Ode to a publisher


Nineteen years ago, I was an inexperienced but enthusiastic sales consultant for an educational publishing company. My heart was set on being a publisher or editor but sales was the way in. It was my first full-time job – I wore suits and I earnt ‘real’ money! My sales manager was a beautiful soul who coached me into the sales world and let me weep on her shoulder when the sales gig was a little difficult. (Square pegs and round holes and all that).

I studied the RMIT Publishing and Editing course part-time, and worked full-time. It showed me the way forward to a career in publishing, and with the support of my lovely sales manager and the willingness of the general manager to give me a shot at publishing, I became a publishing editor.

I spent almost three years working with the general manager, a publisher with the winning combination of passion, creativity and focused attention. I learnt:

  • that white space on a textbook page – among the bullet points and arrows and breakout boxes and photos and cartoons and headings – allowed breathing space
  • about the different ways kids learn, and how to include questions that catered for all learning styles.
  • how to present a manuscript to an editorial team – a skill I used last week when I prepared my children’s book manuscript to send to reviewers.

My first project was a language series, working with a talented French teacher (who was Greek and spoke English, French and Italian). We dropped ‘merci’ and ‘enchantee’ into conversations at the drop of a beret, and I started dreaming in French. I spent weeks in a recording studio, listening to native French speakers. I did every single exercise in the workbooks for year 7 to year 10 students, to check they made sense. Our team of writers, reviewers, multimedia experts, editors, language specialists and illustrators made our creative collaboration so much fun.

Yesterday, I met with Peter, the general manager who gave me my first publishing job, and a few other publishers, sales consultant, authors and booksellers to celebrate Peter’s retirement. There were stories shared around the long wooden table at a South Melbourne pub. We all agreed we had worked together in the halcyon days, when educational publishing was more print-based and when there were longer lead times for research for high-quality books.

Last week, Mr 13 asked me for my old French book because he has a French exam in a few weeks.

‘You know, Mum, that Voila one with all the verbs and the grammar section at the back?’

Be still my beating heart.

Merci beaucoup, Peter, for giving me a chance to work in the publishing industry and for teaching me skills I still use today.




  1. I’ve still got a copy of Voila which I used when doing my adult French classes a few years ago. (Maybe I got it from your Mum!?)
    I also know that my grandson (Mr almost 18) used it when he did French in junior High school.
    You have had ( and are still having) a wonderful career Karen.

    1. Kathy, it is so heartening to hear that Voila is still being used today! Thanks so much for sharing that with me.

  2. Karen, I still pull out Voilà from time-to-time for a little fun French refresher. I also stumbled across the Business text you project managed. What a fabulous story you have to share.

  3. Sounds like a lovely celebration. Funny, I started in educational publishing too. I also worked in marketing and promotions before moving into editing, and I can say now that it was a great trajectory! You learn so much more about editing when you can see the big picture and understand where a story or book is going after it leaves your desk.

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