Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview: Science Textbook Editing

My occasional work editing manuscripts got me thinking about the whole field of science publication. And just as I started to boggle at the overwhelming amounts of scientific literature that might require editing or publishing services, I was reminded I know someone who worked in Textbook editing, so I sat her down to talk about it.

Editing science textbooks (first for middle school, then increasing grade levels) requires a mix of talents- knowing science, being a good communicator and understanding how students learn. The role of the editor in the book writing process can be everything from fact checking to improving the themes of the book to pushing on the bureaucracy to be sure that deadlines and budgets are met. If you start as an editor, you probably do less of the managing type roles. The editor does things like determine or assess teaching objectives, themes and layout. She didn't feel like she needed any special experience to be successful at this- it was her first job out of grad school. That being said, more of these types of roles are being contracted out by the major publishing firm, which is one reason she suggested this can be a good "mommy-job" or a good summer semester work if you aren't ready to go full time.

She also told me that this has opened a lot of doors for her to do different things, she is currently a lecturer, but has done college level text editing and even written her own textbook. She gets pretty regular contacts for new and different kinds of work based on the network she started while being a full-time editor at a major publishing house. She said she can make $400-500 a project, which can be ~$30-$50/hr depending on which education level she is writing for. Editing End of Chapter Questions for a Middle School Bio book at $6/question can add up, if you are quick.

She had some other insights on the field as well. By the time she had progressed to a senior editor within a firm, she was much more aware of how changing state education guidelines were re-writing textbooks (for better or for worse). But she also felt like she had a really great opportunity to educate teachers. When preparing for a new book, she was involved in preliminary market surveys to find out what teachers needed, and was surprised to realize how much help they needed to teach, especially science. This could be a fantastic platform to really reach a broader audience with the excitement of science. She did get to travel seasonally (to market the finished product), but she rarely had much of an impression of anywhere she went because the work was so consuming. But the biggest thing she told me was that she felt like this work made her a better teacher- it made her empathize with the poorest student in class, and really helped her think creatively about different ways to reach students. Her work in college text books made it possible for her to transition to a lecturer position, and she said she feels like this is her niche- teaching most of the year and doing some projects over the summer to keep a hand in it.

She encouraged me to think about other kinds of scientific publishing that might require a scientific background, which also seems like an intriguing possibility.

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