Category Archives: Math Editing

The Aftermath of Singapore’s Unethical Math Publishing Industry

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. —Proverbs 10:9.

The sins of Singapore’s educational math publishing by unscrupulous personnel of all sizes and shapes are pretty known in the industry, but the aftermath of their unethical practices are less commonly discussed in the open. Let’s look at a number of these unspoken consequences that affect publishers or editorial staff for taking crooked paths in trying to be a Who’s Who in local educational publishing.

imageOne of the first signs on the veracity of the above biblical verse in Singapore’s educational publishing industry is the rejection of manuscripts submitted to the Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE). Local or foreign publishers’ titles are rejected, in spite of the companies having a larger editorial team and a bigger bank account, as compared to the smaller, nimble family-owned competitors—which may not necessarily be less unethical, though.

Many reasons are understandably being conjectured by the top management as to why the MOE had rejected their “decent” manuscripts; yet, it doesn’t require someone with many years of publishing experience to “see” why their titles didn’t deserve a stamp of approval.

2. Bleeding Investment

Another common sign is getting a book approved by the MOE, but the adoption rate of the title is disappointingly low. The publisher reluctantly has to fulfill its obligation as part of its agreement with the MOE to come up with teachers’ resources, as part of the package promised by the publisher to adopting schools.

Indeed, an approval with a low adoption figure is more often a curse than a blessing—the publisher has little choice but to spend money in developing the teachers’ resources, often at a loss, especially when editorial manpower could be better utilized to publishing more profitable titles.

3. The Art of Blundering

An unhealthy number of mistakes and errors continue to plague the publisher and its editorial team, in spite of securing a decent adoption rate, and often long after the book has been used by thousands of students and dozens of teachers for a few years. From typos to editorial blunders to conceptual faux pas, these editorial ills never cease to haunt editors and their managers—and to continually stress the authors.

4. Peter’s Principle

Editorial staff are unhealimagethily stressed, as they’re constantly looking for opportunities to get promoted to their next level of incompetency to cover up their present editorial ineptitude.

The hardworking skilled editors infrequently get appreciated and promoted, while the office politicians-bosses never stopped conniving or scheming to go further up the publishing ladder. Indeed, authors and writers often selfishly feel that this is a less unsatisfactory publishing deal, where these bogus senior editorial staff are least likely to cause conceptual damage to their manuscripts—in authors’ eyes, seniors mismanaging editors is deemed to be a less “undesirable exercise” than allowing them to mutilating their manuscripts.

5. A Travesty of Publishing Knowhow

That nagging sense of job insecurity, and the poor sales figures as a result of low school adoption rates, both locally and overseas, are never off the mind of the insecure or unethical editorial staff.

What if we have to print out a few errata pages? What if teachers or parents complain about my poor command of the English language, or editorial or/and conceptual blunders?

The list of rational (and irrational) fears haunting editors and their editorially naked managers doesn’t end even after the book might have garnered a decent adoption rate in the first year of use.

6. Job-hopping Isn’t an Option

Those of us, writers or/and editors, who have been in the publishing industry (or involved in the writing game) for a while know too well that often times, the management moves from one level of hell to a seemingly less fiery one, to avoid being caught for unethical practices and faux editorial skills, even for a short period of time. Most manage to flee before the house is set on fire, while a few unlucky [often the less unethical] ones are too focused on their work to smell any smoke in their midst—they’re eventually either forced to leave or fired based on some lame top managerial excuses.

7. Death by Extension and Hijacking

Pseudo senior editors, managing editors, and publishing managers are notoriously known to recruit editors who are as incompetent as them, or less so.  Because of their poor publishing experience and their inability to recruit or spot decent editorial talent, it’s common practice for these senior staff to ritually apply for an extension of MOE deadlines. Moreover, it’s also not uncommon for semi-competent editors and their managers to resign in the heat of deadlines to join a competitor for a senior position, albeit they’re well aware that they’d be working under even more unscrupulous bosses, or ill-equipped to handle the new half-edited assignments.

