A few weeks ago, an English teacher reached out to me on LinkedIn asking for writing work. I didn’t know this person, so I checked their profile, but it was empty. Google didn’t provide any information either. I asked them why they thought I should give them a job and they said, ‘Because I want to get published.’
OK, so that’s one way of getting noticed by a publisher, albeit not a very successful one. This communication, for many reasons, didn’t result in my commissioning them. I did give this aspiring writer some tips, though, which have inspired this post.
I don’t think I’ve met an ESL teacher who doesn’t prepare their own materials. Whether it’s creating flashcards, games, worksheets or tests, teachers are constantly producing something for their students. So, going from teaching (and writing your own materials) to getting published seems like a natural step.
But for that to happen, you should have a certain set of qualities and skills (I’ll be writing about these in a separate post), and you need to get noticed by a publisher. Publishers have to know that you exist and that you show writing potential. So, here are some ways that could help you achieve this.
1. Build your online presence
As my earlier story shows, the first place I go to find information about potential authors is LinkedIn. In this case, it was partly because I got the message on LinkedIn, but even without being approached first, LinkedIn is one of my go-to places when I’m commissioning authors for a project.
When looking at your profile, my main focus is on experience including any publications and your role in them. Were you the main author, co-author or did you write only certain pages? Make sure it’s clear what your involvement entailed. If you’re just starting out, then include samples of materials that you’ve created for your own classes, and links to blogs or articles that you’ve written. I also check recommendations, both received and given, and any ELT training that you’ve completed.
So, creating a LinkedIn profile geared towards materials writing is one of the things you should do to start building your online presence. It should go without saying that your profile should be complete, contain key words (connected with ELT publishing), and written in English.
It’s all happening on Facebook these days. Most publishing houses have their official pages on Facebook, and there are many ELT-related groups where you can connect with the publishing community. A lot of people who could give you a writing job hang out in teachers’ groups (including me). Obviously, you need to be active on Facebook. Nobody’s going to notice you if you’re just a lurker.
Some of my favourite places on Facebook include:
- IATEFL MaWSIG
MaWSIG is IATEFL’s Materials Writing Special Interest Group. One of the aims of the group is to support teachers who are interested in writing ELT materials. The Facebook page is regularly updated with blog posts, news articles, webinars and job adverts. There’s also a Facebook group for members. Here’s some more info about the group. If you’re serious about transitioning into writing, then you really ought to consider being a MaWSIG member.
- Nauczyciele angielskiego (English Language Teachers)
With almost 30,000 members, this is the biggest group for ESL teachers in Poland. Members include editors and consultants from all the main publishing houses, so it’s a good place to get yourself noticed. The majority of posts are written in Polish, but you can also write in English.
Check if there’s a similar group for teachers in your country and if there isn’t, then you might want to consider starting one yourself.
Create a Facebook page
Set up a Facebook page and use it when engaging in discussions in groups and on other pages. This will help you grow an audience, promote your own materials and become more visible. A publisher sees your followers as potential sales which can make you a more attractive prospective writer.
You can also become more visible by blogging, either on your own blog or on publishers’ blogs.
If you have your own blog, make sure it’s written in English (you’re pitching for a job writing ENGLISH learning materials, right?), updated regularly, and focused on ELT (if you want to write about your kids or cats, it’s probably best to have another blog).
Publishers usually want to see some examples of your writing work before they let you write a blog post for them, so this is why it’s useful to have a collection of articles that you’ve written on your own blog.
- Oxford University Press ELT Blog
To start blogging for OUP, you need to send some samples of your work to this address.
- Pearson English Blog
To express your interest in writing on Pearson’s blog, go to ‘Contact us’.
- Cambridge University Press Blog
Scroll down for the ‘Write for us’ section.
Don’t forget to use your Facebook page and LinkedIn wall to share all your blog posts.
Your digital footprint
The picture you paint of yourself online is extremely important. If you post derogatory content, engage in online feuds, write negative comments about publishers (or their authors), then you’re making yourself look less appealing to any publisher.
So, pay attention to your digital footprint. Google yourself from time to time and see what’s out there. Check the posts and comments you’ve written in groups (even closed ones). And before you write anything, remember that what happens online, stays online.
2. Build your network
Grow your LinkedIn connections
Once you’re on LinkedIn, it’s time to start networking and making connections with people who could help you get that first paid writing gig.
Don’t just connect with anyone. Your connections should be meaningful, related to your job and your future publishing career. If most of your connections are outside of ELT, then those are the kind of recommendations LinkedIn will be giving you. So, weed out the connections which are skewing your recommendations and focus on the ones who can push your career forward.
