Want to be a key part of the publishing process, but unsure of the career journey? Or are you an aspiring author trying to get your head around the author-editor working relationship?
Here, our editorial teams answer all your questions, with insights on their day-to-day work, responsibilities, and what skills they think are needed.
The editorial team commission, edit and oversee every book we release – think of them as the project manager of each title.
Working closely with authors, agents, managing editorial, rights, design and sales, the editorial team are potentially the most prominent collaborators in publishing. Experts in creating and curating award-winning literature and bestsellers, they present us with the best writing talent and seek out the next household names.
During the publishing process, editorial will commission an author via their agent (or unagented with a lot of non-fiction), then work with that author to create the very best version of their book. They will project manage the release of the book, being the go-to person to have discussions with, from the design of the cover all the way through to which shops the book will be sold in. Throughout all of this, they need to keep a great relationship with the author and their agent, making sure they feel supported through the publishing process, which often takes around a year – bear in mind they'll be working on more than one book at a time, which means multiple authors!
Editorial roles, job titles and terminology can vary depending on which publishing house you work in, and if you work on fiction or non-fiction, but the skills needed are the same.
If you fancy a job in editorial you’ll need to be:
- an excellent communicator and collaborator
- great at multitasking
- a big, ambitious thinker
An editorial assistant has a broad and busy role. As the general assistant for the team, day-to-day tasks include general admin, organising and minuting meetings etc. On the editorial side, tasks include reading submissions, meeting with agents and seeking out new talent. The great thing about editorial is that we liaise with all the different departments – marketing, sales, design etc. – depending on the stage of the process our books are in.
The role requires strong admin and communication skills but above all a willingness to learn.
- Afua Antwi, Editorial Assistant at Penguin Random House Children's
I support editors through the management of the book production schedule. It varies on a daily basis but often includes preparing material for acquisitions, drafting information for our retailers and internal communications, writing copy, briefing designers, sorting rights for image permissions and dealing with any issues an author has as the first line of contact.
I also make sure the book goes to print on time and sort corrections and different stages of proof production and edits. I work with the art team on a regular basis whilst they come up with visuals for our briefs, as well as editors, as I support a few of them on their books. I also work with production when managing schedules, marketing with book updates with and communications when sorting assets for authors or discussing campaign strategies. Lastly, I work with the sales team when fixing non-trade requests, stocking issues, and reissues.
An assistant editor needs an eye for detail, is good at multitasking, and is a great communicator as you work with so many people. The next role progression-wise would be editor or commissioning editor.
- Danai Denga, Assistant Editor at Ebury
As an editor, you’ll have a direct relationship with authors and begin to take the lead on some books, guiding authors through their structural and line edits to bring a manuscript to completion, as well as thinking through the finer details of a book’s package, including covers, copy and any extra material. It’s your responsibility to make sure everything is running to schedule and nothing is missed out, so a keen eye for detail is a must.
At this point in your career, you’ll also have the opportunity to begin scoping out books to acquire on your own. It’s time to flex your networking skills and begin having coffees and lunches with agents, as well as scoping out new writing talent in the writing and media world – if you wish to move to an acquiring role, these connections will be crucial.
There are a couple of directions your career can progress from the editor position. If you wish to build your own list of books and authors then commissioning editor will be your next step. However, you may discover you prefer to assist with books that are already acquired, keeping your focus on editing texts and making sure books are progressing smoothly rather than commissioning, in which case desk editing (also called managing editing) could be right for you.
- Ruth Atkins, Editor at Penguin Michael Joseph
As an editor working on illustrated books, I have a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities. These range from drafting back cover copy to working with an author on the structure and design of a book.
I work on full-colour, illustrated books so spend a lot of time in InDesign, drafting flat plans or editing the layout of a page. I work closely with designers, freelance editors, production, marketing and publicity teams.
My role requires a range of skills, but it is important to have good project management skills and an ability to multitask. It is also vital to be a good communicator in order to work with authors and various teams across the business.
- Millie Andrew, Editor at Penguin Press
One of the main elements of my role is managing the editorial process of books (that either I or someone else has acquired), from manuscript to publication.
This involves creating a package that is right for the market and ensuring that the content is to a high standard. I liaise with many people at the same time when managing each project to make sure deadlines are met, for example, external freelancers, designers, the legal team, production, sales, rights etc.
Being able to communicate effectively is a really important skill to have, as well as a keen eye for detail, being organised and flexible to things changing. Another part of my role is bringing forward and developing ideas, as well as acquiring my own books. The next role up from mine is to focus more on the commissioning side.
- Michelle Warner, Editor at Ebury
A commissioning editor is responsible for a select list of authors, as well as for bringing new writers to an imprint or publishing house. This involves steering and championing projects through each stage of the editorial process, from acquisition to publication and beyond. It’s a really varied role, ranging from reading submissions, meeting agents, negotiating new deals and editing manuscripts, through to briefing cover art, writing copy, attending meetings and liaising with project teams to keep each publication on track.
