Are you an ELT teacher looking to move into materials writing? This post is for you!
On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.
One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then discussing their answers to the “other side’s” poster.
To share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I also posed the questions from teachers/writers questions to some editors and other people who work in ELT publishing, and here are their answers:
Is there any interest in / a market for writing smaller-scale projects? (e.g. topic worksheets / individual lessons)?
Yes. Generally when we commission these sorts of projects, they’re supplementary materials supporting a book, and there are specific things we need, generally things we feel the target group needs but the book has not provided. So if you regularly use a book and notice a gap, you should definitely let the publisher know, and perhaps send examples of supplementary worksheets you have created.
Yes, definitely, but I suggest a system of crowdsourcing. Writers can produce modules or collections of individual lessons (they need to be substantial lessons) and these can be sold as individual modules (after there are ten or so they can be made into a book).
There is a market, but not really so much for individual worksheets. Find something that links your materials together, a thread that flows though several worksheets or lesson plans. Sets of lesson materials which form a coherent unit are probably of more interest to potential publishers.
Is it possible to have more access to writers to discuss objectives etc?
We can’t give out contact information, but we’re not secretive about who writes for us; just look in the copyright pages.
The teacher’s books often give more detail on the overall approach and aims of the activities than the student’s books, so maybe have a look there.
How can we get into proof-reading / copy-editing work?
A good way to get a foot in the door is to offer to write readers’ reports on first drafts of material. Publishers are always happy to have readers, and I have personally seen examples of readers then getting writing work because they’ve made an impression.
About proofreading work: the best place to start is with your own materials, then offer to check worksheets or materials that are being written for your school/shared bank of materials. Create a style sheet that will give you consistency across the whole collection of materials. If you find you enjoy this kind of work, you could contact your local publishers’ office and express an interest, or you could consider doing a recognised proofreading course somewhere like The Publishing Training Centre or joining an organisation like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).
Definitely get some kind of recognised training if you want to do copy editing and/or proofreading professionally. It not only gives you credibility, it will teach you a lot. I did my training in Canada, and I went into it thinking ‘I teach grammar… this is just a formality.’ Not so. I learned so much about the process of editing a text that I would never have got by myself.
For anyone interested in ELT editing, follow the White Ink FB page for tips, tricks and work opportunities. Facebook.com/WhiteInkLimited.com
How can (potential) writers make themselves known to you and/or find out about upcoming projects?
Send editors/publishers your CV and a couple of sample materials you’ve made.
Submit your work to materials writing competitions – most publishers and lesson sharing websites host competitions.
Most publishers have an email address or contact form for potential writers. It’s really important to make clear what kind of materials you can write – whoever processes the emails will want to forward it quickly to the relevant editorial department – so put ‘English’ and ‘Business / Primary / EAP / etc.’ in a prominent place in the email.
You can always email our editorial teams to discuss any potential opportunities.
To make yourself ‘findable’, make sure you join ELT Teacher 2 Writer. All of the publishers listed on the homepage use the database to find writers.
Most people suggest starting a blog where you share materials you have made for your classes more widely. Likewise, if you create something innovative then share it by presenting at conferences etc. This can get your name known, and if you do contact a publisher then you have a portfolio to show them.
If you can commit to piloting and reviewing material, you can impress editors that way and may then be offered writing work.
What can teachers do if we notice a gap in the market?
Yes, if you spot a gap in the market that is innovative, get in touch and most editors will send you a proposal document, or check the publisher’s website for an electronic proposal from. Make sure you approach the right kind of publisher, though.
Get in touch via the website of a relevant publisher – There’s ususally a list of details you should include on there.
Do your research! If the gap you find is very niche, publishers might be less interested, so you’ll need to ‘prove’ that your gap is relevant to a wider audience than just one of your classes.
Is experience/expertise in digital materials writing essential nowadays?
I would say no, not yet, but a willingness and an interest is helpful.
Not essential – the vast majority of educational material sold is still print. However, it’s becoming increasingly relevant and we’re always on the lookout for people who can write this kind of content.
Depends what you want to write and who for. If you specifically want to write digital materials, then some experience will clearly help, but training will probably be provided if you’re new to the area – especially as different publishers use different digital platforms anyway.
And if so, is there capacity for advice/training to produce this type of material?
I think it’s a case of learning by doing. Let your publisher know you’re interested. Probably the best “training” you can do is to get yourself familiar with the apps and things that are on the market, and try to imagine what had to be taken into consideration when the content was created.
I would say this is out there if you look hard enough. Nellie Deutsch runs courses on MOODLE for Teachers. And some organisations run Writers Retreats which might be relevant.
I think most producers of educational material are still learning what makes good digital content in our industry. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to learn and work with everything yourself (particularly the apps and websites that are successful, like Duolingo, Babbel, The Day, PlayPosit, etc. – or even brain training apps like Elevate) to get a better idea of what kind of content works well on a smartphone, tablet or PC.
For digital training, you could have a look at what ELTjam offer.