• The Publishing Post

Jonathan Eyers: Interview with a Commissioning Editor

By Georgie Cutler, Eva Lee and Alice Warburton


Jonathan Eyers is a Commissioning Editor at Adlard Coles and Conway, a Bloomsbury imprint, who “went into publishing with purely self-centred aims – [he] wanted to get published [himself].” He admitted that he “even announced on [his] very first day as an intern at Bloomsbury, with all the sureness and potential hubris only an early twenty-something tries to get away, that [he] was there for that very reason.” He stayed in his role because he discovered that “during the process of getting five books of [his] own published, [he] really liked working on other authors' books too.”


“Sometimes it feels my job would be a lot easier if wonderful authors just delivered wonderful manuscripts straight into my inbox, but that rarely ever happens. More often than not, it’s about searching for authors, especially for non-fiction ideas that originate in-house. We deal with literary agents as well.” As an author, he advised fiction writers to “submit to agents instead of submitting directly to publishers.”


On how commissioning works, he tells us, “The cold, hard truth of the matter is that I can only commission books that I think will sell. Not only that, but I have to convince a large meeting room full of people from every other department in the company that it will sell too. Publishing is a business, at the end of the day. We couldn’t afford to publish too many books that didn’t sell.” He concluded that “The warm, soft truth is that quality sells, so often there’s a direct correlation between a book being good and a book being sellable.”


Photo by @EyersJonathan

Having worked as an assistant editor to a commissioning editor, he tells us the differences between the roles and the responsibilities they involve. He explains, “On the trade side of Bloomsbury, there are several levels in the editorial tree. You start as an editorial assistant, whereby you don’t necessarily manage any books of your own but help editors with theirs. From there you may become an assistant editor, where you still help editors with some books, but you also have a few of your own to manage from manuscript to the finished product.” In comparison to being a commissioning editor, the “time is spent on finding new books to publish rather than managing them through the publication process.”


With his experiences as an author himself, Jonathan reveals his thoughts on whether this affects how he commissions books and how he maintains good author-editor relationships. He tells us, “I don’t know whether my experience as an author affects how I commission books, but I certainly think it has helped with how I work with other authors. I know about the self-doubt and vulnerability you feel when you’re sending your work in. I always try to be positive and encouraging and give constructive feedback.” He shares that he “wants to build collegiate relationships” with the authors he works with so that they “feel as if it’s a partnership, and that [his] advice will be a secret so that nobody will ever know that their book wasn’t perfect before [they] worked on it together.”


In regards to the great sales year Bloomsbury have had so far in 2021, Eyers says that it's “not just great news for us, of course, but for authors,” claiming that “with success comes a certain confidence.” Although it may appear that publishing is a “risk-averse industry [...] a lot of books are gambles,” making Bloomsbury’s profit even more impressive. With greater profit comes greater freedom, as Eyers comments that “there is at least one book I’ve commissioned this year that I’m not sure would have got through in a tighter year.”


When describing his in-house career shift from a rights assistant to an editorial role, Eyers explained that it “was basically doing the same kind of job at the same level, just in a different department.” He credits the ease of shifting roles to him “already working at the company,” but also expresses how common this is, as “people move around quite a bit, especially at entry level.” He recommended this route into editorial, explaining that “editorial jobs are the most in-demand, and generally go to people with prior publishing experience.” His one piece of advice is to “apply for as many internships as possible, and be open-minded about not working in editorial straight away. Jobs in other departments are often in less demand, so they can be an easier way in.”


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