Business, editors, publishing, Submissions

From the crowded desk (computer desktop actually) of a Commissioning Editor

What does a commissioning editor do in a publishing house? What does their day look like? In this great post, our very own fabulous Commissioning Editor Beattie Alvarez describes the realities of a typical work day and gives some helpful tips and advice for authors and illustrators.

From the crowded desk(computer desktop actually) of a Commissioning Editor

By Beattie Alvarez of Christmas Press

The day starts with a GIANT coffee and catching up on my Words with Friends games while I wait for all the emails to load.

There are a lot of them AND I’m not winning all my games. This is not a good start to the day. However, it gets better as the coffee starts to set in.

I do my ‘official’ work first. Official work includes emails to and from people who we’re already in touch with such as contracted authors and illustrators, the ones who print our books, my boss. After those emails I move onto editing. This word should change. That word should be deleted. Explaining why I’ve made changes and probably a fight with Word in there somewhere when it hides the comments I’ve spent hours making. Then I send it back to the author and we start all over again. A second, third and fourth coffee probably makes an appearance during all this.

I check the schedule/list of tasks/emails all over again.

If there’s time to squeeze in reading submission in my lunchbreak, then I do it. Why not? I like to read while I eat (side note: tomato soup and computers don’t mix). I start with the solicited manuscripts.

What are solicited manuscripts? They’re manuscripts from people we’ve asked to submit, ones that come from agents, or ones that come from an open call for submissions (there are many good reasons why most publishers are normally closed for submissions). They are the ones that I want to read.

However, I don’t have much time. There’s the ‘official’ work to get back to. So, if the synopsis and opening pages don’t grab me immediately, then I’m unlikely to read more than a few pages.

It goes like this:

  • Open computer
  • Open food
  • First bite of food
  • Open synopsis and read
  • Second bite
  • If synopsis is okay, then open manuscript
  • Start reading
  • Keep eating

If my lunch is more interesting than the manuscript then I move onto the next manuscript. And the next one. And the next one.

There are some exceptions, of course. If we’ve ASKED you to submit a manuscript then I will read every single word. I may not enjoy it, but I do read it. If my boss asks me to read it then I will (but if it doesn’t grab me and I have to slog through the whole thing then I ask that my coffee budget gets raised).

Unsolicited manuscripts are something else entirely. We are currently CLOSED to submissions.

If you haven’t done your research or if you choose to ignore the fact that we’re closed because someone has told you to try anyway then I’m going to be cross. Don’t make the Commissioning Editor cross. It is NOT a good idea.

I still open the email. I still read the synopsis (if there is one). I’m sure that if a synopsis grabbed me, I would open the manuscript, but that hasn’t happened yet and I’ve been doing this for over six years. I then send a curt reply, thanking the author for their submission, but informing that we are not taking submissions.

A lot of this extra work is done at night after the kids are in bed, or very early in the morning before I have to get them ready for school. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. So make sure you:

  1. Do your research and find out if we’re open to submissions
  2. Read the guidelines if we are to find out what we want. Don’t send a picture book text if we say we don’t do picture books (or memoirs or self-help etc).
  3. Prepare your paperwork. We say send the first three chapters, double-spaced in Times New Roman and only want it as a word doc, then DO NOT SEND the entire manuscript in Curly Stars font as a PDF. I will NOT READ IT. If you can’t follow guidelines, then you are going to be hard to work with and we don’t want that!
  4. READ YOUR OWN WORK. Just because you’ve finished a first draft, doesn’t mean it’s print ready. Have you edited it? Are there typos? Does it flow well? Have you remembered to change the name of the character originally called Bob, but then changed to Chris ALL the way through the book? Is your synopsis as snappy as your manuscript? It has to be! That’s the first thing I read. If you can’t write an interesting synopsis, then how do I know you can write an entire book?
  5. If you truly believe that you are ready to send, then write a nice cover letter. Try to find out our names (not always possible, I know). I don’t require a fancy cover letter (again, this changes from publisher to publisher, but I’m not fussy). Eg. To whom it may concern (or Dear Editor), I am a writer and I came across your (insert how you found us, because that’s always good for us to know what channels are working and what are not). I have attached a manuscript called _______. It is _____ words long and is about (insert tag line). Thank you for taking the time to look at my work. Kind regards, whoever you are.
  6. Once sent DO NOT BUG US. Do not send follow up emails as to whether or not I got it and if I’ve had time to read it. Although, if we’ve ASKED you to send it and I haven’t replied, by all means nudge me.
  7. We normally don’t have time to give feedback. And won’t. If it’s not for us, then no amount of emails will change our minds.

Remember that all of this is done in between bits of ‘official’ work. While I’m reading and emailing, I’m also working on the next book that’s coming out. The edits, the advertising, the launch, the author profile, the illustrator, the design, THE WORKS.

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