Editorial Director vs Publisher: The differences

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Venetia Gosling is Publisher of the 6+ division at Macmillan Children’s Books, overseeing a list which combines YA, fiction, non fiction and poetry, for readers of six and up. She joined Pan Macmillan in 2013, moving from Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, where she was Fiction Editorial Director.

1) Why would an editorial director want to transition into a role as a publisher?

Not every editorial director will want to transition to the role of publisher, because it does generally take you further away from the day to day job of editing and commissioning – but for those who do, these are some of the reasons why you would:

  • More autonomy to create and implement your own vision and strategy for the entire list
  • Increased financial input and responsibility
  • Management, and potentially board, responsibility
  • Longer term view
  • Broader relationships within the company and industry

An editorial director will manage the career or strategy for an author, series, age range or genre. They plan the publishing of that area, whereas a publisher manages the overall shape of the publishing, and strategy for the whole list – of course with input from the rest of the team, but you are able to have a vision for the wider list and run with it, which is exciting and rewarding.

There is also much increased financial responsibility and transparency – I look after the P&L for my division, and need to ensure we are growing through acquiring and selling fantastic books which are appropriate for each section of the market.

Acquisition is always a key focus, and coming up with ideas and commissioning writers is a highlight, as is working with authors and illustrators to develop their careers. It’s the most important part of the job, and the bit I love most.

2) How did being an editor prepare you for your work as publisher?

These are the main transferable skills, I think…

  • An eye for detail – this is always going to be important, whether you are checking page proofs or poring over a P&L
  • Understanding the process – understanding the production stages of making a book is really important and something you’ll know inside out by the time you finish working as an editor
  • Communication skills – you need to convince people to support your vision, whether that’s for an individual book or a whole list, and being able to make your pitch clearly and succinctly is something you definitely learn as an editor
  • Collaboration – being able to work as part of a team to make things happen is essential
  • Market knowledge – you learn this as you go along, but building a deep understanding of the environment you are working in, analysing sales figures, checking out the competition and understanding your consumer is key. And though the market changes quickly, it also runs in cycles, so you are likely to see trends and themes come back again and again…
  • Contacts – the relationships you build with authors, agents, retailers and other industry partners as an editor will stand you in good stead later on

Everything you do ends up being useful later, however insignificant it may seem at the time!

3) What tools do you use to help you manage the changing responsibilities that promotion entails?

I think it’s important to come at your new responsibilities with sensitivity and an open mind. You may have been in the company prior to being promoted, or come in from elsewhere, but either way, you need to be sensitive to your new colleagues – with the first situation, it’s about talking through any issues and keeping the communication lines open; with the latter, it’s about just listening and observing to start with, rather than diving in straightaway with your own view of how things should be done.

4) How do you make decisions in your job, and how have you learned to trust your judgement?

It depends what kind of decision I’m making – with a story or a piece of artwork, I react instinctively, but within the framework of my publishing experience. If it’s a financial issue, I want to have as much detail to hand as possible to be sure I am making an informed decision. I’ve been in children’s books for over twenty years now, so I have a pretty keen sense of what’s commercial and what isn’t, but I am still learning all the time in terms of the business side – and I love that.

5) What career advice would you give your younger self?

Pretty obvious stuff, but:

  • Participate – don’t hang back, even if something’s outside of your comfort zone. I’ve sometimes stopped myself doing something because I’m terrified of embarrassing myself, and I have kicked myself afterwards. Be brave – everyone else is as anxious as you are, and if they’re not, they’ve had a lot of practice!
  • Grab opportunities when you’re offered them. I was offered the opportunity to do two maternity covers in a row quite early on – and it leap-frogged me up the editorial ladder.
  • Don’t be shy – talk to people, make connections, everyone has something of value to share. But also listen. You might learn something.
  • Be nice. It sounds sappy, but friendships you make now will see you through your career and can be useful in ways you never imagined. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be snooty – the most junior people will probably end up senior to you at some point. Don’t bear grudges, it’s a waste of time. It’s a small industry and we all need to work together, one way or another.
  • If you don’t know how to do something or what something means – ask. People will be happy to explain.
  • Check everything. Be thorough. Follow-up in good time. Do your research.
  • Keep learning. Offer to help, practice your skills, read everything. Don’t be a clock-watcher. Get noticed for the right things. Your hard work will pay off!

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post.

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