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.

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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.

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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.

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