Fast Track: Get a foot in the door of your chosen career 3. commissioning editor, book publishing

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The Independent Culture
Job description (what it says): Sign up new books and manage the existing list. Monitor the book's progress from commissioning to publication, in conjunction with other editorial staff and other departments (accounts, marketing etc).

Job description (what it means): Forget curling up on the sofa with a book of your choice ever again. You'll be too busy reading the never- ending pile of manuscripts arriving on your desk. For the rest of the time, you'll be researching market trends by reading catalogues and attending book fairs; organising readers for unsolicited material; negotiating with authors and agents; overseeing work of editorial staff and liaising with sales, marketing, design and production about deadlines, budgets and new projects.

Qualifications: This is the best bit. Any degree and any grade (above pass, that is) is considered. English graduates remain the most common. Literate science graduates are thin on the ground in the book business, so they're a hot property. An MA in publishing is a waste of time.

Way in: The days when most women started as secretaries are mercifully over. First job is usually editorial assistant. Unpaid work experience can give you an edge, but more important are contacts.

Starting salary: notoriously low (especially women): around pounds 10,000

In five years you could be earning: pounds 27,000-pounds 37,000

Perks: The job brings a social life with it. Endless free books. Discovering brilliant new authors and working with good writers who need a lot of love and attention.

Drawbacks: For love and attention, read therapist/ social worker: many writers need their hand held. The hours are long, and be prepared to spend your weekends reading manuscripts. Restricted locations, with most opportunities arising in London, and a few positions in Oxford and Cambridge. Be prepared to fight your corner over budgets, and defend books you really like against the market-driven budget accounts department.

Read: For ads, see The Bookseller and Publishing News. Useful directories include Cassells and The Publishers Association Directory of Publishing and the Whittaker Directory of Publishers. Also see the leaflet Careers in Publishing (The Publishers Association) and the book Inside Book Publishing: A Career Builder's Guide by G Clark.

Role model: Layla from Fay Weldon's Big Women, allegedly based on Virago Publishing founder Carmen Callil. She is a "commissioning editor not to be reckoned with" at the fictional publishing house, Medusa, played on TV by Daniela Nardini (above).

Need not apply: Anyone who's not prepared to start at the bottom. Anyone who gets hysterical at the prospect of writers missing deadlines.

Career prospects: Progression is to publisher with control over the whole editorial process. Remember, the higher up you go, the less you have to do with books.

Do say: "I'm a fast reader."

Don't say: "Bridget Jones, now what was the point of that?"

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