We were delighted with the response to the first Dear ELTjam post, and we’re even happier to be able to help out readers with their queries. It’s a huge industry with so much to know so, if we can help navigate it, we will! This week Nick, Tim and Laurie delve into the postbag …

How can authors skill up?

Dear ELT Jam,

Thank you for your latest post about the ELT publishing industry and for providing such a great resource for ELT professionals.

In it you mention authors learning new skills. What skills are these, and how can we acquire them? i.e. are there specific courses we can take which publishers would appreciate us having?


Tom Ewens

Nick Robinson and Tim Gifford say:

The nature of writing for publishers is changing so this is an excellent question. Although there aren’t any formal courses as such, there are plenty of things you could be doing to make working with publishers easier and faster — meaning you can be up and running on a project as fast as possible.

1. Using cloud-based document-sharing tools such as Google Drive, Box or Dropbox

Why it’s important: These tools enhance file/version control, make it easy to send/share docs with clients, allow you to access your files from anywhere and promote collaborative working. With Google Docs you can actually work collaboratively in real time, which is incredibly useful. Box’s automation feature also means you can set up your own drafting workflow that alerts you to changes and amends made by editors or other collaborators.

What you can do: Set up your own accounts, practise sharing and editing documents.

2. Writing into publisher templates for online content

Why it’s important: Publishers need to ensure that newly-commissioned content can easily be integrated into their platforms by a digital production team that may be globally dispersed. The template-based content writing approach is a way of ensuring the platform is able to support your content and that a team of developers is able to interpret your material without any problems. It’s also a way of being able to work out the screen count, asset requirements and organisation of digital courses.

What you can do: At the start of a project, ask the publisher for any documentation related to their templates. Also ask for screenshots and/or videos showing their functionality. Practise writing directly into the templates, thinking about how the content is going to look when it’s viewed on screen. Ask your editor for feedback as you get used to using the templates to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

3. Using EdTech tools

Why it’s important: It’s important to be aware of the developments in EdTech as publishers/clients will more than likely be referring to existing products as competitors/comparisons.

What you can do: If you’ve never tried it, have a go at using some of the more common EdTech tools available with your learners. Those might include apps, tablet versions of coursebooks, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and interactive whiteboard software. Try to get a feel of how content is used and delivered through these platforms and what impact that might have on the type of content needed. Make sure you look outside the usual ELT world, too. If you haven’t already played with language learning apps like Duolingo or Memrise, then do so.

4. Using Corpora

What you can do: If your publisher has its own corpus, ask for access and training in how to use it. If they don’t, ask them if there are any corpora that you should be using.

5. Using productivity tools and techniques

What you can do: I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique for keeping focussed and we use Toggl at ELTjam for tracking hours and making sure we’re putting in the hours we think we are on a project — useful for juggling multiple projects. Evernote is also invaluable and, if you’re looking for a complete habits overhaul to make you as productive as possible, David Allen’s GTD approach (Getting Things Done) is a good start.
Although not strictly a productivity tool, familiarising yourself with project management tools like Wrike or Asana could be useful as they are ways of managing workflow and assigning tasks. You may find publishers have their own systems for this too but, generally speaking, once you know your way round one, the others are pretty intuitive.


Is there a publishing calendar?

Dear ELTjam,
A related question–is there any kind of calendar in the publishing industry? What I mean is are there particular times of the year that publishers will tend to start new projects or update their freelancer databases or times they will tend to not be sending out work? Or does it all depend on the publisher and the year?


ELT Author

Laurie Harrison says:

It does vary by publisher, but they will all typically have a sales cycle – especially for big course series in major markets. For example, in some markets, you need to have all components for all levels of a course ready for January, otherwise you’re likely to miss out on a whole year’s sales. Other markets are more forgiving, and if the teacher’s books or one or two levels come out a bit later, you’ll be OK.

Sales cycles can also have long lead times. For example, a course might be launched in January, with the major promotional activity happening in Spring, sales confirmed in Summer, and books in schools ready for September. These cycles can be longer when ministries are involved.

These cycles are important – the run-up to a major launch is usually pretty manic. Possibly not a good time to be sending in proposals or speculative queries. In my experience, after IATEFL/TESOL and into summer tends to be quieter, but that can’t be relied on.

Nick Robinson adds:

This certainly used to be the case, but the pressure to release products more quickly has meant that schedules have been greatly compressed. As a general rules, publishers will want products to be ready in time for one or all of the following dates:

  • An internal sales conference, when new products are presented to the sales team.
  • A big-ticket conference such as IATEFL or TESOL.
  • In time to be adopted for the start of the academic year.

As those dates can vary greatly depending on the publisher or the target market for the product, it’s best to try and get the information directly from the publisher you’re interested in working for. Conferences are a great place to meet publishers and have that kind of conversation.

Tim Gifford adds:

Alongside a publisher’s sales cycle for larger courses there may well be projects that emerge with very short lead-in times. These may be few and far between, but they can represent a considerable amount of freelance work. While it’s certainly worth being aware of a publisher’s calendar, there may be a sudden need for editors or content creators that allow in-house teams to take on such projects rapidly and responsively. As Nick said, cultivating productive relationships with publishers at conferences or other events is always useful.

If you have a question that you’d like to put to the ELTjam team, then get in touch by sending us an email to blogeditor at eltjam dot com, or scroll down to add your own advice to this post. 

Featured Photo Credit: Domiriel via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.

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