Started at the bottom and worked my way up to the position of publishing director

About me

Susanna W.
English and Related Literature
English and Related Literature
BA
Vanbrugh
1985
United Kingdom

About this profile

Publishing Director
Penguin Random House
United Kingdom
Journalism and publishing
Large business (250+ employees)
1986
£6,500

About the job

What I do

Essentially I am a senior editor within a large publishing house. Hierarchies within Penguin are comparatively flat and in my case the title 'Director' denotes seniority and a degree of autonomy but I don't command a large team reporting directly to me. Instead I commission and then oversee publication of (mostly) non-fiction titles, working with an assistant editor and collaborating with other departments. It is my job to bring new authors to the table, to negotiate the deal with author/agent, ensure the book is what we expected to be when it is delivered, and then that as a team we publish it to the best of the company's ability.

Skills I use and how I developed them

It is a common plea amongst young editors that they should be taught to edit. There are courses to learn copy-editing skills, proof-reading, negotiating, contracts etc. But the truth is that a commissioning editor learns best from watching, collaborating and doing the job. We all get better with experience but the most important skills are enthusiasm, genuine passion and dedication to doing the best job possible for a book and its author.

What I like most

Working with a diverse range of fascinating people. And the moment when sales show that my belief in the quality of a book is shared by thousands of others.

Finding and applying for the job

How I looked for work

I knew I would have to start at the bottom so I applied for every editorial secretary post going. Before that I took work experience in publishing houses and bookshops wherever and whenever I could.

My career

My career history

I stayed in the same company until I became an editor. I was made redundant with a management change, worked freelance, moved into a commissioning editor post in a much smaller company, worked to become a company director. We sold the company and I moved across to set up a books imprint for ITV. I was headhunted to set up a new list for Transworld and then gradually began to commission in other areas.

What has helped my career to progress

Taking risks

My advice to students

My advice about working in my industry

Talk to people. If possible try different roles in different departments to discover what suits you best - big company or small and where your real interests lie. Don't assume editorial is where you want to be. If it is, then remember that a commissioning editor is a very different beast from a production editor/copy-editor. Both important, just very different. And the hardest jump up the ladder is the first one, from editorial secretary to assistant editor.


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