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Book Publishing Editorial Roles

When it comes to the competitive job sectors, publishing has earned itself quite a reputation for being notoriously difficult to break into. This is not helped by the digital revolution and the rise of the e-book. We have also seen books starting to be published online, cutting out the middleman.

There are a number of different types of publisher:

  • Trade Publishers: these produce books and e-books. These will include novels, non-fiction such as biographies or cookery books that you buy on the high street or online.
  • Academic and Educational Publishers: these produce specialist titles and include textbooks, guidebooks, reference books etc.
  • Scientific, medical and technical publishers (STM): these are produced for those working in a technical or specialist field, so related knowledge is useful.

What are the key roles in a publishing house?

  • Editorial
  • Other: Contracts, Design, Production, publicity, marketing, sales & rights


The purpose of this department is to acquire and publish books. It’s a commissioning editor’s role to build a list of authors and books for printing. As well as maintaining strong relationships with the authors already on their list, they work with agents, go to book fairs and literary events, and scour newspapers, magazines and blogs to find the best new writers around, often having to pitch against other publishers for the acquisition.

Once an editor has acquired a book, they will edit the manuscript with the author, offering broad suggestions on structure, characterization or plot. If it’s an illustrated book, they will work with the Design department to commission illustrations and source or commission photographs. Editors have an influence on everything about a book, from the cover design to production details, and will work closely with the Sales, Marketing and Publicity teams.

When a manuscript leaves the editor’s desk, it goes to the Copy Editorial department for copy editing. The copy editors read the manuscript to check for repetition, contradictions, clarity, consistency, and simple mistakes of spelling, punctuation and grammar. They will also check factual information and look out for anything that might be libellous.

Editors will specialise in a particular field (often called a list), for example crime thrillers.

A summary of Commissioning Editors responsibilities are:

  • Negotiating agreements and contracts with literary agents and authors
  • Planning, organising and monitoring the progress of projects
  • Undertaking market research and investigating market trends
  • Reading, evaluating and commissioning titles
  • Liaison with authors, literary agents, marketing and production staff including designers and printers
  • Supervising the work of editorial staff
  • Attending book fairs
  • Writing reports

Editorial Assistant

Most editors begin their careers as editorial assistants or secretaries to publishers. As an editorial assistant, you’ll work closely with an editor or publisher as a form of apprenticeship. An editorial assistant’s job involves liaising with authors and agents as well as the in-house departments of Design, Copy editorial, Production, Publicity and marketing. A good eye for detail, strong negotiation skills, a keen commercial sense and good people skills are all essential. A passion for reading and an excellent command of the English language are also crucial.

Copy Editorial

Their role is to go through a typescript with a fine-tooth comb. They look at the basics of spelling and grammar and sense and also check for consistency and continuity. Many of the larger publishers will employ large numbers of freelancers to help them in this task, and these have to be managed and supported. Copy editors like words – they have a micro rather than a macro approach.






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