The management find themselves editorially helpless, as they feel hijacked by their half-baked editors; and they’re always extinguishing more and bigger fires—most have little or poor understanding on the timeframe or difficulty of the editorial process: from receiving and reviewing authors’ manuscripts to editing and rewriting them; from typesetting and printing them to marketing and promoting the promo copies to school teachers.

Situational Ethics Is a Constantimage

Since I joined educational publishing in the new millennium, the one thing that hasn’t changed over the one-and-half decades is the lack of ethical practices in the industry. Writers and authors, especially the new ones, continue to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous publishers. It looks like Singapore is stuck to remaining a third-class educational publishing industry in a first-class economy for some time.

While our students’ and teachers’ mathematical standards have risen over the last two decades (assuming we do have some faith in TIMSS and PISA scores), our unethical index in educational publishing has remained disturbingly constant, if not worsened, if the rising number of legal cases between authors and publishers would serve as some gauge in revealing the unethical climate permeating the educational publishing landscape in Singapore.

Redeem the time, because the days are evil. —Ephesians 5:16

© Yan Kow Cheong, April 10, 2015

Are the Days of Singapore Math Textbooks Numbered?

Singapore math textbooks and workbooks are notoriously known to be shy of non-routine questions, which are a necessary but not sufficient step to enhancing the mathematical problem-solving skills of local elementary school students. It’s common knowledge among local teachers, tutors, and parents that a child with an average or above-average IQ studying in a Singapore government school may still flunk her school math paper even after religiously practicing all the questions in her math books. This is because most local school test and exam papers are often set at a standard above the perceived mathematical ability of an average child in Singapore (or maybe even in developed countries like the UK, US, or Australia).

Thousands of Tutors Are on Standby

Luckily, we’ve enough competent tutors [aka moonlighters] around to help our struggling (but otherwise intellectually normal and healthy) students to solve that problem. Singapore is known as a haven for assessment (or supplementary) books, and math titles inarguably forms an unhealthy percent of them. Until now, most math books from Singapore that are being used overseas are primarily foreign adaptations of local textbooks and workbooks.

In a number of cases, these foreign editions have been adulterated so much to meet the mathematical needs of the students in their respective countries or states, where the Ministries of Education or Heads of Department have nevertheless been bold enough to embrace a foreign curriculum, such as Singapore math, to raise the quantitative skills of their students and teachers, in spite of fierce opposition from stakeholders, colleagues, or parents.

Go Beyond the Textbooks and Workbooks

Ironically, but not surprisingly, for decades now, the best math books in Singapore tend to be published by small local publishing houses, as compared to the big players which have the financial muscle to invest in the printing of textbooks and workbooks. In fact, this is one key factor how disturbingly small players—often family-owned and ethically challenged businesses—through their value-for-money assessment titles have been able to kick-ass the oft-constipated bigger players, which seem to take ages to publish any submitted manuscripts, and still churn out half-edited published titles.

Thanks to technology, and with new digital channels to distribute their math titles overseas, small local publishers and solopreneurs may eventually benefit more students, teachers, and parents, who have so far been limited (or shortchanged) by a distorted image of what Singapore math is all about—for instance, local students even from non-elite public schools are exposed to more rigorous mathematics, and to more challenging questions, as compared to mathematics contents depicted in Singapore math textbooks and workbooks.

Will Singapore Math E-Books Be the Solution?,, and the like are a God-sent blessing to any local math writers and authors, who wish to share their mathematical knowhow with their fellow math educators overseas. Indeed, the days of traditional publishing of poorly edited and uncreative Singapore math books seem numbered. May creativity and technology triumph over complacency and incompetency. And say NO to editorial ineptitude and unethical practices from both big and small publishers of Singapore math books.

Singapore Math 2.0

A wallet-friendly Singapore math problem-solving Kindle ebook that may give your child an unfair advantage over his or her peers!

© Yan Kow Cheong, July 3. 2014.

To Grangerize or Not to Grangerize

Although I have heard about this editorial malpractice for many years, it was only about half a decade ago that I knew that there is a word for it: grangerize.

grangerize: to mutilate books, especially by cutting out their illustrations.

