Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

How about some innovation?

Last night I was lucky enough to go to the ELTons, the British Council Awards for Innovation that, a swanky awards ceremony held in London every year.

To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of it until last year, but it has been running almost as long as I’ve been in ELT.  This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve not heard of something I probably should have if I wanted to be able to write blog posts about ELT that don’t come under heavy fire. However, I’m not the only one. Someone who’s been in ELT for as long as me and is a key ELT-er admitted to me recently that he didn’t know what the ‘affective filter’ was.**

The ELTons recognise and celebrate innovation in English Language Teaching. They reward educational resources that help English language learners and teachers to achieve their goals. Categories are:

Excellence in Course Innovation

Innovation in Learner Resources

Innovation in Teacher Resources

Digital Innovation

Local Innovation

…and one of particular interest to me New Talent in Writing which carries the “opportunity to win a £1000 prize and to have their work published”.

Does that mean the winner has to do something else to win the money? Because it seems like they do have to do something other than win the award to actually be published.

Last night’s winner Lizzie Pinard is an ELT blogger, Tweeter and an active member of the ELT community online as well as a prolific creator of EFL materials. She’s exactly the kind of person this award should help gain a foothold in published materials writing. I’ve no doubt it will put her on publisher’s radars, including Macmillan who are the sponsors of that award, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her book proposal, Compass,  “have the opportunity” of being published.

I won’t hold my breath hoping it actually gets published though, because Google tells me the previous winning proposals have yet to see the light of day.




I’d like to suggest an innovation for the ELT industry:


Publish the work of a new writer.


2013’s winner YL Teresa Ting’s CLIL Biology towards iGCSE and Kate Khoury, Sarah Raybould and Louise Salim’s Sensing Humour in English are yet to have any entry on Amazon or indeed anywhere else other than reports about the ELTons or, in the case of the latter, a Guardian article which describes the book as “being developed for publication”.

Now, the publication process is long so maybe it is unrealistic to expect to see a book on sale that was discovered and awarded only one or two years ago.

Surely if we track the careers and works of Simona Petrescu with her  Professional English for Human Resources course or Stuart Wiffin and Helen Gibbons’ materials for developing EAP skills, winners in 2011 and 2010 respectively, they should be just about on Amazon’s shelves?


Then those writers have gone on to do other projects for publishers now they’re on the radar? Some publishers’ radars do seem to be extraordinarily insensitive to incoming signals. You can write for one, get published and never hear from them again. You can submit proposals at their request and never hear from them again.  So…


I admit that I restricted my search for these authors’ names to the first page of Google. Maybe there are all sorts of books and resources by them on the second page of Google – in which case the publishers that are using them need to have a look at their PR.

What I cynically suspect is happening is that this award makes everyone involved feel all warm and fuzzy and like champions of innovation but that fitting the publishing plan and the switch to digital (over and above commissioning new projects – I’ve had a project nixed due to this by one of the biggies recently) means that no winner of this award will ever see any more recognition than the night of the ELTons and no more money than the £1000 I really hope they actually receive. It’s probably more than they might hope to make if they are published, if my Reader royalty statements are anything to go by.

There is a way the publishers could publish the winning ideas.


Harper Collins has a Digital Imprint called Harper Impulse which puts out work from mainly new writers under a separate name, but within Women’s Fiction, with the editorial and PR support you’d expect from a mainstream publisher. They invest far less than they would with a paper book and can get things to publication in a matter of weeks. Macmillan have One Stop English but that is a subscriber resource site which (unless I am mistaken and please correct me if I am) does not pay the writers for their contributions.

They could start an online shop of edited and approved materials with the author taking a share of the sales. Harper Impulse’s model has 25% net to the author, rising to 50% after a certain sales threshold. This platform should not be One Stop English as that is primarily used by teachers and I just do not see why teachers would want to pay for materials.

There are institutional subscriptions and perhaps it could be worked into that somehow, but the best thing would be to market this digital materials platform at their customers and institutions directly using all the channels they already use for their, dare I say, serious products. By which I mean, the products they take seriously by investing huge resources into.

Harper Impulse has developed some of their romance ebooks into paperback Print on Demand versions that are on sale in Tesco and other retail outlets so there must be an equivalent for educational publishing.

It would at least show willing, which at the moment I just cannot see from the rather dispiriting Google searches I made this afternoon looking for the last 4 years’ winners.









**Answer: a common sense thing any teacher knows but gets given a name on the DELTA (not really covered on the MA though, I wonder why? Could it be an ELT vagary masquerading as a rigourously researched phenomenon but which is in fact several much more complex things than one term could suggest? Don’t ask me, I did the MA)

6 comments on “How about some innovation?

  1. Mike Boyle
    May 23, 2014

    That’s great that you were at the ceremony. What about the after party at the bar everyone was mentioning? Someone needs to do a recap of that! I just hope Teddy Eddie made it home in one piece.

    I agree that looking for innovative new writers is not high on every publisher’s to-do list right now. Some of the things you mentioned, like English for Human Resources, have limited markets that the big publishers might not want to invest in.

    As for the schedules, they can be even slower than what you’ve suggested because a publisher couldn’t just drop everything in 2010 to start developing Professional English for Human Resources. They would need to do market research, which takes time, and then “internally sell” the idea, which really takes time. And after all that the idea would only have made it onto the 5 year plan. So maybe a product that wins an award in 2010 would start being developed a year or two later.

    The only problem with publishing the winning materials as e-books is that even though you save on printing, warehousing, and logistics, you still have to pay writers, editors, illustrators, designers, photo houses, etc. and those first costs alone can be very expensive. Fiction imprints don’t have the same first costs since there aren’t usually illustrations in those books and it’s not as important to establish consistent page breaks.

    But maybe you or some enterprising person can set up such an imprint? There are many things that global publishers don’t have an interest or incentive to do that could work out quite well for a smaller, more nimble organization.

    Having said all of that, I think that winning an award like this is great for the writers, and I’m sure some of them have had opportunities to work on publisher commissioned projects (although that may not be something they want to do).

    • suej11
      May 24, 2014

      I wonder why writers don’t publish their own innovative materials! It would be quicker and less frustrating than dealing with a major ELT publisher! Or approach one of the big groups with their own internal content residing on their own internal but global network and work with them to produce what they would like.

  2. Kate
    August 17, 2014

    Hello there, I am that Kate Khoury from your article, and I can confirm that Sensing Humour in English is not published, no… But I’m working on that!.. albeit slowly as I’m not quite sure what the heck I’m doing!! So your article is appreciated!

    To fill you in, as you pondered our whereabouts. We’ve all just come back from putting on a teachy show at the Edinburgh Fringe where we ‘performed’ some of the very same material, at Edinburgh Language Centre. So we’re all still alive and kicking, and continuing in our attempts to Sense the Humour!

    Great site!

    • Nicola
      August 19, 2014

      Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by and updating me! I wish I could offer some advice on getting published but I’m as much in the dark as anyone. Getting something published is apparently very little aid to getting something else out!
      Fantastic about the Edinburgh festival!! That sounds really exciting. If you wanted to write about the whole experience and the show I’d love to host you…

      • Kate
        August 24, 2014

        Thanks! 🙂 Would love to.
        Congrats on your award though!!! That’s brilliant, isn’t it!

      • Nicola
        August 28, 2014

        Great! Will email you 🙂

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This entry was posted on May 23, 2014 by in ELT, Writing and tagged , , , , , .
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