Throughout a book’s journey to publication, you will work closely with the copy editorial (also called managing editorial), production, design, marketing, publicity and sales teams, all while keeping the author and agent updated. Organisation, time management and confident communications are key skills, as is the ability to think both commercially and creatively about the wider market. In terms of progression, your next role might be senior commissioning editor, where you might have additional strategic or line-management responsibilities.
- Imogen Nelson, Commissioning Editor at Transworld
Senior Commissioning Editor
My role in a nutshell as a senior commissioning editor at Penguin General is to assess, acquire and profitably publish an agreed number of non-fiction books within my subject areas of sport, comedy, music and popular culture each year, meeting agreed revenue and profitability targets.
I’m responsible for developing a coherent publishing programme for part of Viking (an imprint of Penguin General), non-fiction fiction list which entails: monitoring market trends and competitor activity; developing and maintaining a network of external contacts such as literary agents; establishing contact with authors, agents and brands to discuss publishing proposals and identifying and proposing acquisitions or diversification to enhance the list.
- Shyam Kumar, Senior Commissioning Editor at Penguin General
As a senior editor with a focus on illustrated books, my role involves working with authors, agents, freelancers such as photographers, picture researchers and book designers as well as copy editorial (also called managing editorial) and production colleagues to produce books on budget and on schedule. I then promote the books internally to sales, publicity and marketing to equip them with what they need to successfully bring the book to market.
Key skills include planning, organising, budgeting and editing as well as knowing Indesign. With non-illustrated books, those same skills apply, without the need to know how to use Indesign. In addition to creating illustrated books, I also commission books by approaching potential authors who I think could write a commercially successful book, as well as reviewing agent submissions for the same.
The progression for a senior editor is to editorial director.
- Steph Duncan, Senior Editor at Transworld
An editorial director is a key senior member of the editorial team, responsible for managing a list of brands, authors and titles, assisting with managing the team and buying new titles for the list.
I work closely with authors, agents, estates and other partners, acquire for the list, and help to develop and implement our strategy. I have specific responsibility for an area of our list – in my case Puffin Classics – but also acquire into other areas of the list and manage books through all the stages from acquisition to publication. It’s important to have good market knowledge and always be on the lookout for new voices.
- Kelly Hurst, Editorial Director at Penguin Random House Children's
My role involves making picture books for babies and 2-6 year-olds, both stories and illustrated non-fiction. Day-to-day I might be reading new submissions and making the case to acquire new books for the company, writing feedback on texts and illustrations, and planning campaigns or partnerships.
I work most regularly with the editors and designers on the picture book team, but also with production, sales, rights, publicity and marketing – and I often partner with other teams across the business where authors publish books for multiple age groups and audiences.
Externally I work with authors, illustrators, agents, managers and organisations such as the V&A. Key skills include a deep understanding of the picture-book market and what parents and children will enjoy reading and strong people skills, as the role involves managing a really wide range of relationships. It’s also important to be switched on to what’s going on in the wider world in order to predict future trends.
The difference between an editor and publisher, is that an editor will be more focused on project-managing a book through the editorial process, while a publisher focuses more on strategic planning of authors’ careers and managing the development and growth of the list of books they’re responsible for. The next step after publisher is publishing director – this might be managing a large team or taking responsibility for a significant area of children’s publishing.
- Joe Marriot, Publisher at Penguin Random House Children's
A publishing director is in charge of an imprint (a part of a publishing house, also known as a ‘list’) and manages the editorial team acquiring and publishing books for that imprint. They set the strategy for the kind of books and authors the list publishes, line manage the editors, and are responsible for making sure the imprint makes its financial targets and fulfils its brief.
They also negotiate for, acquire, edit and publish individual books themselves. It’s a very varied job and they work closely with other departments, including sales, publicity, marketing, contracts, rights, design and production, to solve problems, capitalise on successes and make sure the imprint’s books stay on schedule and are published as well as possible.
- Liz Foley, Publishing Director at Vintage
Managing Editorial team
The managing editorial team are also known as copy editorial, desk editorial or 'Ed 2' depending on the publishing house you're in. The role of the managing editorial department is to ensure the smooth progress of a book from an edited manuscript to print.
Alongside the other half of editorial, they also project manage the book, making sure it's proofread and copy-edited after the final draft is handed over. They then collaborate with marketing, design and production to make sure everything is on schedule, proofread and to budget, including supporting materials as well as the book itself.
The managing editorial team are a key part in turning a book from its original manuscript into a physical product. Masters of detail, they manage freelancers as well as proofreading themselves, doing this for dozens of titles at once!
If you fancy a job in managing editorial you’ll need to be:
- detail driven
- an excellent communicator and collaborator
- organised and good at prioritisation
Editorial Coordinator / Managing Editorial Assistant
An editorial co-ordinator works across editorial to ensure the smooth running of the team, particularly to track and ensure the timely flow of jacket art and publishing information produced by editors. In the lead-up to publication, our sales and rights departments require various publishing information at different stages, and it’s my job to help ensure that information is ready on schedule.
