A blank page and four to ﬁve hundred words to justify twenty-eight years in textbook publishing! Fair enough, considering all the teacher-authors I have asked over the years to take blank pages and make a spectacle of themselves in front of their colleagues and peers by saying, ‘I know this well.’ Skating over (and falling through thin ice into) texts ranging from accounting to zoology, I have ended up knowing nothing well, except that authors are a breed apart.
After university and a brief ﬂirtation with teaching (lion-taming soon seemed a better option), I got a job as a perfumer’s technician. But ﬁve years later the opportunity to edit textbooks seemed a way back into the education system without the hormone-ridden classroom angst (and that was just me).
On my ﬁrst day I was given a pile of proofs for a Form 5 maths book, Judith Butcher’s Copy Editing, some coloured pens (green for Greek symbols) and a desk. John Barnett, the ﬁction editor for Longman Paul and Penguin, gave me good advice such as ‘no one is a naturally good speller; use a dictionary; be consistent; keep lists of decisions you make,’ and other stuff now so internalised I can’t remember what it is.
Soon the pleasures of editing became apparent. Authors had done the hard yards with the writing, starting with blank paper, putting down in logical order words that would help other teachers and their students master concepts and content, and adding ideas for illustrations and photographs for some skilled third party to produce. But naturally (and fortunately) they left plenty of typos and The most rewarding moments come sitting in a train at Wellington Railway Station and seeing students on the platform doing homework from books that we worked on inconsistencies and had little enough visual ﬂair (‘a cartoon illustrating this idea would be good’) to make one feel at least a second-order creativity in working on each project, changing ‘pidgeon’ to ‘pigeon’ in thirty-three places, adding comprehensible, comprehensive instructions for typesetters for whom English was a second language, incorporating photos of one’s family members painting walls or ﬁxing cars or whatever the text required, and working up briefs for illustrators, many of them Australian or dyslexic. These pleasures never fade!
Moving beyond editing as such to acquisitions, you discover the pleasure in getting a project off the ground (the author does the hard work), the pleasure in producing estimates and sales projections that show us all making money (a creative act in its own right), and the real, solid pleasure when the numbers work and the money is made, and the book is well used and much-esteemed. A non-zero sum game indeed.
But the most rewarding moments come sitting in a train at Wellington Railway Station and seeing students on the platform doing homework from books that we worked on; going into schools and seeing dog-eared copies everywhere; being thanked by complete strangers for selling them things we had so much fun making; and most of all, working with authors – God bless them every one!