Writing for a Targeted Audience
Dorothy Zemach holds an MA in TEFL from SIT in Vermont, USA. A prolific textbook author and editor, Dorothy has penned everything from business skills teacher’s books to the lowest and highest levels of Macmillan's flagship course Open Mind to the groundbreaking English for Scammers (self-published). In 2012 she founded Wayzgoose Press, which publishes fiction, literary non-fiction, and ELT materials. http://dorothyzemach.com
The 1990s saw the rise of the global coursebook. Even skills books were no longer published as stand-alones but in series. For publishers, that makes sense—that is, global materials and series simply make more money. But at least some teachers mourned the loss of the stand-alone books, the quirky, the targeted, the specialized.
Thanks to self-publishing, though, we now have a better alternative than to use materials that don’t quite fit your class because they were made for a different market (or sometimes no real market at all, beyond “all English language learners”).
The cost barriers to self-publishing are low. You could, in fact, self-publish a book without spending any money at all, although I don’t recommend it. To create the highest-quality books, you’ll want to pay for, at a minimum, editing, proofreading, and a professionally designed cover. You might also wish to invest in interior formatting, images, or audio. But those might cost less than you think, since you can hire freelance editors, proofreaders, and designers, and image databases offer very low-cost photos and art. You don’t have to rent office space in London or New York, and you don’t have to maintain salaried staff. In any case, you only pay for them once. Your biggest investment will be your time; but you’d have to invest that to write global materials for someone else as well.
Here are some types of books that traditional publishers are unlikely to be interested in publishing, but still have a place in the world of published ELT materials.
(Note: The examples I’m giving below are all ones I’ve published; some were written by me, and some by other authors. However, they are all ebooks and/or print-on-demand paperbacks.)
- Short books. Ebooks don’t have a minimum page count. Some of the first ELT materials I self-published were a series of self-study guides for intermediate-level students: Fifty Ways to Practice Writing, Fifty Ways to Practice Reading, and so on. The books are around 5,000-7000 words long. But they don’t need to be longer. They are what it says on the tin: fifty ways to practice the skill area. But each technique or tip is short, so as not to overwhelm students. There is no 10-page introductory chapter about the skill area. Some of the books contain images, but only those that are necessary to explain content. The price of each book is as low as I can set it on Amazon (US$1). But I’ve recovered my initial investment many times over.
- One-off books. Here I classify those books that I doubt will ever be made into a series, although in some cases I can imagine titles that aren’t entirely unrelated. But for now, the books stand by themselves. Some example titles from ones I’ve self-published: Mind Your Language! English for Nannies and Au Pairs; How To Be a Successful MOOC Student; Marketing Communications in English.
- Controversial books, or books that contain controversial topics or topics that are disallowed or unpopular in certain markets. When creating global materials, traditional publishers err on the side of caution, and eliminate references not only to religion and politics, but also alcohol, dating, dogs, pigs, astrology, LGBTQ issues, and so on. But in some classes, these topics are not only allowable but desired. If you don’t have to please everybody, you can please these narrower markets. Into this category I’d put my title 30 Games for Social Change.
- Companion volumes for courses you teach. If you ever wished you could gather up all your handouts and course materials into a book for your own class, you might consider self-publishing them. If the materials would have an appeal outside your class as well, you could offer them for sale to the general public, as I did with 100 TESOL Activities for Teachers, which accompanies a MOOC for English language teachers, but you could equally choose to distribute your book only to your own class or institution; ebook files, after all, can be emailed. But creating an actual book out of your materials lets your students have something that looks professional and that can be accessed on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.
- Material that might not sell in great numbers, but you nevertheless wish existed as a book. That is a long title for a category, but I don’t know a more succinct way to put it. An example of this is a collection I put together of all the articles I had written for TESOL’s now-defunct Essential Teacher magazine, which were never digitized and would therefore have disappeared when the magazine folded. But I still liked my columns. The thing about personal essays (or articles or blog posts) is, though, that people who don’t know you aren’t that interested in them (unless, perhaps, you write in one topic area). Yet people who do know you are more interested. Just sitting up there on Amazon, my collection (Answers May Vary) doesn’t often get purchased. But I order my own author copies and take them with me when I travel. I give them as gifts to institutions where I do workshops and donate them as raffle prizes at conferences. That way my work isn’t lost, and I can offer it to people who now have some interest in it.
Self-publishing isn’t going to replace traditional publishing; nor should it. Each channel provides different types of materials, and we’re all the richer for it. Books that need a large team of authors and editors, or that have extensive developmental needs (a companion video, for example) are best created by traditional publishers. But self-publishers can now fill the neglected niches of books that aren’t for everyone—but are truly best for some.
Zemach, D. (2012.) Answers May Vary: Essays on Teaching English as a Second Language, Wayzgoose Press.
Berger, J. (2016). 30 Games for Social Change, Wayzgoose Press.
Brummer, J. (2018). Mind Your Language! English for Nannies and Au Pairs, Wayzgoose Press.
Dixon, S. (2016). 100 TESOL Activities for Teachers: Practical ESL/EFL Activities for the Communicative Classroom, Wayzgoose Press.
Sokolik, M. and Zemach, D. (2016). How To Be a Successful MOOC Student, Wayzgoose Press.
Williams, E. (2016). Marketing Communications in English, Wayzgoose Press.
Young-Davy, B. (2012). Fifty Ways to Practice Reading: Tips for ESL/ EFL Students, Wayzgoose Press.
Zemach, D. (2012). Answers May Vary: Essays on Teaching English as a Second Language, Wayzgoose Press.
Zemach, D. (2013). Fifty Ways to Practice Writing: Tips for ESL/EFL Students, Wayzgoose Press.
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