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:

SUPPLIERS
Owners, investors Workforce State
Community
Media
Environment
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:

 

Morning

Afternoon

Mon

Checking and chasing Administration e.g contracts

Tues

Transmittals* Design and production

Wed

Sales Marketing

Thurs

Market research New product development

Fri

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.

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