5 Minutes with So-Shan Au

5 Minutes with So-Shan Au

So-Shan Au is Senior Publisher for the International team at Hodder Education. So-Shan works with Ministries of Education to publish for local curricula, and she publishes print and digital resources for the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, used by international schools around the world.

Before joining Hodder Education, So-Shan worked for OUP in Hong Kong on their English language teaching resources. So-Shan started her publishing career working on business management textbooks and the reference list at International Thomson Business Press, which eventually became Thomson Learning and subsequently Cengage Learning.


What is the one thing about your company that we need to know?

I work with the best people. Many of my colleagues have been with the company for 20 years. I hit my tenth anniversary last year! My team are really supportive and encouraging. And I love working with my authors, who are such a creative and inspiring bunch.

What do you like about your job?

I enjoy being able to travel around the world, meeting teachers and finding out about what resources they want. I enjoy working with my authors, who are all really nice, creative and really inspiring and motivating.

I love seeing the resources I have commissioned and developed being used in classrooms around the world. There is something hugely rewarding seeing teachers’ faces brighten up because they can see how your resources help make their lives easier. I have had a fair few of my books being physically ripped out of my hands because teachers want them so much!

I enjoy the variety too – one moment I’m helping set up our new office in Singapore, from meeting the staff and planning our direction for the company, to high-powered meetings at the Ministry of Education with ministers, meeting authors to discuss new projects, and then shopping in IKEA for 20 Billy bookcases and plants!

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out in publishing today?

Don’t overlook educational publishing – it might not have the glamorous launch parties, but it is so varied, and incredibly rewarding. I like the idea that my books and resources are being used around the world, helping to educate future generations, and that I’m making a difference.

And sometimes it is a little glamorous – I got to work with a TV company to be part of a film to celebrate the IB’s 50th anniversary. Our magazine, IB Review was featured and I got to share screen time with Natasha Kaplinsky!

How does social media aid the publishing industry?

It gives you a direct channel to communicate with and listen to your audience/customers and that is invaluable. We were early adopters of Twitter and blogging for our Humanities list. I was chuffed to be listed as Top 20 Geography tweeters. We were embedded in the community of geography teachers; the same for History and RE teachers.

It is great market research for me too – seeing what teachers are tweeting about/what concerns them to see if it sparks any new publishing ideas.

What was your first job?

I worked in Hatchards Booksellers as a Saturday and holiday job and loved it. I had to be careful not to spend all my wages on books, but with the fantastic staff discount, it was really hard to resist! I ended up working on the orders desk so I had lots of requests for ‘I don’t know what it’s called, but it had a blue cover’. It was extremely satisfying being able to locate that particular book for the customer though.

And your first in the book industry?

I started my career as an editorial assistant in academic publishing at International Thomson Business Press. I quickly progressed to Development Editor, and then Commissioning Editor on business management textbooks and then took over the reference list. This was the early days of online or digital publishing, and I launched our flagship 8-volume printed encyclopedia online in 2001–2002.

Tell us about a passion you have outside the business

I love gardening! I am a #crazyplantlady (sorry, did I just use a hashtag to describe myself?!) I only have a balcony garden but I’ve managed to maximise the space and grow some interesting vegetables, flowers and plants. I had a successful first harvest of potatoes last year, and have managed to grow peaches, kohl rabi, kale, tomatoes and cucumbers. I’m trying chayote squash this year! I blog about my gardening successes, and failures here.

When was your first London Book Fair?

I went as a student when I was doing my Postgraduate Diploma course in Publishing, and loved it! I went home laden down with free tote bags and catalogues, dreaming of all the publishing companies I wanted to work for and all the fantastic new books being published.

What is the one essential item you bring to the Fair?

Comfortable shoes. There is a lot of standing around or running about to sessions and meetings, and the Fair has got bigger each year, so there’s lots to see and do, and it helps if you’re in comfortable shoes.

What piece of advice would you give first-timers at the Fair?

Plan your day, work out which stands you want to visit and try to go to some of the sessions, workshops and author talks. Keep an eye on social media and see what is happening on the day too. Or just be prepared to wander around – who knows what you might stumble across!

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