Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
When I got the chance to submit a proposal to write a B2+ Speaking Skills book for the Collins English for Life series with Harper Collins, I thought two things. One, having an agent is brilliant and, two, this is a halfway house between writing Graded Readers and being a coursebook author.
As it turns out, one year later, just as the book is released, I see I was only right about one of those things.
I was right about the agent part. I would never in a million years have got that offer had it not been for Nick Robinson and Harper Collins’ willingness to source authors through the agency model.
I was wrong about being on the way to having my name on a coursebook. I thought it would prove something. It might have, but like the tree that falls in the forest when no one is listening, if everyone is looking the other way when a new writer brings a whole book to market, it doesn’t make a sound either.
Guess what though? I don’t care!!
I think the freedom I was given to write a book that used my own ideas, a freedom that began with the proposal and went all the way to the end, albeit with plenty of compromising, is reminiscent of the Golden Years of coursebook writing. A time before the only coursebooks around are those dictated by publishing houses and fulfilled by a team of authors with no part in the vision.
Here’s what’s happened on the couple of occasions I’ve been invited to submit ideas for course books or parts of them:
I think I am really being asked what I’d do if I could and I create a proposal accordingly.
I wonder why they bothered asking and watch in bemusement as another same sh*t, different bucket product goes into development.
Looking back at my Collins proposal side by side with the contents page of the finished book, it actually bears such a strong resemblance to the finished product that there is no mistaking it for mine.Cue exclamation marks !!!!
Twelve months on, and an industry year older’s worth of more jaded, I can see what a big thing that is. Authors don’t dream up coursebooks anymore; they just fulfil briefs, extinguishing their soul little by little, page by page, until they honestly think creativity is carrying out a brief in a novel way and not what it means in the Arts – imagining, making stuff up, seeing ‘what happens if…?’, maybe dreaming a little.
That proposal was a lot of work. I had to come up with twenty topics, write a sample chapter, give a rationale behind my ideas and suggest the target language for each unit and the learning objectives for the first five. Basically, I had to conceive an entire book.
Then, instead of rejecting it and doing what they were going to do anyway, Collins just, like, wow, suggested tweaks and places where it needed work and, like, totally commissioned it.
The result is a book that I care about because it’s actually my project (although it’s part of an established series so is well within a framework); a book I am being paid royalties on so I care how it sells; a book I would happily recommend to people because it does something I believe in – works on speaking; a book that has some focus on sentence frames and training students to pick out everyday chunks of language.