Network at conferences
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet publishers, editors, and writers in person. Talk to them at their stands, go to social events, mingle during breaks. Express your interest in writing, exchange emails and connect on LinkedIn.
Remember that building a network isn’t just about collecting business cards and adding more names to your LinkedIn connections. It’s important to cultivate contacts, so make sure to get in touch after the event and reconnect from time to time after that.
3. Speak at conferences
Speaking at a conference is a lot of hard work, and many hours spent writing and practising your talk, but the pay-off can be huge. One of the reasons publishers attend conferences is to seek out new talent, so exposure is the biggest benefit of being a conference speaker. But it’s also a great opportunity to increase your credibility and demonstrate expertise (see point 9 below).
If you’re new to public speaking, then you might want to start at smaller, local events before moving to something bigger, like IATEFL, for example.
4. Help with research
When you read stories about how ELT authors got into writing, you’ll find that many of them started out by helping publishers develop materials written by other authors. This can be, for example, commenting on manuscripts, taking part in focus groups, piloting new material and completing user diaries, writing book reviews, or inviting editors and writers to observe your lessons.
This is a great way to start building a relationship with a publisher and to learn about the publishing process. Usually, if you’re good, you’ll be asked for more input which in turn can lead to contributing to materials as a writer.
This kind of work can usually be arranged through your local publishers’ offices.
5. Build a writing portfolio
What? You haven’t written anything yet? Well, it’s about time you started. Publishers want to see if you actually have what it takes to write materials, so this is why you should be building a writing portfolio.
Make sure your materials look professional. This includes being error-free (get someone else to proofread your work) and visually appealing (don’t be tempted to use Comic Sans unless you’re writing for the pre-primary market). Most importantly, your materials should be your own – copyright infringement won’t get you far in the publishing industry.
6. Show off your work
Whether it’s in Facebook groups, on your Facebook page or on your website, you should have a place where you can showcase your work. A place where a publisher might notice it (so, not on a password-protected school website, for example).
Sharing your work is a great opportunity to ask for feedback. Do other teachers understand your materials? Are they clear? Easy to teach with? Writing materials for your own students is one thing, but writing materials for a variety of teaching situations is another. Sharing your materials with others is a chance to see if they appeal to other teachers and if they work in classrooms that you’re not familiar with. This will help you create materials for a variety of teaching situations (and this is something that publishers are looking for).
7. Take part in writing competitions
Did you know that Lindsay Clandfield’s writing career started when he won the onestopenglish Lesson Share competition in 2001? Since then, he’s written many successful ELT books and courses (including Global).
Writing competitions are a great opportunity to get noticed. They’re usually an aspiring writer’s first chance to write to a deadline and sometimes to a brief (something you’ll be doing a lot of when writing for a publisher).
Here are some writing competitions worth having a look at:
- Lesson Share
This is an ongoing competition organised by Macmillan Education. More info here.
- TESOL Press Call for Contributions
New Ways is a series of books with practical classroom activities prepared by teachers for teachers. If you’d like to make a contribution to the latest publication in the series, New Ways in Teaching with Games, then follow this link for more information.
Deadline: 12 April, 2019
- IATEFL SIG writing competitions
This year, IATEFL’s Materials Writing Special Interest Group (which I already mentioned earlier) and the Global Issues Special Interest Group organised a joint writing competition. The aim was to create lesson plans based on films related to global issues. You can have a look at the winning lessons here. Follow the MaWSIG Facebook page for more information on writing competitions.
8. Write for ELT magazines
Pete Clements wrote a comprehensive post about this which you can find here.
Don’t forget about local ELT magazines, but keep in mind that if you want to get noticed by international publishers, you should write in English.
9. Become an expert in your field
There are thousands of people like you: ESL teachers who want to become writers. And there already are many successful ELT authors. So, how will you stand out from your competitors? Is there an area that you’re particularly skilled in? Have you identified a niche in the market?
Find an area that you’re most comfortable with, whether it’s pre-primary materials, exams, EAP, pronunciation or something else, learn about it as much as you can and focus on building your visibility around it.
Doing all of this won’t necessarily land you a publishing deal because there are many other factors at play (which I’ll be writing about on this blog), but if you’re serious about making the transition from teaching to writing materials for a publisher, then working on increasing your visibility is a good place to start. Good luck!
* All the views expressed in this post are my own.
© Atena Juszko