Book Editors: an outline of responsibilities

Welsh Books Council

Book Editors: an outline of responsibilities

Editing functions in publishing houses are divided, broadly, between a Commissioning Editor, a Creative Editor and a Copy-editor. Work may also be out-sourced to freelance Copyeditors and Proofreaders. In larger companies these jobs will be divided into narrower areas of specialism. Small publishers, including most publishers in Wales, will, of necessity, combine more functions into single posts and may add to them additional responsibilities such as picture editing and indexing and some aspects of marketing and promotion.

Commissioning Editor/Creative Editor

Commissioning Editors are responsible for developing a publisher’s list through finding suitable authors and identifying gaps in the market. They monitor progress of books from commission or submission through to publication. Whilst they may also edit texts, their core responsibilities are more concerned with the overall direction of the business and the quality of its output. These responsibilities include:

  • finding and developing books
  • noting gaps in provision
  • finding and developing books, through maintaining contacts with authors, agents and academic institutions; visiting literary festivals; monitoring competitions; having an eye for promising unsolicited manuscripts
  • noting gaps in provision, market trends and new areas of demand
  • recommending titles for publication, according to a range of criteria, including: compatibility with the publisher’s list, unique selling points, an assessment of the author/MS under consideration, an appraisal of competing works, projected sales
  • liaising with external readers
  • costing and pricing
  • managing budgets and controlling production costs
  • negotiating a contract/terms of commission with the author
  • liaising closely with the author concerning development of and changes to the MS
  • briefing designers, illustrators, photographers, proofreaders, copyeditors, sales, marketing and production staff, and coordinating all inputs
  • creating and managing production schedules
  • contributing to marketing plan; publicity and public relations; direct marketing campaigns etc.
  • promoting rights sales and negotiating rights agreements
  • advising on legal and contractual matters
  • representing the publisher at exhibitions, fairs and conferences.


Copyeditors are responsible for supervising the detailed progress of titles from manuscript to publication. In a small publishing house this will generally entail hundreds of individual tasks (Judith Butcher’s standard text, Copy-Editing, lists over 300). These can be broadly grouped as:

Production and General Management

  • planning schedules and managing budgets for each title in liaison with the Commissioning Editor
  • liaising with the author and all external suppliers (designer, typesetter, proofreader, indexer, printer, binder) and others involved in realising the project to ensure that these schedules are adhered to
  • contributing to market planning, launch activities, promotional materials, web catalogues and archives etc.

Manuscript Development and Copyediting

  • ensuring that the text is complete, clear, accurate and consistent; that it complies with contract specifications and conforms to house style
  • liaising with the author over infelicities of style, factual errors, inaccurate or absent references, excessive length, etc.
  • marking copy for typesetter externally (including all typographic directions regarding typefaces, indentations, hierarchy etc. if there is no separate designer) or page make-up internally
  • organising preliminary matter (title, author, copyright notice, ISBN, contents page, acknowledgements, foreword etc.); and end matter (appendices, bibliography, index etc.)
  • organising cover copy (including blurb)
  • picture search and permissions
  • proofreading, in liaison with the author, distinguishing author’s and typesetter’s errors
  • alternatively, organising free-lance copy-editing and proofreading
  • commissioning artwork and cover design; commissioning or choosing text design
  • organising paste-ups for heavily illustrated books.

The functions of the editorial posts described here will often overlap and will vary according to the size and structure of the publishing house.

Funding for Editors in Wales


The Welsh Books Council funds six publishers towards the employment of Commissioning/Creative Editors, namely Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Gomer Press, Gwasg Gwynedd, Gwasg y Dref Wen and Y Lolfa. These are the publishers who are in receipt of a Programme Grant, which provides annual funding towards an agreed publishing programme. The editors’ duties include the commissioning of new material, dealing with writers, and handling typescripts (including creative editing and seeing typescripts through the press). They have a key role in developing the publisher’s programme and ensuring that titles appear promptly.


The Welsh Books Council funds four revenue publishers: Gomer Press, Honno, Parthian and Seren. The annual grant received by these publishers includes support for a publishing programme and a contribution towards the cost of posts, including editorial posts. In addition, part-time editorial posts are funded at Gwasg Carreg Gwalch and Y Lolfa.

Publishers may also apply for grant-aid towards the employment of freelance editors to work on titles supported by the Welsh Books Council’s Advances to Authors/ Commissions Scheme.

Details of the Welsh Books Council’s schemes can be found at

Further information

Book lists, details of training, accreditation and membership of professional societies, and other information for editors and proofreaders are available from:, PO Box 1441, Ilford, Essex IG4 5GH. 020 8550 8023

The Publishing Training Centre at Book House, 45 East Hill, Wandsworth, London SW18 2QZ. 020 8874 2718

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders

Chapterhouse Publishing

Writers Bureau

Standard guides for commissioning editors and copyeditors include:

Janet MacKenzie, Editor’s Companion (2nd ed. Cambridge University Press 2011)
Gill Davies, Book Commissioning and Acquisition, second edition (Routledge 2004)
Nicola Harris Basic Editing: Text and Exercises (The Publishing Training Centre 1991: two volumes)
Judith Butcher, Copy-Editing, fourth edition (Cambridge University Press 2006)
Rhiannon Ifans, Y Golygiadur (Cymdeithas Lyfrau Ceredigion Gyf. 2006)

The role of the editor is described more fully in the following source:

Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing  fourth edition (Routledge 2008)

Date last updated: 11 Mar 2015