This week we try to set an author’s mind at rest about their problems and give some practical advice on how to deal with something that’s becoming increasingly familiar when writing for publishers.

How can I get to grips with authoring tools?

Dear ELTjam,

I’m an experienced ELT author in both print and digital but the project I’m working on now uses an authoring tool that I’ve not used before and I’m finding it hard to get to grips with. It’s slowing me down to the point that I’m working at a much slower pace than normal which means my work to pay ratio is not looking great.

But the worst thing is it’s stifling my creativity and the quality must be suffering as I’m getting asked to do far more rewrites than I’ve ever had to on other projects.  This makes the pay per hour even worse but I’m more worried about how it’s reflecting on me as an author as I suppose, glumly, that more and more projects will work like this in future.

What can I do?


ELT Author


Nick Robinson says:

You’ll probably find that this gets easier the more often you’re asked to do it (which will be often!). One of the biggest problems you’ll face is that there’s often a steep learning curve when it comes to getting to grips with each new authoring tool, and there’s sadly no standard tool that every publisher is using.

It sounds trite, but it’s often a case of ‘practice makes perfect’: the more you use a particular publisher’s system, the more proficient you’ll become at it and the less stifling you’ll find it. You can even turn it into a selling point when you’re pitching your services to a publisher. Let them know that you’re proficient in their authoring tool, that you won’t need any training, and that you can work fast and well in it; that’ll be a major bonus to any publisher who’s looking for authors to write digital content.

Finally, don’t be afraid to offer the publisher feedback on their tools. It’s in their interest to have something that works as well as possible and that enables authors to write great content. If you’ve got ideas that might help them achieve that, then let them know!

Laurie Harrison says:

Try to get (or come up with) an estimate of the amount of time it’s going to take to learn the ropes, and then the time overhead that using the tool will add throughout the writing process — and make sure that’s factored in if you’re being paid on a fee basis — either by charging more or at the very least making the publisher aware of what your effective hourly/daily rate is likely to be once this is factored in.

(Interestingly, this is often a subject for discussion — and disagreement — within publishers, with some in-house people making exactly the same points: “How will our authors be able to work effectively and be creative when they’re wrestling with an authoring tool? Wouldn’t it be better to leave them free to write in a way that works for them, and then, as a separate project stage, transfer their content into our templates?” However, that adds a whole extra stage to the schedule, and an extra chunk of work that has to be paid for.)

Tim Gifford says:

If you’re encountering far more rewrites than normal in this current project it may well be that there is a disconnect between the expectations of the editor and the brief you received. To pick up on Laurie’s point, it may be the case that the editors are expecting more creative, fully-fledged ideas that are easy to integrate into the project, whilst you’re trying to craft your ideas to fit into a restrictive authoring tool. For future projects of this nature, it might be worth arranging a sample stage with the editorial team whereby you send them a version of your work using the authoring tool alongside an abridged version of your material in its ‘open’ form. This gives you the opportunity to show the editors how your vision for the content is being directed into the authoring tool. Assuming that initial sample meets the brief of the project, you will then have set a clear precedent for how you will be applying your creativity within the publisher’s platform.

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 add your own advice to this post. 

For previous problems and answers, see how to overcome a drought of writing work and two questions about publishing skills and the publishing calendar.

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

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