Grangerism is the pernicious vice of cutting plates and title-pages out of many books to illustrate one book.


Although grangerism is not officially condoned in most publishing quarters, however, there had been instances where local ethically challenged editors (who are today disturbingly occupying managerial positions in their respective organizations) probably resorted to this quick-and-dirty technique for one or two of the following reasons:

1. The book from which the picture was cut off was out of print.

2. The copyrights for the illustrations cost exorbitantly.

3. The copyrights holder couldn’t be contacted.

4. The copyrights owner might be in “heaven” (or “hell”).

5. The deadline for the project was just days or hours away.

6. The editor believed she wouldn’t get caught.

7. The project director kept mum about the practice.

8. The budget for illustrations had busted.

9. The available title was a photocopy of photocopies.

10. The editor planned to leave after the submission of the manuscript to the Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) for approval.

11. The editor wanted to get even with her mean publisher.

12. The copyrights process (or clearance) would be delayed until the MOE granted a provisional approval (PA) for the submitted manuscript.

13. The editor’s dog ate the copyrights page.

14. The copyrights owner couldn’t be Googled.

15. The editor scapegoated the Middle East war!

16. The word doctor had little faith in the book being reviewed.

17. The editor anticipated an unavoidable merger prior to any MOE approval.

18. The senior editor crystal-balled that the title would be axed by the MOE.

19. The copyright holder was rude towards the editor.

20. The copyrights officer-in-charge had recently resigned.

21. The grey publisher belittled or offended the green editor.

22. The editor was simply disillusioned about her monotonous editorial life.

23. The copyright owner was spotted with the editor’s lover.

24. The rich editor secretly desired to be fined or jailed.

Let’s not grangerize, unless we don’t mind becoming  “editorial gangsters,” not matter how high the temptation, or how low the risk, is.

Ethically yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, June 28, 2014.


You Might Be an Editor if …


With some training, almost anyone can be a decent editor, but few can be good editors. Being a good editor requires something special—that X-factor which we all need to pray for. Ask and it shall be given unto us. Yes, let’s ask Him for editorial knowledge and wisdom.

Editing is like striking a balance between forest and trees. Most of us focus on the trees, but the good ones specialise in the forest, too.

An average editor uses mostly her left brain (an eye for logic and organisation), but an above-average editor uses her right brain as well (the ability to read the manuscript while not actually reading it). Indeed, the dozen odd family-owned publishing houses in Singapore need editors of the second kind.


You might be an editor if…
you couldn’t resist pointing out grammatical errors in your colleagues’ “edited” titles;
• you used mark-up symbols when you read a periodical;
when reading your church bulletin every week, you found yourself thinking, “This could be tighter”;
• you knew the names of the big shots of your competitors;
you complained of the poor quality of a preface or blurb;
• you felt sex ranks a distant second to the thrill of editing your Acting CEO’s e-mail;
you unfailingly read the imprint pages of every new book you find in your local bookstore;
• in a fire, you would save your complimentary copy of your edited textbook, then your travel document;
you could recite the rules of punctuation like the catechism or the national anthem;
• you decided a few sentences on any manuscript that the writer is bogus;
you could tell which similar title your “writer” had plagiarised;
• you got upset when a semi-colon should have been used instead of a comma;
you could still copy-edit your company’s newspaper advertisement for a new managing editor;
• your spouse sent a long-winded email which could have been tightened in five sentences;
you nearly fell off your chair when you read the formal correspondence of your seniors;
• you were shocked at the kind of “editorial pornography” seeping your company’s published titles;
you refused to resign even though you’re working for a socially irresponsible publisher;
• you had complained for the nth time about the questionable quality of your company’s writers;
you still dreamed of working under a capable managing editor and an ethical general manager in a-not-too-distant future;
• you would rather read “How to Speed-Edit”* than watch “Singapore Idol”;
you have spotted at least three linguistic faux-pas while reading this post.


