Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

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

Award Winning Writer

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…

Nicola Prentis, Award Winning Writer

tom The Tomorrow Mirror was shortlisted for the ERF Language Learner Literature Awards in spring and  last week I got the news I was waiting for – that it had won its category.

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.

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17 comments on “Award Winning Writer

  1. Andrew Leon Hudson
    July 12, 2014

    Congratulations, Nicola. Not having read your competitors, I remain certain that it was a worthy win.

  2. mbenevides
    July 12, 2014

    Congratulations, Nicola! You were indeed refreshingly confident at the LLL presentation in April–and after reading some of your other stuff I had no doubt you’d get the gold.

    Regarding the lack of marketing, though, it’s at least partly because extensive reading as an approach hasn’t really caught on outside Asia. I was surprised to find almost no presentations about ER at IATEFL and TESOL–and most of the ones I attended were woefully off-track. In Japan, ER is huge, and graded readers are indeed marketed heavily. In fact, 50% of worldwide sales of GRs are in Japan alone, and I would bet another 20% is Korea plus Taiwan.

    So maybe the thing to do is get out there and push ER more. First come to JALT and see how we do it over here. It’s at the end of November. 😉

    • Nicola
      July 12, 2014

      I tried to get my publisher to send me to JALT last year without success. And this year I missed the deadline but suspect the answer might have been the same. I will make more fuss! If they’re already marketing maybe I can find the right person’s ear to bend. I am going to propose a couplke of Reader related talks this year at conferences. Maybe you can come and see if I am getting it right!

  3. eflfocus
    July 12, 2014

    Congratulations. I believe publishers need to be looking at how they market their graded readers. As a teacher, it was sometimes difficult to find stories appropriate to the skill level of my students versus their age. In addition, looking to foreign markets may be the way to go. In Asia, each of my students bought the book they were reading.

    • Nicola
      July 13, 2014

      I agree! I don’t know why they don’t do it. Makes no sense to me but what would I know? 🙂

  4. James Styring
    July 13, 2014

    Marcos’s books are excellent and I think he was brave and admirably determined to go it alone and self-publish. He isn’t alone though in the (small) world of ELT chose-your-own-adventure graded readers. Two years ago Richmond Publishers commissioned four brilliant (he says modestly) graded ‘maze’ readers: http://www.richmondelt.com/international/series/details?id=43. There’s a generous review here: http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/crisis-at-clifton-richmond-mazes/. Richmond have published hard-copy books but mainly they plan to sell them as iPad apps, and in future Android apps. Presumably they *do* plan to sell some, as they sent us to IATEFL this year to talk about them. Time will tell if they take off …

    • Nicola
      July 14, 2014

      You’re right. By last man standing I meant no one is commissioning them any more. I actually wrote one similar thing to you …but the project was shelved. I see no reason why, in digital format, Readers couldn’t widen their market as apps and mobile reading seems to be popular amongst an audience that wouldn’t necessarily buy books.

  5. Russ
    July 14, 2014

    Congrats! Great news.

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  7. paulwalsh
    July 15, 2014

    Congrats Nicola! The Tomorrow Mirror does sound like a great concept. I don’t know why publishers don’t market Graded Readers – maybe they don’t have the same ‘crack cocaine’ effect of coursebooks.

    I know when I taught a live-in intensive course the Graded Reader ‘library’ was very popular with students.

    Other than flying to Asia with a box-load of books I don’t know what to suggest, but good luck with solving the problem!

    • Nicola
      August 19, 2014

      I think it’s exactly that. A course book you only have to sell once and then every student who walks through the doors gets one and is expecting to. Readers seem less profitable because teachers don’t see them as something to have class sets of – even though there’s no reason why each student shouldn’t have their own book and read them as a class. I proposed tying them into course books somehow so they complement the course book or are referred to in them but as far as I know the only people who were going to do something similar shelved the project!

  8. Tara Benwell
    July 16, 2014

    Congrats, Nicola. I loved this post. I’ve been asked a few times if I want to write Graded Readers. I would love to if I knew there would actually be readers and that I would get paid fairly for my work, but I’ve heard too many negative things. It’s very unfortunate!

    I wonder if I could get some of my online learners to read The Tomorrow Mirror with me in a book club style. Is it available on all of the Amazon sites? These students are scattered around the world.

    • Nicola
      August 19, 2014

      Thank you! I wouldn’t say never do it, just don’t expect to make any money under the current model. I have another model in mind which I’m going to see if I can float at a non ELT publisher and eventually there has to be someone who makes something work. Humans have shared stories since civilisation began so there is a pretty strong natural compulsion towards them.
      The book is available on Amazon so I can’t see why your students shouldn’t be able to get copies. Good luck and let me know what you do with them! There are other posts on this blog about what to do with Readers in general and The Tomorrow Mirror in particular.

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  10. katieyangel
    November 13, 2014

    A bit late, but congratulations!! Interestingly enough, I’ve been working on a new Primary course for one of the big publishers, that has a Reader (compilation of short stories) at its core alongside the Student’s Book. Beautiful series. Must remember to post a link here when it’s published next year.

    • Nicola
      November 15, 2014

      That’s good to hear as I’ve never understood why there isn’t more synchronicity between the two. I did just do a bit of workbook stuff that tied itself to Graded Readers too so maybe they’re catching on. I hope there’s more to come.

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