Publishing with a large publishing house

by | 27 October 2021

Martin Moore has 30 years’ experience as a publisher, writer and editor. He has worked for Cambridge University Press, Pearson, BBC English and Oxford University Press.

So you want to be an ELT writer? Maybe you’ve got a great idea and you want to get it published. What do you do next? Send it to the big publishers and wait to find out whether you’ve got a bestseller on your hands?

The blunt truth is that in all the years I worked for a big publisher I can barely remember an unsolicited proposal being accepted – certainly not for books or resources aimed at students. Gone are the days when a Michael Swan or Raymond Murphy could come forward with a brilliant, groundbreaking proposal which would find its way onto the shelves of literally millions of students and teachers.

It’s not that most of the proposals we received were bad (although there were always some wacky ones). It’s simply that publishers are driven by market research. They have armies of sales consultants, editors and researchers in constant contact with schools, teachers and ministries, identifying trends and developments in teaching and learning. When they spot an opportunity, they do further research, analyse the business case and only then, when they know exactly what they want to publish, do they look for a writer to deliver materials that fit their brief.

That’s not to say working with a large publishing house is impossible. You just need to be pragmatic about your approach. So before deciding what you’re going to do, ask yourself what you really mean by wanting to be a writer. Is it…:
a) I’m good at devising materials and I’d like to extend my career into a new area?
b) I want to get my dream idea published and into the hands of teachers and students?
Let’s take a look at scenario a) first.

Getting started

Your first task is to get yourself noticed. There are lots of ELT writers out there already, not to mention new wannabe writers – like you! So if you don’t have experience, how can you get onto the first rung of the ladder?

Here are a few tips:

1. Review materials for a publisher
One way of getting known by a publisher is to contribute to their market research. If you’re using one of their courses, get to know the local sales consultant and tell them what you like about the course and suggest ways in which you think it could be enhanced. If they find your feedback useful, you could then ask if there are any new materials in development which need reviewing. A typical part of the publishing process is to get comments from teachers on the first draft of a course. This will get you closer to the editors who commission writers and is your opportunity to show that you understand what makes good materials.

2. Contribute to blogs or journals
Another way to get noticed is to write something for a blog or journal that is read by teachers and publishers. For example, you could write a review of a new book or online course. This helps to raise your profile and shows that you understand the ELT world outside your classroom.

3. Write for teacher material sites
As with any skill, writing improves with practice. It’s one thing writing a worksheet for your own class or department. It’s another thing devising something that will work for teachers across different schools and even countries. One way of practising is to create materials for websites that offer ready-made resources to teachers. There are many sites out there and it’s worth doing some research, as some are definitely better than others. A word of warning: This will allow you to practise your writing (and to show others what you’re capable of) but there are limited opportunities for earning money. Here are three sites you could look at:
• Busy Teacher
One Stop English
• ELT Concourse

4. Start small
If your goal is to write a student’s book, then bear in mind that you’ll probably have to prove yourself first. In fact, the majority of published materials consists of teacher’s guides, worksheets, online practice, etc. That’s where the opportunities are for writers at the start of their careers. You’ll learn about the publishing process and the publisher will learn about you.

5. Learn from published writers
Check out the experience of other teachers who’ve made the transition to writing. Here are three links that offer different perspectives on this topic (but as always there are plenty of others you can find):
• ELT Planning
• How do I get into materials writing?
• ELT Teacher2Writer

Another route

If you answered b) to the question above and you recognise that getting your proposal accepted by a big publisher will be an uphill struggle, there’s another route you can consider. If you believe in your idea and are dedicated to getting it out there, why not look into self-publishing? The next instalment in this series will cover the process and practicalities of becoming a self-publishing author.


Martin Moore, Editor

Martin Moore, Editor