The art and science of editing

Editing is both an art and a science. The mechanics of editing may take a year or two to master, but the aesthetics of editing is a lifelong learning journey. Until Singapore maths editors consciously use their right part of the brain to nurture their creative side, Singapore will continue to have a second-class educational publishing industry in a first-class economy.

* Speed-Edit may sound like an oxymoronic, editorial activity; but rest assured, cohorts of “moronic editors” have almost perfected this grey art of editing.

© Yan Kow Cheong, November 28, 2013.


Seven Irreverent Ways to Be a Successful Math Author

Getting a mathematics book published in Singapore can really be a tricky business — and can look like a mystery to local and foreign prospective writers. It can be frustrating and time-wasting, if you aren’t aware of the tips and tricks in submitting your raw manuscript. Here are seven inexpensive and legal ways to increase your chances of getting your script accepted and, hopefully, published in due course.

1. Don’t send your script to the busiest staff — send it to a small fly!

Don’t mail your manuscript to the managing editor. Because of her many self-imposed deadlines and dozens of sampled chapters (written by staff and freelance writers) waiting to be reviewed, the chances of yours being read is almost nil. Instead, send your self-addressed manuscript to a junior member of the editorial team.

Imagine how important and proud an editorial assistant or an assistant editor — don’t ask me the difference — would feel on receiving an unsolicited manuscript personally addressed to her. She’ll read it again and again, before recommending your half-plagiarised script to those who can get a contract mailed to you. However, it isn’t recommended that you hand over your manuscript to, say, the “sanitation engineer” (the cleaning lady), no matter how close she’s to the managing editor.

2. Explain why rejecting your script is not an option.

20130714-202650.jpgWrite the philosophy and rationale for wanting to write for the publisher. Don’t tell the truth that you’re rejected by several publishers — big and small — as often is the case, nor should you lie about your numerous rejections. You can ‘lie without lying’, just like you can ‘cheat without cheating’. In other words, don’t lie nor do you need to tell the truth. Speak truthfully and professionally, censoring all the innuendoes and ghost stories you’ve heard about some members of the editorial team.

3. Sound like a know-all writer, out to rock the publishing boat.

Never ever say that you’ve copied and pasted your content from some renowned authors (local or foreign). If need be, say that you’ve rephrased and improved what is currently in the market, and you’ll acknowledge your sources (even though you don’t intend to do so).

At this early stage of negotiation, sound like someone who is going to revolutionise the world of the assessment market — knowledgeable and, occasionally, mention the names of some big players. Or, use some educational buzz phrases like Faux Mathematical Posing, Creative Mathematical Modelling, or 21st Century Learning Experiences, and politically correct slogans like “Teach Less, Learn More” — something faddish to impress the managing director, if she’s interviewing you. Hint some missing facts, trivial as they may be, left out by established authors, and that you’ll remedy the situation in your new book.

4. Don’t be anal in the choice of your editor.


Assuming that your script has been accepted, don’t make a big fuss if you’ve been assigned an editor who has been around for less than six months in the organisation. Respect him or her, even though you wished you’d been assigned to a more experienced member of the editorial team. Don’t let her limited editorial experience or lack of teaching experience trouble you, because if for whatever reasons she can’t cope with the project, it will be re-assigned (by default) to a more suitable editorial staff.

Often, a hardworking green editor is better than a slipshod grey senior editor. However, beware of being assigned to editorial staff who carry flowery or great-sounding titles like Subject Specialist (Leisure), Assistant Senior Publishing Manager (Creativity) and Senior Assistant Editorial League (Musicology), who may not be the right candidates to “edit” your script (if ever they do), especially if your accepted material is way beyond [or below?] their abilities or capabilities.

5. Don’t be a pest to your editor.


Don’t keep on calling the editor to check the progress of your manuscript. Remember that, on average, a manuscript, regardless of who writes or rewrites it, may rest on an editor’s desk from one month to two years. Unless you’ve been promised a published date, in which case a gentle reminder via a nicely worded email would do. Never ever complain to the management that such and such editor has been sitting on your script for weeks or months, and hasn’t bothered to keep you updated on your script.

