What does a publisher do? Source, procure, and commission (II)

What does a publisher do? is a series of posts designed to answer that question, interpreted not in the sense of “What functions does a publisher seek to fulfil?” but rather “What operations does a publisher (well, this publisher at any rate) perform?” This is the seventeenth post in the series.

The second post (‘What does a publisher do? Manage stakeholders’) in this series set out a framework for subsequent posts – a framework based on the types of stakeholders a publisher needs to work with. Today’s post outlines the work of the commissioning editor – the person who most interacts with one specific kind of supplier, namely authors. So:

Owners, investors Workforce State
Clients, customers

My first job in publishing was as a commissioning editor. When I arrived for my first day at work, I had only the haziest idea of what I would actually be spending my time doing. Since I knew commissioning editors commissioned authors to write books, I vaguely imagine I’d be spending most of my time doing that.

I soon learnt it wasn’t quite like that. Yes, I certainly needed to allocate time to that task. But in fact commissioning directly accounted for only a modest proportion of my time. The greater part of my time needed to be devoted to interfacing with the rest of the company.

I devised a system for allocating the time in my working week to ensure that all bases were covered. It was designed to ensure that every week I visited each major zone of my job, so that nothing could be left to linger week after week unactioned.

I had noticed early on that there was a temptation amongst commissioning editors to devote time to the parts of the job they most enjoyed – typically the creative parts – and neglect some of the more mundane parts – and I also noticed the frustration amongst colleagues in other departments that this could cause. 

The plan for my working week looked like this:





Checking and chasing Administration e.g contracts


Transmittals* Design and production


Sales Marketing


Market research New product development


Commissioning Publishing meeting

I had an analogy in mind, one based loosely on a talk I had heard years before by a Benedictine monk. He was talking about how he managed the various parts of his life. He likened his method to someone preparing a meal using several hobs at the same time. His method was to check each saucepan in turn, while leaving the others simmering on low heat. 

My week’s work was a ten-hob cooker. Subsequent posts will describe each of the above saucepans. 

* ‘Transmittals’ involved passing typescripts, with accompanying metadata, to production.


Please add your response

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: