Getting published in TEFL Part One- Choosing a route

Summary: A look at the options available to people wanting to publish in ESL

There are 7 main routes to getting yourself published in the world of EFL. Although they are not mutually exclusive and a successful effort in one sphere can often lead to opportunities in another, I think it is worth examining the advantages and disadvantages of each one as people with limited time and energy might want to put most of their efforts into to one or another of the options and/ or people who were thinking of one of the options might think it is actually better to at least start themselves off in one of the others once they have seen all different approaches that are available.

As well as being the main author on textbooks and teacher resource books, which is what most people tend to think of “being published”, other freelance work available with publishers of various types include writing workbook exercises, pre-publication and pre-commissioning reviews of books and book proposals, and writing for supplementary websites. Here are the seven main options for getting your name on published ELT materials of any of those types of materials:

1.    Get in with the big boys
2.    Get in with the local big boys
3.    Get in with the big local boys
4.    Get in with the little boys
5.    Do it yourself
6.    Forget big paper, and just go for little paper
7.    Forget paper and just do it on the Net

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of aiming your efforts mainly at one of the options above

1.    Get in with the big boys
The advantages of focusing yourself on getting published by the big, established internationally known ELT publishers like Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Macmillan or Longman Pearson are:
a)    They are big, so they need a lot of writers
b)    They publish every kind of book, so sooner or later they will be wanting a book on whatever your speciality is
c)    Any work with them can easily lead onto more work with the same publisher, or even one of the other big boys
d)    Any kind of work with them looks especially good on your CV, which can lead onto better teaching or management jobs, or other writing work with the other big or smaller publishers
e)    They have professional editors who will really help you understand the demands on the modern ELT publishing industry and so really improve your writing (or at least make it more commercially acceptable)
f)    Editors get kudos for discovering great new writers, and even more if you turn out to be the next John and Liz Soars, so there are chance available even if you've never written a book

The disadvantages are:
a)    There is high staff turnover, and you may find that once the person who was giving you writing work has moved on, the new editor has new ideas and your work dries up
b)    They have 5 year plans and you have to write within that plan- there is very little chance nowadays that they will pick up on your original suggestion and commission you to write it
c)    They are risk adverse, and so tend to go for big name writers or at least writers who work for big name schools
d)    The staff there are very busy and hassled, and it can be difficult to get help when you need it.
e)    They already have lots of writers, so it can be difficult to break into.
f)    There are people queuing up to write for them, so if you mess up by getting ill during your first writing job and not completing it etc. there is not likely to be a second chance unless you switch publishers or wait a good long while
g)    Editors tend to have MAs etc. in publishing, so you are unlikely nowadays to get a full time editing job without such qualifications just by writing for them for a long time if that is what you are looking for
h)    They are large companies- see for more details of what that can lead to
i)    If you are not based near the publishers, e.g. in Western Europe if it is a UK based publisher, you are likely to have problems meeting up with them face to face, making and keeping contacts, dealing with time differences etc. and this might put them off choosing you.

2.    Get in with the local big boys
Big publishers such as those mentioned above also tend to have local publishers who churn out textbooks etc. especially adapted for the local market, for example OUP Asia or MacMillan Latin America (this is often well hidden because if customers know the materials are locally produced they lose some of the shine of the big name). Most of the writing work mentioned above is available with them, although in different proportions to the international ones (e.g. less website work)
The advantages of setting your sights on these guys include:
a) They are based locally, so it is easy to meet them at local teaching conferences and make informal proposals, meet up and keep in touch with them once you do have work etc.
b) There are less people competing for the work
c) The standards are somewhat lower, so they should be easier to write for
d) You can use your knowledge of the local market and local student problems to write something suitable
e) It'll be easier for you to promote your book because it only needs to be done locally
f) Your local title might actually be better known and more used than the international ones i your area, increasing your fame and selling power when you apply for another job locally

The disadvantages are:
a) If you move countries you won't be able to take your fame with you and might have to get in touch with the local publishers all over again
b) Because they are even less adventurous than the international divisions, have smaller budgets and lower production values, have editors with less experience etc., the finished product just isn't going to be (and even more, look) as good as an international one.
c) Unless you really work your contacts, writing for a local branch of an international publishers is not likely to lead to work with the (for example) London-based main part of the company, because there are usually so many local parts that the centre has no idea what is going on in any of them

