Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
I’m a bit afraid to write this post. But not quite as afraid as I am to leave the house now Lent is over.
Out There is chocolate, sweets, cake, biscuits and ice-cream in uncontrolled quantities.
In Here is safety, nothing more addictting than yoghurt in the fridge and only the ingredients to make cakes which means a long enough between urge and potential gratification of it that I can stage the relevant self intervention.
Anyway, the original post generated a fair bit of input and from such luminaries in the field of ELT that I hesitate to step in again as I feel more than a little underqualified to. I mean, blimey, I didn’t realise anyone was actually reading my little posts.
Firstly, I am really grateful that people took the time to comment and at such length. One of the things I learned about writers in general a long time ago is how supportive that community is – in a way I think acting, for example, might not be. People genuinely want to share and help others starting out and that is not drowned by competitiveness so I’m all warm and fuzzied to see that ELT is the same.
Some people’s comments were longer than my post. Mike S Boyle is like my new mentor and his comments were so instructive, he made them into a guest post for me and carried on writing on the theme on his own blog.
So, some of my thoughts have changed slightly. It seems like the whole field is on the edge of such big changes that neither editors, nor established writers are sure what’s going to happen. The general consensus seems to be that publishers do want new writers but they want them to be tried and tested ones i.e. new to them not new new. That makes sense. And that’s where having an agent is coming in handy. What seems slow to me has actually probably been quite quick. I have my name on a book after three years** – a Graded Reader – and finger’s crossed a Skills book if a recent proposal nets me the deal.
I was never averse to doing samples either. Otherwise how on earth could any editor know whether I’ve understood what they wanted? I was only railing against the ads that ask for book proposals and new concepts when it’s never going to happen that your new idea is considered. They mostly want people who can follow briefs not people who can come up with the ideas. The ideas are almost totally publisher led or driven by the big writers they are already using. I still find that odd behaviour. It’s as if they get all excited around a brainstorming meeting one day and then the reality of frostbitten toes kicks in again and they go back to drawing up Super Duper New New English File 5th edition.
I still think writing reviews is not any sign that you can write materials. It does show you can assimilate information, express yourself clearly and meet a deadline, all relevant skills. But it would be much, much more honest to advertise for reviewers rather than writers and say “This is not a request for writers but we do at times build on relationships made through reviewing and piloting materials.”
As for my big names quibble, well, I’ve realised that those names are up there because they have a proven track record of getting the work done in the right way and on time rather than that their names sell books, although as Hugh Dellar pointed out, it can’t hurt. In my little bits of work done for course books I’ve always delivered early and, I think from feedback, satisfied briefs and shown that I might be someone that can be relied on to do the same on a bigger project.
But, at the same time, I know from friends in publishing that there are authors writing ELT books for whom the editors jump through hoops. So, if their days are numbered as the ELT course book machine goes through its internal revolutions and more and more books are fee based team efforts, then I don’t suppose any of us on the way up now are going to command such luxury contracts. Not that that was ever on my agenda – I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I’m quite happy just doing the bits and pieces and even if Graded Readers don’t sell in massive numbers nor draw the crowds like course books do, they give me the immense satisfaction of having an outlet for story telling and, although edited, are still very much my stories and not diluted or changed beyond all recognition to suit the markets.
One thing I tentatively disagree with is the mild outrage that greeted my admission that I am not all that familiar with the names that are out there. Yes, I can use Google! Finding someone because I have looked them up on Google is the work of a few seconds. I do it regularly. It’s not the same as following their work via their name. I know their work, I’m a big fan of the Speak Out Series and Innovations in particular.
But if, as it seems is the case, the end results of these original ideas are either collaborative or a compromise between what the author wanted and what the publishers allowed, then I don’t think I’ll learn as much from knowing who the writers are as I do from knowing the books. The books have taught me what’s right and wrong with the current materials. The more I see of the writers themselves shows me how much more real they are than their books have been allowed to be.
Plus, I think it’s a fairly recent thing, thanks to Twitter connecting audiences to people’s blogs, that the authors and editors are becoming more like ELT celebrities. I mean this in a good way this time. Now I don’t have to look to the course books to see what an author is like, I can read and interact with them directly, which the last couple of weeks has been fantastic for. None of them wear beige!
Unfortunately this didn’t take as long to write as I’d hoped. The shops are still open. They’re bursting with sugary evils and I’ve got no weapons with which to fight them off until next Lent. I tried Ramadan last year – the cultural weight just doesn’t work when it’s not your own. Into the breach…
** Half of that three years is down to how long it takes for a finished project to go on sale rather than how long it took me to achieve it.