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. Martin is one of three contributing authors in this mini-series. Read the other posts here

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…:

  1. I’m good at devising materials and I’d like to extend my career into a new area?
  2. 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:

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):

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

4 Comments

  1. Thandeka Maqungo

    I’m interested to become an Author. I would like to learn from you and gain knowledge on houw to build myself the skill and understanding on becoming an author. Your help will be highly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Katie Stokes, Blog Editor, ClarityEnglish

      Hi there,
      We’re really pleased to see you’ve enjoyed this blog. If you do end up trying any of the tips from this post, please let us know how you find them!

      Reply
  2. Rosimeire Silvano

    Good morning Mr. Moore,

    I am very glad to meet you.

    My name is Rosimeire Silvano, I am Brazilian from São Paulo and I have been living and working in Costa Rica, Central America, since 2013 as a Portuguese Teacher as a Foreign Language, especially for Spanish speakers.

    I would like to congratulate your wonderful job and thank you so much for sharing your amazing and really usefull work experience on how to prepare excelent materials and publish them in a best way.

    Even though this online space is special for english teachers, I thank you for helping me a lot on inspire ideas, in a how to prepare better materials processes to create memorable classes with very good didatic or pedagogic resources. Also I am greatfull for your tips about how to write and publish learning on your brillant experience in the greatest Publishing Houses.

    Actually I am interested in start to create a collection for my students same of “Readers” from MacMillan on gradual and progresive levels acording to MERL (A1a C2) but in Portuguese of Brazil.

    Thank you once more and have a worderful day.

    Best regards.

    Reply
    • Katie Stokes, Blog Editor, ClarityEnglish

      Hi Rosimeire,
      Thank you very much for your kind words on the blog post. We’re so pleased to see you’ve enjoyed it and found it useful. We have more posts about publishing coming up. If you’re interested, do consider subscribing to the blog!

      Reply

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