How did you come to be an educational writer?
After many years teaching general and business English I had written a lot of materials for my own niche which, at the time, was banking and financial English. While living and teaching at the Czech National Bank in Prague, I decided to turn some of the class material into self-study material and self published. Later, I offered the material to a publisher and luckily they accepted.
What do you think are the necessary qualities for working in this sector?
I think the most important quality to work in publishing is resilience. You need to be determined and keep banging on doors until you get the publishing deal you are looking for. Again, if you are planning to self-publish, you need to keep on top of a lot of things and learn a lot of new skills; layouts, cover design, marketing, blogging.
What are the ‘hot topics’ in the ELT publishing industry at the moment?
There is a lot of talk about how publishers wish to produce a one-size-fits-all course book and how this is not appropriate for most students. This issue actually opens up a lot of niche markets for writers wishing to self-publish. Sadly, another hot topic in ELT publishing is the poor deals a lot of publishers are offering these days. Publishers are trying to cut corners and save wherever possible, so it’s important that you check the proposal you are being offered very carefully.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Writing gives you freedom to work around your own schedule. You can work remotely from any location in several time zones. I also like the idea of not having a boss.
Do you have any advice for those starting out in educational writing?
I think the first point is to identify your niche and what makes your writing unique, engaging and appealing. It also helps if you enjoy that type of writing. Beware of being typecast; you may have written a lot of exam preparation material in the past, but that doesn’t mean you want to write the same kind of material for the rest of your life. Try different types of writing and choose the one you are the most comfortable with. If possible, take some online courses and expand your skillset. Publishing is changing very quickly so make sure you are one step ahead.
I think it is also important that you keep doing some of the work that pays your bills, be it teaching or editing. It may take you a while to be able to earn a living from your writing, so pace yourself and keep all your old contacts warm.
Finally, I would advise anyone new to ELT writing to join some facebook groups dedicated to writing, such as IATEFL’s Material Writer’s SIG. Social media is a great way of expanding your PLN and means you always have people on hand to turn to for advice. Writing can be a lonely business and it really helps when you can reach out to people for tips and suggestions.