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Thirty Years Ago. . .

Some of the first books I wrote and edited at Janus Book Publishers.
Thirty years ago, I began my first day at work in the publishing industry. It was actually my second day of employment, but the first day was a holiday. I still think that was (and is) definitely a great way to start a new job—and a new career.

I had not planned to enter the publishing world. Back then, my goal was to get at least five years of teaching under my belt so I could eventually become a high school counselor or a curriculum developer in a school district. So, what happened? Simple. By the time I earned my teaching credential in social science, there were few teaching jobs. I was in another bout of unemployment when I saw the newspaper ad for an assistant editor position at a small educational publishing house. I figured it was a long chance, but heck, what did I have to lose.

Throughout the whole job selection process, I had a good feeling about the job. I had to do a writing sample, and as I worked on it, I knew that this was the type of work I wanted to do. Creating textbook materials was the best way for me to contribute to education. Alas, I did not get the job. Still, I felt like one day I would work for the company. 

Ring. Ring.  You got it. About a month later, another position became available, and I was offered that position.  Every day, for four years, I commuted from San Francisco to Hayward, about 45 minutes away, to edit and write student materials at a third grade readability for teenagers with learning, reading, and language disabilities. The interactive workbooks were used as supplementary materials by teachers to teach core curriculum subjects. Although the primary audience was teenagers, the books were also being used in regular elementary classrooms and adult basic education programs.

My time at Janus Publishing was essentially an apprenticeship. I was fortunate to work under the editorial direction of  Winifred Ho Roderman, who had been a special ed teacher and so was quite committed about developing materials that taught concepts in small, manageable, and progressive, chunks of learning. She was ruthless with her purple pencil, but so worth it. She was a visionary and fair-minded. What I especially liked about Winifred's work style was her dedication for explaining to an author or an editor why a change needed to be made to improve the manuscript. Winifred demanded excellence and I did my best to give it to her.

Let me tell you, I learned quite a lot in those four years at Janus. Not just about editing and writing professionally, and how the publishing cycle works from developing book content outlines to producing books, but also about science, mathematics, history, English, government,  home economics, and other subjects. I was actually learning basic concepts about the solar system, simple machines, human body, and earth science for the first time. I had science in grammar school and took most of the science classes in high school, but for the life of me, I do not recall learning things such as we always see the same side of the moon as it revolves around the earth, or that the inclined plane is a simple machine and a screw is an inclined plane. It blows my mind away again as I tell you those basic concepts.

I was perfect for writing the Janus workbooks. I was like the audience, a bit slow in grasping abstract concepts. I wrote and edited words, sentences, and paragraphs so I sure as darn tooting understood what was what.  It took a lot of  hard work to state tough concepts clearly and simply. But, then, that's the way everything is, isn't it?

Yep. One of the best things that ever happened for me was Winifred willing to take a chance on me—an inexperienced teacher, editor, and writer—and hire me, all based on what she perceived I could do through my writing sample.  Thank you, Winifred!

So, here I am 30 years later. Writing and editing haven't gotten any easier. But, then, why should they?


  1. Nope, they haven't ... buy hopefully, we get better at it!

  2. widdershins, well, it takes me sooner rather than later to finally realize I've got mismatched subject/verb tenses and misplaced or forgotten commas. :-)

  3. sounds like great training. your textbook was perfectly professional in every way. i love that you had a good feeling about the job way back at the beginning. our feelings don't lie a whole lot.

  4. Ed, I lucked out, and I'm forever grateful about it. :-)


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Thanks for the good cheer. :-)

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