I have written this article in response to a question raised by a fellow Indian Copyeditors Forum member. The question was: “Any acquisition/commissioning editors out here? I’d like to know what skills are needed for the job/what the role entails. W.r.t. academic publishing.“
I’ve never been a commissioning or acquisitions editor, but I’ve worked closely with them and with their authors and had the opportunity to study their work, specifically in academic publishing in India. So, I’ll attempt to reply to the question based on my experience, observation, and analysis.
What skills are needed for the job
- The ability to just pick up the phone and call anybody. This will help you to connect with authors as well as other stakeholders. You will be doing a lot of business over phone calls. That way, it has similarities with sales roles.
- The ability to understand and critique dense academic texts. How else will you be able to advise your authors or your bosses on what should be published?
- The ability to do quick calculations on your feet. You will often have to calculate things like costs, gross margin, discounts, number of copies, page counts, etc. on the spot. Therefore, comfort with numbers is very helpful. If you know Microsoft Excel well, then that’s an added advantage. There will be pages of reports that you will have to either create or analyze.
- The ability to do smart negotiations. When working with authors, bosses, printers, typesetters, etc., there will be a lot of push and pull – from adhering to schedules to approving budgets, from print and paper quality to fast-tracking production. Good negotiating skills will ensure that you achieve your objective without harming others’ objectives or egos.
- The openness and the zeal to learn new things. Without learning new ways to do things, acquiring new knowledge, and understanding new people, you will hit a wall and not progress in your career. An open mind and curiosity are very important here.
- The ability to build solid and long-lasting professional relationships with team members, production/print executives, printers, chiefs of institutional bodies, etc. (investing in relationships and interpersonal skills). Empathy, generosity, and patience are key here.
- The ability to balance the interests of various parties while taking a stand and defending your own point of view. You don’t want to jeopardize either your career or your relationships or, very importantly, the product/idea that you’re fighting for.
- Having a finger on the pulse of the market and readers. You must stay up to date with what’s happening in the industry, the country, and the world that can have an impact on how you work, how your product shapes up, how your market is affected, and how your stakeholders are affected. National and global events can have a strong impact on the publishing business.
What the role entails
- Understanding the academic publishing landscape and figuring out what kind of books (subjects/sub-areas) have an unfulfilled demand.
- Coming up with book ideas on those subjects – what should the book talk about and why.
- Identifying and approaching authors who can write on those subjects – and persuading them to write the book!
- Preparing proposals/sales arguments in favor of the book idea and presenting them to the editorial decision-making committee/group. Why will the book sell? This would require you to give sales and profitability figures and back them up with evidence and arguments.
- Working with the author throughout the book-writing process to keep them on schedule as well aligned to the approved proposal. You will need to be organized and patient. Never lose track of a project.
- Working with the production, design, marketing, and sales departments to ensure the best possible product quality and widest possible reach of your books.
- Talking to academic influencers (professors, deans, HODs, think tanks, ministries, etc.) for endorsements and/or purchases. These people can help amplify your marketing efforts and help you clinch sales deals.
Most of these things you will learn on the job. It is not rocket science, but if you have the skills needed for the job, and if you’re lucky, you will grow in your career steadily.
Having never worked as an AE/CE, I might not have the insider’s view to cover all aspects that may be critical for the job. But I hope that the article is somewhat helpful.
If you’re an AE/CE, please add points that I might have missed in the comments section. TIA!