Remember who edits your manuscript, and the last thing you want to do is to antagonise or undermine your word doctor, especially if you’re a green author with a lot of writing symptoms. In many ways, if you don’t hear from your editor, it’s probably a good sign, because she’s probably rewriting most of your uneditable content — she’d rather rewrite all by herself than get you to do it because of her often tight unrealistic deadline. So, no news may be good news!

6. Build bridges with your editor.

Under no circumstances whatsoever should you belittle; or use four-, five- and six-letter words against your editor. You may be smarter and even more knowledgeable than him or her, but don’t let your pride be a stumbling block in building a symbiotic working relationship. Most, if not all, editors will eventually incorporate the suggested changes — no matter how tedious or time-consuming the amendments may be — if they’ll improve the quality of the book. No sane or thinking editor would brush aside any constructive feedback, although he or she may initially sound reluctant to make the changes.

Remember: Your editor may be smarter than what you think — many are proud of their “above-average” editing or proofreading skills. So, never underestimate your word doctor. You may need to consult him or her time and again; don’t burn, but build, strong editorial bridges. Behind every successful author is a stressful editor.

7. Overlook cosmetic changes which have little bearings on the book sales.

Respect your editor’s editorial personality. Unless the issue is between life and death, learn to accommodate your editor’s idiosyncrasies (or idiocies). For instance, some like to use passive verbs, indent every new paragraph, or love a particular typeface or font size. Don’t be anal in having your preferred style. Let not these likes and dislikes, no matter how silly and outdated they may be (which they often are!), affect the overall layout and content of the book. These cosmetic changes have little impact on the quality and sales of the book. Be prepared for the worst: your preferences may be poles apart from those of your editor.

20130714-214848.jpgLess stringent criteria may apply to prospective authors. Always call to check on the company’s “editorial standards”, no matter how confident you may be in getting your manuscript accepted. Never ever assume anything with any organisation.

You may be in for a big surprise: 15 per cent royalty plus round-the-world promotional book tour (excluding cash allowances and selling of rights to more developed markets). Remember: You’re dealing with a Socially Nonstandard Publisher! Don’t expect anything short of success and prosperity!

Postscript: This write-up was drafted when the writer was still “editing” for SNP Panpac — when the standards in local educational publishing hadn’t deteriorated to their current level, often attributed due to an influx of mis-matched “foreign talents”.

© Yan Kow Cheong, July 16, 2013.

The Mathematics of Publishing

The new Singapore MOE-approved math textbook for grades 9-11 students—a popular trigonometry-and-calculus title suitable for Commonwealth countries offering Additional Math.

The new Singapore MOE-approved math textbook for grades 9-11 students—a popular trigonometry-and-calculus title suitable for Commonwealth countries offering Additional Math.

Senior and managing editors in local publishing houses have always lamented how hard it is to recruit decent mathematics editors, because CV’s and interviews often fail to filter the good from the mediocre candidates. On the other hand, few senior editorial staff dare to look in the mirror to see whether they themselves have what it takes to mentor or guide their editors. There is a Chinese or Japanese saying that says: “An editor shames her managing editor.” The less-than-desired-quality of a published math book often reveals much about the competency of those behind its production.

Many years ago, I suggested administering a quantitative test to shortlist potential math editors interested in making publishing a career, in the hope that this may help reduce the relatively high attrition or casualty rate in the industry.

Below is a sample of questions we may pose to applicants keen on becoming word doctors in charge of mathematics titles, up to pre-university level.

A Test to Identify Math Editors

1. A writer approached two publishing houses for a manuscript she recently completed. The royalty rates are as follows:

                              Publisher                  Royalty rate

                              A                     10% published price

                              B                     12% net price

Net price is the price after 40% discounts to the bookstore.

(a) Which publisher should she choose?

(b) Another writer wants to know what percentage of the net price from Publisher B would yield a royalty equal to the published price from Publisher A. What percentage will this be?

2. Two publishing houses have the following mode of payments:

                 Publisher             Mode of payment

X                  $5000 + 5% royalty on published price

Y                  8% published price

Which publisher gives a better deal?

