Commissioning and Acquisition, by Gill Davies, was first published in 1995. The second edition appeared in 2004. It has become established as the standard text for commissioning editors.

Ten years ago, I would have recommended this book unequivocally. Indeed, over the years I bought a number of copies for newly appointed editors. I feel more equivocal about it now. It was composed in a different era and, though much of the advice still applies – for all the changes in the landscape, publishing has not been wholly transformed – it feels dated now. Someone needs to write a fresh work. But for the time being this book remains the best on the subject.

Book Commissioning and Acquisition is a wise book, rooted in experience. It examines, in an organised way, each of the main tasks and processes involved in commissioning  and provides sharp insights into how to go about them.  The book is good both on how to commission and publish individual books and on how to develop a list as a whole. It provides useful sets of guidelines – for example, on assessing readership.

For me the most valuable parts of the book – the parts that made me decide to present copies to rookie editors – were those that tell the reader what not to do. This is both a how-to and how-not-to book. The passages on (a) ‘Factors that can lead to bad decisions’ (in the chapter, ‘How to choose what to publish’) and (b) ‘Common Areas of Misjudgment’ (in the chapter, ‘Committing Projects’ should be required reading for anyone in this line of work.

This book and the one I reviewed in the previous post – Publishing without Boundaries – provide between them a good deal of guidance on the business of, one way or another, acquiring content. Unfortunately, the industry doesn’t yet seem to have produced such good resources on how to sell the content once you’ve got it.


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