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Textbook editing may be tedious but can be rewarding
Wong Yat-hei
update on Friday, June 3, 2011
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Being a textbook editor may not be that glamorous, but it has its own rewards. Charles Lai, editorial director of Oxford University Press (China), thinks the most rewarding feeling for a textbook editor is to create a book from scratch and see students use it.

Lai concedes that preparing and finishing a textbook is a tedious and stringent process that involves multiple checking and amendments.

Fresh university graduates are employed as assistant editors. Lai says English textbook editors should have a background in linguistics or English literature. Knowledge of IT is also important with the advent of electronic books. "We want our editors to be multitalented," he says.

New recruits will get training on the house style as well as a short course on education theories. Editors will get a chance to visit schools to see how textbooks are being used in class and receive feedback from teachers and students.

The executive editor is usually the mind behind a textbook. He needs in-depth knowledge of government regulations, the market and production costs. He comes up with the brief for writers and the course framework of the book structure.

"A successful textbook is one that is approved by the Education Bureau, user-friendly, able to stand out from competitors and has a reasonable production cost," Lai says.

He has noted a talent shortage in the industry, as many potential editors are turned off by the relatively low pay.

"Our job needs people who are good in English," Lai says. "In Hong Kong, there are not many such people and they have many other career options. Being a textbook editor is not rewarding in terms of pay, but if you are interested in creating something of your own, this is for you."

A job in textbook publishing generally requires nine hours a day and five days a week. Overtime work is necessary to meet deadlines. Assistant editors start at around HK$13,000 a month while executive editors make HK$24,000-HK$25,000. 


Getting started

  • Good English skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Background in linguistics or English literature

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