3. Due to the many errors in a geometry book, a printer had to replace pages 28, 29, 109, 130, and 131. How many sheets of paper did the editor have to reprint?

4. Mathematics Digest, which has a special 16-page feature in the middle, is incomplete. The third page of the supplement (page 15 of the newspaper) is missing. What other pages must also be missing?

5. Four pages of one section of a newspaper are missing. One of the missing pages is 13. The back page of this section is 40. What are the other three missing pages?

6. When asked by her editor to add the page numbers of the section on Random Numbers he wrote, Mr. Goon said it was either 216 or 256. Which was it?

7. Ricky tore out several successive pages from an algebra book. The number of the first page he tore was 143, and the number of the last page is written with the same digits in some order. How many pages did Ricky tear out of the book?

8. The middle sheet is removed from a manuscript, handwritten on both sides of the paper. If the two sides are numbered 6 and 7, how long is the script?

9. Pages 6 and 19 are on the same double sheet of paper. How many pages does the newspaper contain?

10. A 60-page newspaper, which consists of only one section, has the sheet with page 7 missing. What other pages are missing?

Time limit: One hour 45 minutes for foreign applicants, or two hours for Singapore citizens and permanent residents.*

If 75 percent were the passing mark for the above quiz, what would be the probability that half of the applicants who took the test would be shortlisted? How many could be considered a true-blue math editor or senior editor?

Two Standard Deviations from the Norm 

An irreverent guide to mathematical problem solving

An irreverent guide to mathematical problem solving

In recent years, one recurring complaint among seasoned and prospective writers in academia and in schools, keen to write fertile math titles, is that we lack the local expertise or know-how in publishing quality or decent math titles other than locally approved school textbooks and workbooks. In fact, current editorial standards seem to be one or two deviations from the mean, as compared to what they used to be in the nineties.

The future of publishing decent math titles other than school textbooks looks uncertain, to say the least, as fewer ex-teachers are joining the publishing industry due to better job opportunities in other industries, where pay and promotion are much more attractive. Besides, there are few role models for novice editors to emulate should they choose to make publishing a career. Few math majors, if any, are in charge of math titles these days, and the editorial standards in a number of local small publishing houses (which churn out assessment titles like they’re selling iPhones) leave much to be desired.

Self-publishing on the Rise

Across the industry, editors’ weak mastery of math concepts and poor linguistic skills would only aggravate an already-declining editorial quality of math titles. Most proofread instead of edit, or simply take care of the grammar instead of rewrite. In recent years, it isn’t surprising to witness many writers and authors switching to self- or vanity publishing, because few writers and teachers believe that there will be added value to their manuscripts, other than cosmetic improvements, going by the influx of assessment or supplementary titles inundating the local market every year.

A Third-class Industry in a First-class Economy

A common-sensical step in addressing the often-decried “Singapore-has-a-third-class-publishing-industry-in-a-first-class-economy” issue for its educational titles is to bring in better editors on board the editorial ship, or to recruit foreign talents who have worked no fewer than three years in established foreign publishing houses. Because little attention is given to the pay and remuneration, and to the opportunity to upgrade oneself professionally, the dearth of decent [math and science] editors isn’t likely to reverse any time soon. A lack of passion and professionalism seems to be the currency of many editors these days.

Singapore, a Publisher of Choice

As Singapore aspires to become a key player in math education publishing, local houses can’t afford to have math editors with an average knowledge of the subject matter and a below-average command of the English language. Having math editors with a mastery of the subject matter and a working fluency of linguistics isn’t an option if the country wants its math titles to graduate from a third- or second-class quality to match its first-class economy. And producing quality math titles other than school textbooks is the first sign or step to position Singapore in becoming an Asian publisher of choice in producing first-class math and math education titles.

* This apparent inequality is in line with the recent government’s policy that Singaporeans come first, especially when it comes to providing jobs for locals and foreign residents.

© Yan Kow Cheong, May 14, 2013.

“The Mathematics of Publishing” previously appeared as “Aptitude Test for Math Editors.” For answers to the above questions, visit Singapore Math.