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 m
ath 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
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.