White Lies and Birthday Cake

Book Cake


OK, so I am lying about the birthday cake, but I will talk about birthday books in this post and more about what commissioning editors do.

In this lesson, I gained a better understanding about what is written in an author contract. Such details include how much royalty they will receive, rights, word count (<10%<), title, copyright information, etc. Fake deadlines might also be provided (little white lies). This is the best possible way of making sure the manuscript (MS) is handed in on time.

In academic publishing, when the MS comes in an academic is paid to read it and provide feedback. This is then sent to the author so they can make the necessary changes. If the report is negative, the MS will not be published which happens rarely.

In fiction publishing, the commissioning editor reads the MS to make sure chapters flow and they check if characters are believable, etc.

They both also make sure it adheres to company’s style guide, check page numbers, the quality of the pictures used and make sure the abstract for the meta-data is provided. Then, after all of the necessary changes are made, the cover is designed. The Commissioning Editor will then present a selection of books to the sales representative, who then presents selected one’s to the buyers in bookshops.


Lists need to be looked after once they have been created. Sometimes books need to be re-printed, a new, paperback edition or digital issue produced. You will know what to do by looking at your re-print report, which shows you when the book was first printed (it’s birthday!), how many it has sold each year, how many are in stock, what edition it is and whether it’s in paperback or not. This will also help save money on printing costs so you don’t need to pulp as many books, yay! We had to go through a report like this in class and decide what course of action to take on each book, everyone seemed to think it was easy enough to figure out. I just had to remember that figures might be low if the book has just come out, make sure to look at the dates and when the report was created. I also learnt that your backlist of books are the bestsellers, they sell each year. These look after your frontlist.

So, a typical commissioning editor’s day might include emailing authors, looking at birthday books sales, doing general list building/management. Sounds interesting to me 🙂


Do Consider Indie Publishers

Icon from Bluemoose Books

Icon from Bluemoose Books

Kevin Duffy, founder of Bluemoose Books joined us to today to talk about independent publishers. Most important thing I have learnt so far is that everyone is different. We all have different views and experiences; this is true even for the publishing industry.


Image source from The Guardian

Earlier on in the week, Matthew Connolly, self-publisher of Dancing with Daffodils came in to speak to us. Duffy and Connolly set off on similar paths, they were both writers with the aim of being published. Connolly, after being rejected from the big publishers, decided to self-publish. This wasn’t really an option for Duffy. Instead, he and his wife re-mortgaged the house and begun an independent publishers and it paid off. Since then they have published many accomplished authors who have gone on to win great awards such as Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers won Not the Booker Prize 2012.



Kevin also reminded me why I wanted a career in publishing to begin with. He said “if literature is about anything, it’s about finding new voices”.  Bluemoose Books read every manuscript that lands on their desk and then, during the editing process, they go through it line by line with the author and keep them involved every step of the way. The author also has a say on the jacket of the book, as after all, it does only take 0.2 seconds for a book to catch a reader’s eye.

Later, we were given a group task which involved creating meta-data (a book summary and key words) which is required by booksellers, including Amazon. We chose the Hunger Games and although I haven’t read it, I was familiar with the story so  I was able to help out. The meta- words we chose where: dystopia, revolution, heroine, totalitarian, romance, violence, but we were informed that ‘young adult’ should go first and the rest should follow, which seemed to make sense.

Lists Are Your Friend


Image by Little Red Press via Not on the High street

I like lists—holiday lists, shopping lists… but today we learnt about the importance of lists within a publishing company.

Kelvin Smith wrote: ‘No publisher would survive for long by publishing too many different types of book within one list or under one imprint. This is why several publishers have several lists (with different imprints) to publish books for different markets’ (2014).

The decision to make a new list is made by the senior management as they need to make sure they have the skills and resources for it and need to calculate if it is financially viable. This will then be managed by the commissioning editor.

Profit and Loss sheets (P&L sheet) are used P and Lto estimate the gross and net profit of a book. We had to fill one of these out today, but it baffled me a bit as I had not come across before, but after I spoke to Tony about the bits I didn’t understand, such as miscellaneous costs, it became clearer. We were informed that publishers usually expect up to a 65% gross profit margin before they will consider publishing a book, unless they are selling lots and lots!

Smith, Kelvin, (2014), The Publishing Business: From p-books to e-books,  Bloomsbury Publishing, 17 July 2014, p.92

Email Reply

We also received a reply from the author today, from our task last week:


Our response was probably not the best approach, especially considering the author’s reply. We also looked through some other responses from other people in the class and the best approaches explained that it is ‘standard protocol to release it in hardback first’, that we are ‘committed to producing this book in the best possible manner’.  ‘We have contacted the… Sales Representative, about enquiring about re-ordering more copies of his book to Waterstones’ and we hope that we have ‘alleviated [his] concerns’. This results in the author feeling reassured that the publisher cares about publishing his work and that we are trying your best to sell the book in his best interest.


Commissioning Editing- an overview


Image by Melody Miller

Today we were joined by Tony Mason, the Senior Editor of Manchester University Press. He told us a little bit about what a Commissioning Editor does. Before this, I only had a vague idea about what a general editor might do, so this was insightful. I found out that their role varies depending on the publishing house.

In Fiction Publishing: the editors usually read the opening chapters of a selection of books before deciding which one to take to the commissioning meeting (a place where members from different departments get together to discuss whether they should publish the book).

In Academic Publishing: the editors read the proposal of a manuscript or textbook, these are then anonymously peer reviewed before the editor’s take them to a meeting.

Tony explained how the Commissioning Editor is the point of contact for the agents and authors, even if they ring out of hours. It’s their job to direct them to the right team and uphold the publisher’s reputation. Following this, we were given a task to respond to an author’s email (in groups). We all had to provide different types of responses so that we could measure the reaction from the email we received. Tony chose our group to write an nonchalant reply, which made things a bit more difficult as we had never written to an author before, let alone in a particular tone.

The brief:

Our Reply

Our reply:

email 1

We will analyse his reply next week…