IATEFL Liverpool calling: Nick Robinson and how to get into ELT publishing

10 Apr

Nick reassured us that his talk was going to tell us all about how to get published, not just how to write. Nick is head of the recently-created MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) of IATEFL and as such is in the perfect position to help aspiring materials writers get their foot in the door. Plus, he’s also been involved in writing and editing for many years so he also knows all that mysterious stuff that goes on backstage in the world of publishing, including why the way publishers recruit new authors is not altogether different from how MI6 recruits spies!

Today, there is about .000001% chance of f sending in an unsolicited idea and getting it published. Sorry to burst any bubbles! Today, publishers bring new books into the world through focus groups, market analyses, collecting requests from teachers. From these processes to publication, it can take between 3 and 5 years! Publishing houses have very systematic publication plans and they generally stick to them.

Nick gave us a few precious pearls of wisdom for moving into the publishing world:

  • Never try to sell a book to a publisher. Sell an author. This is perhaps the one key thing to take away according to Nick. Sell yourself as a potential long-term business partner. You have to get onto publishers radars and the best way to do this is go to conferences. This is where the commissioning editors are and the IATEFL conference has one of the highest concentration of them out of all the conferences in Europe. In America, you’ll want to go to the TESOL conference. And if there’s a publisher-sponsored event after the conference, GO! This is the perfect opportunity to meet editors informally!


  • Have a 15 or 30 second elevator pitch ready to go and mak sure the editor can clearly remember a specific interest you have. Even better, scribble it on the back of your business card just before handing it over to the commissioning editor. Imagine when they get back to their office, they will have collected hundreds of business cards and they probably won’t remember your little elevator pitch. But a quick “business English, functional language” on the back of your card will easily make you memorable.


  • Make sure you’re visible. Get your name out there so that when an editor googles your name, they see you’ve got influence and that you engage an audience. Speaking at conferences is a good way to do this, but so is keeping a (regularly-updated) blog. 


  • Editors don’t want to work with writers who are surly, hard to work with, or inflated with their own ego. Personal rapport is a key element, so be a good person. It’s as easy as that. And don’t try to be too whacky. Anything that’s just way to out there is not going to make editors happy.


  • On a more technical side, you’ll need to get used to writing closely to a brief. This is a short description of the specifics of a book—target audience, type of activities, do’s and don’ts, etc. It is NOT a jumping off point. You must write exactly to the brief. Publishers will love you.


  • In terms of pay, there’s a changing shift in pay schemes. Publishers want people who’ll write for a fee rather than royalties. It means signing your work over to the publisher once it’s finished though, but Nick reminded us that this is the reality of the game. That being said, the fees tend to be pretty nice. 


  • Don’t think of yourself as just a book writer. Become a “content creator.” Editors want creators of books, apps, workbooks, and whatever types of materials that could help sell. You’ve got to get comfortable writing for multiple platforms. Versatility equals added value.


  • Today, digital writers are a hot commodity. By this Nick means someone familiar with the specific characteristics of online learning and how online content works.


  • To succeed, you’ll need to be thick-skinned. Getting your first feedback can be completely awful. Getting hard punched in the stomach is about what it feels like. You have to remember though that it’s a way of making your work better. Criticism hurts. Get used to it.

If you’re looking for help on getting into writing in ELT, definitely contact Nick Robinson. He knows the trends in materials creation and he takes his own advice–he’s a good guy who’s just easy and fun to work with.His web site is


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