Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
That’s how I’ll be signing off every email, Tweet, Facebook status update and autograph from now on.
Nicola Prentis, Award Winning Writer
Ah wait, no…
Nicola Prentis, Award Winning Writer
That’s not quite right either…
I hope no-one is expecting some modest post about how lucky I was to win and bashful protestations about my modest talent. No, no, none of that. I’ve never been in any doubt I would win, even before the shortlist was announced. Even before I pushed the publishers to nominate titles.
It’s not arrogance, although you can take it that way if you like. The Tomorrow Mirror is probably the most original story idea I’ve ever had. It is probably the most original I ever will have too. I know when my writing is good and when it’s not**. I can feel it when it’s working and it’s painfully clear when it’s not. When it’s flowing, it’s more like chanelling than writing. When it’s not, it’s like searching through sawdust for catshit. Even when you find what you’re looking for you wish you hadn’t.
So, other than my new sign off, what else will being an Award Winning Writer do for me?
Boost sales? Get me new book deals? Probably not.
Despite reader reviews like this one from a student in China, I expect Graded Readers will continue to be vastly underused in EFL classrooms and shamefully underpromoted by publishers.
I think the story is original and the ending is very educational. I learned we should not be opportunistic. We should be honest.
This student hasn’t just engaged at a grammar and vocabulary level, she or he’s thought about their place in the moral universe. Along the way on their imagination’s journey, I would bet they effortlessly picked up the new words “mirror”, “bruise” and the 18 others new to their level and reinforced the past simple tense (the book is Level 1).
Despite the fact stories are probably the most powerful tool, bar music, we have as humans to communicate anything and their incredible potential to teach and inspire, Graded Readers are barely even marketed by publishers. They’re in the catalogue and that’s about it. Sales are unsurprisingly uninspiring as a result. For ages, I couldn’t understand why go to the time and expense of producing something you don’t try to sell? And then I heard from a Greek language school owner that he often gets given Readers free from sales reps. So, the potential for me to earn out my advance is thwarted by the very people that pay me it.
What is the marketing budget going on?
Grammar and vocabulary vehicles with some study skills thrown in aka course books. All of which are pretty much the same; they just have different covers. They make more money than Readers of course (100% more than the ones given away for nothing) because mostly Readers will be one per school library whereas course-books are one per student. But, if Readers were marketed differently, in fact if they were marketed at all, so that teachers knew the huge potential for using them in class, maybe they would sell in greater volumes.
Pearson have just spent a lot of money on, in my opinion, quite a slick ad for their new testing scale. It’s up there with plenty of big brand name ad campaigns and I wonder why an ELT company hasn’t attempted something this pro looking before.
Advertising works – we know it does. Pearson knows it does. So why are they only applying it to one product? You wouldn’t need to convince people of much to sell stories. Stories have driven mankind for our entire existence, from cave paintings to the Bible to opera to Harry Potter. We’re already pretty sold on them. Testing someone’s level of English is a much harder sell because most people don’t learn a language for fun nor do they joyfully assess it with a test. They mostly do it as a chore – an expensive, time consuming, spirit sapping chore. All an ad campaign needs to do is remind people how big a part stories play in their lives and you’d scoop up customers.
As for me, I’ve got another Reader out next month or so and another one – a brilliant one – that I can’t get comissioned by any of the publishing houses because they’re all focused on the digital version of their dull, samey coursebook. Except now it’s called a Learning Platform or something. The world yawns with me and the last Graded Readers, possibly ever, roll off the presses as we speak.
Marcos Benevides is perhaps a lone man standing in the nuclear desert of Graded Reading with his fantastic Choose Your Own Adventure Graded Readers. I’m sceptical about self publishing as I’m not convinced potential customers would know where to find Readers or even that they should be looking for them. Without an ad campaign I can’t see how to do it although maybe there’s a way to do it virally.
So, I’m going to put my next Reader out on Wattpad and see what happens. That seems like as good a way as any to find a direct link to customers and then after that, maybe I can make something of it.
Giving away my own book for free will certainly rankle less than hearing that publishers are.
** This post for example has only one very good line in it. The rest is merely competent but the last line works well.