Case study

Commissioning editor — Sarah Hamlin

Sarah graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in German Studies. Internship placements and a love of books lead her to her current job as a commissioning editor

How did you get your job?

Like most people who work in publishing I'm an avid reader and loved the idea of working with books, so in my final year of university I did a work experience placement with a trade publisher in their publicity department.

After graduating I did a six-month internship at a small independent non-fiction publisher, which gave me a great overview of the publishing industry, and I then went on to get a permanent role as an editorial assistant at Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Since then I've worked my up within the department to my current role as commissioning editor.

What's a typical day like as a commissioning editor?

I oversee the process from coming up with an idea for a book to publication, so day-to-day my tasks are quite varied.

I'll often be researching new subjects or looking at book proposals, pitching books to the sales and marketing team, and working out whether a book will be financially viable for the company. I also provide feedback to authors on their manuscripts, brief designers on the look we want for a front cover, and I also work with our production and marketing teams to make sure they have all the information they need to get the book out there and into the right hands. Sometimes I'll also go to conferences and book launches.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love the variety of the job. I work on our dementia, yoga and bodywork, and counselling lists so I get to learn about a lot of interesting topics. I also really like working closely with other departments and the project management aspect of the job - it's a great feeling when you finally get to hold a book you've worked on in your hands.

What are the challenges?

It's frustrating when a book you've worked really hard on and seemed like it would be an obvious seller doesn't live up to expectations. The combination of constant deadlines and attention to detail can also make you feel a bit flustered, so being organised is key.

In what way is your degree relevant?

Although I don't get to speak German at work very often, studying a foreign language gives you great communication skills, which is essential as a lot of my work involves relaying information to authors and colleagues.

How has your role developed?

As an editorial assistant most of my time was taken up with doing admin tasks, but now I get to manage my own projects and I have a lot more creative control.

I've only been commissioning in my subject areas for a short while, so I'm keen to develop my lists and make sure they are diverse and profitable.

How do I get into publishing?

  • The obvious path to becoming a commissioning editor is to start out as an editorial assistant. These roles are highly competitive so consider other publishing roles, as it's possible to move sideways into the role you really want. Also consider independent publishers, as well as education and professional publishers too.
  • If you know what sorts of books you want to work on, make sure you research the genre well. Go into bookshops, look at online retailers, and find out about bestsellers. This will ensure you're well prepared for genre-specific questions that come up in interviews.
  • If you're able I’d also recommend doing work experience as it’s a great way to make contacts and get a feel for the job. There are some good paid internship schemes around and for shorter work experience placements most publishers pay expenses.
  • Join the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) as they run lots of great networking events and talks where you can learn more about the publishing industry.

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