A commissioning editor makes recommendations about pieces to accept for publication at a newspaper, magazine, or book publisher. These publishing professionals review submissions and queries to decide which to pursue, and they can also actively seek out writers to commission for specific projects. Typically, commissioning editors have support from staff members who review materials to identify the most promising pieces for perusal, so they don't have to read through all of the material submitted to their employers.
This person acts essentially as a buyer for the publishing industry. Commissioning editors need a number of skill sets to do their work well. One is the ability to keep up with trends to identify commercially promising work to publish. This requires reading trade publications, keeping track of what customers are demanding, and monitoring activities at rival publications to see what kind of material they are publishing. Commissioning editors also need to be familiar with some legal issues, as these can determine what kinds of pieces they can accept.
The commissioning editor works directly with writers, getting them under contract and interacting with them throughout the editing process. Many maintain relationships with writers the publication regularly wants to use, while also keeping an eye out for new talent. Cultivating relationships with writers may necessitate a variety of activities, including meeting with writers in person, helping writers communicate with other staff at the publication, and so forth.
Commissioning editors usually do not have ultimate authority over publishing decisions. They make recommendations at meetings, allowing other editors and high-ranking executives to weigh in. Once a supervisor indicates an interest in acquiring a piece, the commissioning editor can move forward on working with the writer. This can include making sure writers stay on task with deadlines while also arranging for fact checking of journalism pieces, working with an art department on photography to accompany the piece, and other tasks.
Working as a commissioning editor requires the ability to quickly and fairly read pieces to assess their publication value. Good communications skills are important, as is the ability to work under fire; someone working at a daily newspaper, for example, needs to be able to quickly assemble stories every day, and to be able to rapidly change the editorial page if necessary to accommodate breaking news. Having a network of contacts is critical, so the commissioning editor knows exactly who to turn to for rapid turnaround on a time-sensitive piece.