I want to be… a development editor

Christie Anderson works in educational publishing as a Development Editor at Oxford University Press. She currently works in English Language Teaching and has previous experience in academic publishing and translation rights. Here, she tells us about what a development editor does and why ELT publishing is a great option for anyone looking to start their publishing career.

Before you got into the industry, did you have any preconceptions about what it would be like to work for a publisher? And was it what you were expecting?

I’d like to think that I had a more nuanced understanding of what an editor did, i.e. be able to say more than they “edit books”, but that wouldn’t really be true. I now know that being an editor is so much more than that, and that it can vary hugely across the different types of editorial roles and the sector of publishing. I work in educational publishing, in English Language Teaching (ELT), and it would be more accurate to say that editors “develop content”, rather than “edit books”. Whilst “content” is a bit of an irritating buzzword, it more accurately describes the material that we work on and the range of formats it ends up in, whether that’s eBooks, online, video, apps, etc, or print textbooks. I’ve learnt that there’s a lot of work that goes on by a whole host of different people before an editor actually gets their hands on a juicy manuscript (or, in my case, a page of grammar tables).

That’s so true - the publishing process in general is so much more than anyone can imagine from the outside! So, can you walk us through a typical working day in educational publishing?

In ELT, an editor typically works on one large-scale project at a time. These projects are multi-level courses for a particular market or country, and they are pretty huge! Courses tend to encompass numerous levels, with each level including a student coursebook, as well as workbooks, teacher guides, audio, video, magazines, and whatever else the market want… It can take about three years from the research and concept development stage to the course being written, published and used in the market. That means I spend a lot of time talking to my project team, colleagues from Editorial, Design, Media, Production, and the overseas market, where we catch up on the status of each component, discussing schedules and problems. I usually spend some part of the day doing some more traditional “editing” work, either on proofs or manuscripts, and may also have other components that require checking or briefing, like illustrations or audio files. There’s also a fair amount of email liaison with authors, freelancers, and internal colleagues.

I find it completely fascinating that you tend to work on one huge project at a time – that idea is so alien to me! It’s amazing how different one editorial job can be to another.

What would you say is the most satisfying part of your job?

I’ve worked in other areas of educational and academic publishing, but I’ve found ELT the most collaborative and creative. Whilst some editorial roles are much heavier on the project-management side, I really like being very closely involved with shaping and developing content hands-on. Working on the same project for such a long time means you get to know it really well, as well as the needs of the market and your learners. For me, the nitty-gritty language editing is very much up my street, as well as the international nature of ELT in general, but it’s also great being involved with the more obviously fun stuff like video shoots on location and audio recordings. Of course, it’s immensely satisfying when courses actually publish and you get good feedback from learners and students.

It sounds like you’ve found the area of the business that’s exactly the right fit for you – it’s so fortunate that you’ve been able to do that. So, what is the least satisfying part of your job?

ELT is typically seen as quite a traditional area of publishing, which can be a bit of a frustrating barrier to creating diverse, innovative, and interesting content. There are also some digital limitations, but this is definitely improving. Learners, especially teens, have much higher expectations of digital content, and publishers are having to adapt and provide better online solutions for students and teachers, especially during the pandemic.

What are some of the skills that an editor in educational publishing will develop?

As well as practical editorial skills like proofreading and copy editing, you’ll develop project management skills, and excellent teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills. You’ll also develop the art of ‘spinning plates’ – or prioritisation/juggling workload skills in CV speak. Whatever sector of educational or academic publishing you work in, you’ll become skilled at knowing the needs of your learner and the market and developing high-quality content to suit them.

So many valuable transferable skills there – skills that would be an asset across all types of publishing. As we have so many readers who are at the beginning of their publishing career, what advice would you give to anyone who wants to work as an editor in educational publishing?

I’d say that for anyone considering a career in publishing more generally, don’t rule out educational or academic publishing. A lot of people gravitate towards trade publishing and write off educational publishing as boring, but it’s not true! There’s a whole host of interesting and creative projects happening in educational publishing, across textbooks, children’s fiction, academic trade and non-fiction, and so many different people and skillsets required – an editorial role is open to people interested in content and media creation in its widest sense, despite the traditional preconceptions that come with an editorial role. If you’ve ever thought about where your school textbooks come from or wanted to improve and diversify learning materials, both in terms of content and accessibility, then you should consider a career in educational publishing.

To stay on top of the publishing world in general, read The Bookseller, get involved with the Society of Young Publishers, check out training courses with The Publishing Training Centre, and the grants offered by The Printing Charity. In educational publishing, keep up to date with what’s happening in education generally, both in the UK and around the world. In ELT specifically, be aware of trends in language teaching and learning, as well as non-traditional edtech competitors, and keep up any language or teaching practice of your own.

Christie Anderson on Twitter.

Oxford University Press English Language Teaching on Twitter.

Oxford University Press English Language Teaching website.

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