I work closely with our art director, ensuring artwork circulates for sign-off and is uploaded online, and liaise often with editors. I also organise the weekly art meetings and our acquisitions meetings by setting the agenda, distributing reading material and taking minutes.
The role requires good organisation and prioritisation, plus the ability to keep up momentum on deadlines.
- Kerry Costello, Editorial Coordinator at Ebury
As managing editorial assistant, my day-to-day tasks include maintaining the department diary and ensuring it is kept updated with critical information on upcoming titles, managing the circulation process for all book covers and ensuring all covers are approved by editors and managing editors at each stage of approval.
I also proofread covers and marketing materials, organise the delivery of proofs to freelance proofreaders, copy editors and indexers where required and have general administrative tasks, such as taking minutes in meetings etc.
My team consists of three managing editors and a managing editorial director, who I work with closely. Other than my team, I mostly work with production, editorial and design to ensure titles follow their critical path. I also liaise with marketing, publicity and brand to organise proofreading of marketing and publicity materials.
The skills required in my role are strong organisation skills to keep books on schedule and keep track of different deadlines, communication skills are necessary to work closely with colleagues and external contacts, and being meticulous as proofreading is a large part of this role.
The next role following managing editorial assistant would either be assistant managing editor or managing editor.
- Sabeehah Saleq, Managing Editorial Assistant at Vintage
Copy Editorial Coordinator
As copy editorial coordinator, I sit within the division’s managing editorial team and support the project management of its titles. Working closely with the editorial assistants and production team, I maintain the backlist of reprints and manage new paperbacks, which are often from hardbacks already printed, or from editions we’ve bought from other publishers.
Day-to-day, I could be marking up corrections for current titles, proofreading covers, copyediting new material or coordinating freelancers who proofread and copyedit for us. There are a lot of paperbacks to look after simultaneously, so strong organisational, time management and prioritisation skills are important! This role also needs a strong eye for detail and consistency, and good communication skills.
The next role in terms of progression would be Assistant Editorial Manager.
- Lucy Chaudhuri, Copy Editorial Coordinator at Penguin General
Once a final draft of a book is ready, the managing editor will appoint a freelance copy-editor and proofreader (and, for non-fiction, an indexer) to work with us on the book. We liaise closely with the author and production throughout the editorial process, which usually takes several months. We also oversee titles that we have acquired from foreign publishers’ text files, coordinate reissues, and carry out the final checks on all our books before they go to print.
We often do some copy-editing and proofreading ourselves – including pitch documents, marketing materials, new introductions and bonus chapters. Managing editorial is all about quality control, project managing, attention to detail, and making our books the best they can be.
- Laurie Ip Fung Chun, Managing Editor at Cornerstone
Senior Managing Editor
Senior managing editors are responsible for handling the ‘editorial production’ of a book, shepherding it through copy-editing, proofreading and indexing once the commissioning editor has finished their structural edits with the author. They will also generally have line-management responsibilities within their team.
A managing editor liaises with everyone – you’ll find yourself speaking with production about scheduling, letting authors know when to expect a freelance copy-editor's queries, proofreading marketing material and working with the design team to make sure book jackets are devoid of errors. A managing editor needs an eye for the narrow view and the wide, able to focus on editorial detail and manage the schedules of dozens of books simultaneously.
The next step up for a senior managing editor might be to head up their department or move into an operational role.
- Graeme Hall, Senior Managing Editor at Vintage
Editorial managers are a key link between editorial, production and rights. Their most important task is to oversee the copyediting, typesetting and proofreading stages of a book and ensure that the final text files are with the production controller in time for printing. Because of this, editorial managers should have both an editorial eye and some technical pub ops (publishing operations) knowledge – as well as a good measure of schedule management skills for keeping everything on track.
It's the editorial manager’s job to hire freelance copyeditors and proofreaders who work on the manuscript and proofs, so they must have good knowledge of style rules and editing best practices to judge suppliers’ work effectively. You may find that a lot of editorial managers themselves have a background in freelance editing.
Editorial managers are also often in charge of sharing text files with rights, who then pass them on to foreign publishers.
- Jess Anderson, Editorial Manager at Ebury
Managing Editorial Director
An eye for detail – that’s where the working day for me and my small team of editorial managers begins. As an intermediary between various departments, good communication, oversight and organisation are vital skills for the role.
The core of the job involves allocating titles so everyone in the team has a good mix of fiction and non-fiction books to work on, and a variety of editors and authors to work with. Key to this is managing schedules and workloads, checking deadlines and tracking manuscripts.
Alongside this, I liaise with authors and in-house editors, as well as all our brilliant freelance copy editors and proofreaders, to help hone the books and prepare them for printing. I check, check and check again!
- Nick Lowndes, Managing Editorial Director at Penguin Michael Joseph
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