CAREER STEPS TO BECOMING A MATERIALS WRITER
Many readers on this site are probably familiar with the, albeit small, career ladder for English teachers within a school or department. It goes something like this, although individual schools will vary and there may not be all the steps outlined below.
1. new teacher (gets the unwanted classes, the Saturday morning class…)
2. regular teacher
3. senior teacher (maybe has less hours and other responsibilities, like doing workshops or observing teachers)
4. assistant director
5. director of studies/department
I have found that a similar sort of ladder exists within the world of ELT materials writing. It’s quite rare for someone, previously unpublished and unknown, to get a book contract right away from a major publisher (not to say impossible). Again, things may vary from publisher to publisher but the steps below provide a good idea of where one might possibly get started, and where one could go from there.
1. writing activities or worksheets for a publisher’s website
2. writing worksheets or activities for a teacher’s book or resource pack (to go with a course)
3. writing a teacher’s book for a course
4. writing a workbook for a course
5. co-authoring a student’s book
6. being a main author for a series of books (e.g. the next Headway!)
If you feel that getting a step on this ladder is interesting for you, the first step is getting yourself noticed. For some advice on how to do that, read the next instalment in the series!
. And here is the next instalment:
GETTING NOTICED AS AN ELT WRITER
So, you’re making material for your classes. You know it’s good, your students love it, it works. You’re pretty sure it’s just as good as any of the books at your school (perhaps even better). How can you reach a wider audience?
There are many ways of getting noticed that I know of, from personal and anecdotal evidence. Here are some:
Publish yourself locally
It’s now pretty easy to make something look attractive and professional with a home computer and a word processing programme. Publish some of your materials locally, even if VERY locally (e.g. only in your school). This means you have something to show a potential editor, should you run into one. You’ll also start building an audience and maybe even a fan club.
> Present a workshop at a conference
Conferences are a great place to meet people and, most importantly, editors from publishing house.. They are often sent to conferences for research purposes and to scout authors. Try approaching the publisher stands and asking around. Also, if you do present a workshop, make sure you also join in the social aspect of the conference (dinner, cocktail etc). That’s really where you can network and find out who to contact with your ideas.
Do something for a smaller/local publisher
The big publishers, the ones with the global reach, are often referred to as the Big Four: Oxford University Press, Longman, Macmillan and Cambridge University Press. But there are dozens of other smaller ELT publishers. All of them are hungry for writers. If you are unknown, you might stand a better chance of a first book with a smaller publisher. They are more approachable and will often take more chances. The downside is that they don’t have the commercial reach as the big ones (in other words, fewer sales for the author)
Publish something in a magazine
Start writing articles or activities for international magazines such as English Teaching Professional, Modern English Teacher, ELTJ… Writing book reviews is another great place to start. It will also help you become familiar with trends and what’s already out there. There’s nothing worse than a naïve author convinced of his/her big idea and blissfully unaware that this has been done/tried several times over.
Write for a website
With so many ELT websites around, it’s pretty easy to get something published on one of them. My advice, go for the big ones like Onestopenglish. They have the biggest audience and have competitions for new materials writers. Wherever you publish on the web, see if you can find out how many people have read/used the material. This will help future pitches of material to publishers.
Set up your own materials website
Web publishing is not as high profile as book publishing but by setting up on your own you may notice you have readers and users from the strangest places, which is motivating. Be aware that English teachers rarely pay anything for material on the web, so you won’t make money directly this way. Track the hits too.
Find a commissioning editor
Big publishing houses have commissioning editors. Their job is to manage different book projects. These are the people whose business cards you really want. If you do meet one, apart from offering yourself as a potential author you could ask to be a reviewer or reader of material being developed. This is an excellent way to get connected.
Finally, to conclude here is some advice on how to get ignored. In other words, don’t do this.
Cold call a publisher
Call, write or email a major publisher out of the blue and give them your idea for a new project. Even if it is a great idea, publishers plan their schedule years in advance. You probably won’t get a response. At best, you could get something like “we’ve already tried it” or “we don’t have space in our publishing plan”. Of course there are stories of those who do get accepted right away but this tends to be the exception, not the rule.
(This short article describes different paths to becoming a materials writer in ELT and originally appeared in ELTlinkup.)