3.    Get in with the big local boys
Another option is writing English language materials for local publishers, often big companies that publish mainly in the local language but have a small English language section.
Advantages include:
a) Standards are generally even lower than with local parts of the international big boys, so less hours are needed on the keyboard
b) The editor might be a non-native speaker, possibly giving you more leverage of decisions on what to include
c) It could lead to a salaried job or writing work in other departments of the company such as translations

Disadvantages include:
a) The process might be very difficult if you don't speak and write the local language well, e.g. you will need CVs in two languages
b) Even though the editor is not a native speaker, he or she still might not trust your instincts on what is correct language
c) You might be expected to write something with language or methodology which you consider outdated or incorrect in order to fit in with local expectations, and having written something like that might actually stand against you if you apply for teaching or writing work with someone who doesn't approve

4.    Stick to smaller companies

a) They often take more chances and work quicker than bigger publishers, possibly because they have more to gain from an unexpected hit than they have to lose from only selling the same small number of copies as all their other titles
b) You can sometimes get more help and a more personal touch
c) Everyone in the company will know who you are, so you are less likely to be forgotten
d) Some small publishers are well respected (e.g. Delta Publishing or Helbling) and having their name on your CV will stand you in good stead. Occasionally, their titles even get taken up by the bigger publishers (for example Helbling is selling one of its titles to Cambridge, I hear)
e) The smaller companies are often more interested in international sales than the big local companies

a) Small companies are often involved in mergers, take overs and other sudden changes of directions which can leave some projects stranded
b) Because the staff is small, they can sometimes get overwhelmed with another project and not have time to contact you for several months
c) The editing of your materials might be hived out to someone outside the company, with a consequent risk of communication breakdown somewhere along the line
d) The company offices could be in Slough or in a cottage in a field somewhere
e) They might expect you to be more self-sufficient than a bigger publishers, meaning they might be even more tempted to go with someone who has already published many books or can get support from a published writer in their school

5.    Do it yourself

a) No one can stop you publishing exactly what you want to

a) All the financial risk is yours
b) You will have to do all the marketing
c) As you are paying the self-publishing company that are helping you publish it, no one there is going to tell you if your book is rubbish and you are never going to sell as single copy
d) Selling your one book might make you so busy you never find time to write another

6.    Just go for little paper
If your chief motivation in writing is just to get your ideas out there and/ or improve your CV, it might be better to start off just writing for magazines
a) What you are writing is much shorter
b) The submission process is much more straightforward and out in the open than with publishers of books
c) Everybody at the magazine probably does some kind of work for publishers as well, so it is more likely to lead to work writing books than writing for the internet is
d) Takeovers, change of management etc. tend to change business plans in magazines less than in publishers, so if they have let you know they want to publish something of yours they are less likely to change their minds or forget about it later

a) Even if all the magazines are happy to have you publish an article in every single edition (unlikely), that still doesn't add up to a lot of work or a lot of income
b) Magazines tend to be read and then forgotten. If you want your ideas or photocopiable worksheets to be used in the years ahead they need to be in a book or on the internet

7.    Just do it on the Net
Similar to above, if speed and being read is more important than prestige and leading to other things, you might as well just submit everything you write to TEFL internet sites.
a) If could be available for people to read or use days after you submit it
b) The potential number of people who can see it is huge
c) You can make it very easy for people who read your stuff to see your other stuff and then contact you if they want to offer you work

a) The site you had submitted it to could well disappear
b) Managers of school and even some publishers may never look at the internet and so be unimpressed with your list of sites you have published on
c) There isn't much paid work around, and the sites that can pay because they charge people to use the materials are the ones that tend to disappear fast
c) You might well get noticed and get other work out of being on the net, but the process is very random

As I've shown, it's not possible to rule out any of the options above if your aim is to become a full-time freelance or salaried writer, and as I said it is probably best to hit more or less all of them sooner or later. As a starter, I would recommend submitting to many different websites, submitting more materials to one or two you get to like working with and then move onto magazines and the rest of the publishing industry.

Copyright © 2007

Written by Alex Case for

Enjoyed this article?

Please help us spread the word:

Latest from ' Careers & Employment'

30 ways to get ahead in ELT publishing Read More »