Self-publishing: the Road to Independence

by Julie Pratten

Mainstream ELT publishing has been stuck in a rut for several years now. Major publishers are still churning out the same old books; lots of glossy covers and sales talk, but it’s the same kind of material. It is difficult for new talent to get published – safe names sell books, conferences, and webinars. The market, the students and the teachers are all crying out for change. Independent self-published authors are edging in and offering a much different menu. Nik Peachey, Phil Wade, Jorge Sette – just to name just a few – are a new breed of innovative independents with a fresh approach. Self-publishers can influence the market (and, indeed, are) and the fact Phil Wade and I were joint winners of the BESIG David Riley Award for Innovation last November proves just that. However, without the giant marketing machines of the big publishers, this influence can be a slow process.

Known unknowns?

In the last few years there has been much debate about self-publishing and many ELT authors have defected from publishers to go their own way. It is actually relatively easy to write an ebook: they are short and sweet, often under 30 pages. Authors can stream the material onto Smashwords or Amazon and voila! However, it doesn’t stop there. Or, rather for many authors who are unknowns it actually does stop right there. If you are an unknown, it means your material just sits there and nobody apart from your Mum and a few people in your PLN sees it. After all the sweat and drudgery of researching, writing, rewriting, and several rounds of self-editing your work, the fact that you don’t get any downloads is soul destroying. All that work and you can’t even give it away. A word of warning: If you aren’t passionate about it, don’t bother. Take up golf or gardening instead. There is no easy route to self-publishing, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success. This brings me to a few basic self-publishing rules.

Rule number 1: Get noticed

Names sell books. A lot of teachers buy books from names they know. This means before you publish your own book, you need to be out there; you need to tweet, post on Facebook regularly, give talks at conferences, chat on discussion forums, write a blog and do Webinars for teachers’ associations. And if you can manage to get noticed after all of that, you might be in with a chance!

Rule number 2: Get a decent editor and seek advice

A ‘second pair of eyes’ will make all the difference to your work. In fact, an editor will turn your idea into a book. He or she will check the language and the content, as well as whether the material actually works. Your editor will make the material consistent, accessible and give it credibility. Also, consider contacting the Society of Authors and think about joining. They can provide tips and guidelines, and also advise at every stage of the publishing process.

Rule number 3: Make a business plan

Get some expert help to discuss your business model and marketing strategy. Very often you can get free expert advice from Chambers of Commerce, as well as free training by local councils and governmental bodies that assist entrepreneurs.

Rule number 4: Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

Try to hook up with other independents and discuss how you can collaborate with them on various elements of the publishing process – from proofreading, editing and designing the layout, through to marketing each other’s books. Do as much skill-sharing as possible. It will save you money and help you avoid making serious mistakes.

Rule number 5: Remember the good stuff    

When the going gets tough (and it will!) remember how good it is to have the freedom to develop your ideas and create your own publishing project. Talk to like-minded people – there are plenty of them out there! I suggest joining several Facebook groups for teachers, including those for authors (some of these are closed groups, so please do contact me for recommendations). The only way you will be able to get from the idea stage and follow through all the hurdles along the way to publication is to get some support from your PLN. It will help you maintain the passion and replenish your motivation.

Good luck!

Author’s Bio: Julie Pratten has extensive teaching experience in over 25 countries. Nowadays she lives in Turkey, where she teaches business and financial English and runs the independent publishing platform, Academic Study Kit. She is a visiting lecturer at the University of Brighton where she teaches on the Extended Masters Pre-sessional EAP course. She is also the founder of Heart ELT and has set up a school for Syrian children in Domiz camp near Dohuk in Iraq.
Website: www.academicstudykit.comHeart
You can see a recent interview with Julie, which expands on some of her ideas about self-publishing and explains in more detail her work with Heart ELT, in the EFL Magazine here.