Fiz Osborne is Editorial Director, Illustrated Books at Scholastic Children's Books and has worked in the publishing industry for almost fifteen years. Here, she talks about what it’s like to be an editorial director.
Before you get into the publishing industry, it can be hard to know what a job actually entails, and, to be quite honest, this can vary from publisher to publisher too. But when you finally get into your chosen area of publishing – and really start learning about what it means to do that job – there will come a time at some point in the future when you'll need to decide how far up the ladder you want to go.
Why? Well, taking editorial as an example (because that's where the majority of my experience lies), as we progress in our career, what we do in our day-to-day changes. In editorial, when we start out we're hungry to manage projects, commission, art direct, etc. But as we become more senior, the demands on our time shift. There are more meetings, we have a team of people to look after, and there is less time for… well, pretty much everything.
So, what does an editorial director do? Well, I’ll start off by going back to what I mentioned just now: this varies from publisher to publisher – and even department to department – so this is just one reflection of the role, but here are my top-level responsibilities:
And what does this mean, exactly?
In terms of the budget, every publisher has financial targets that they want to hit. I know I’m repeating myself here, but publishing is a business and the financial side of the industry is one that people sometimes forget about. Which is interesting, because without it there would be no industry. Part of how I manage the budget for the Illustrated Books list at Scholastic is by implementing a solid strategy that will help me hit my targets. Which leads me on to…
Strategy. When it comes to publishing, there is a lot of strategy involved. And when people talk about “the shape of the list” they’re talking about the front list books publishing in a specific time period: what those books are, who they’re by, what the themes are, etc, etc. As Editorial Director, part of my role is to implement my company-approved strategy, make sure all of those books publish, maintain a balanced list (e.g. don't publish twelve dinosaur books in a year), and hit budget. To help me make sure these things happen, let’s move on to…
Team management. Teamwork makes the dream work, and that is never more true than in publishing, because as a book passes through a publishing house it is touched by people from every single department. As Editorial Director, I look after a team of people by supporting them in their work, helping them commission great projects, creating projects for them to work on, problem-solving with them, answering any and every question, helping them prioritise, and doing whatever else is needed of me. No one person can do everything (although, I have tried), and a good team is one of the most valuable pieces of this puzzle.
So, what’s next…?
Contacts management. By this I mean, authors, illustrators, agents and anyone not employed by the company I work for. Contacts building is important for every editor, and positively maintaining the working relationships we build is an essential part of every good editor’s workload. Speaking of workload…
Editorial work. See how far down you had to read before you got to the paragraph on actual editorial work?! This is because, when you get to editorial director level, there is a lot less time for editorial work. Unless you do some of it outside of working hours, which has been known to happen, cough. Depending on the size of the team, and the individual’s inclination, an editorial director may still do a fair amount of editorial work. My team is small and I am inclined, I do still work on a fair number of projects, but, I’m not going to lie, I sometimes feel the push-and-pull on my time. And if I feel that about editorial work at times, then you can imagine how I feel about…
Admin. Ah, admin. The never-ending task that none of us really wants to do. Admin is one of those deceptively essential things: AIs*? The sales teams can’t sell books without them; key words*? Books aren’t discoverable without them; BIC* and Thema codes*? Book entries won’t feed out into the wider world if they’re incomplete. These vital steps are all needed in order for a book to publish successfully and, guess what? Editorial look after all of this. And… admin just isn't as much fun as other parts of our jobs. But while editorial assistants do bear the brunt of admin work, we all do it, no matter how senior we are, because it's so, so important.
So that’s my role in a nutshell! If you’re looking to get into editorial, or are already, don’t worry if you look at this list and think, “I don’t want to do that.” First off, you don’t have to be an editorial director if you don’t want to – you can stop at any level you please. But also, priorities change and what you don’t want now you might want at some point down the line. The main thing is to know what you’d be getting yourself into so that when you do get there, it’s pretty much what you hoped for.
*If you have no idea what any of these things are, don’t worry, we’re collating a dictionary of publishing terms! Will let you know when it’s ready and in the meantime Google is your friend
Fiz Osborne on Twitter.
Scholastic Children's Books on Twitter.
Scholastic Children's Books website.