The English language teaching industry is full of specializations and niches that provide opportunities for teachers with different skillsets to push their career forward. Some teachers focus on teaching students from specific geographic locations, countries, or language groups, while others choose to teach English online to children. The possibilities are truly endless.
One of the career paths that many teachers dream of, but few have the pleasure of pursuing, is becoming a published author of a series of English language textbooks. Not only is this work stimulating on an intellectual level, but it's also impactful because of the number of students and teachers who will be reached by a successful publication.
Hugh Dellar knows more about this segment of the ELT industry than most, as he has co-authored 25 books in his 30 years of teaching, including two series of English language course books called Outcomes and Innovations that have been published by National Geographic Learning. He has also written a book on teaching methodology called Teaching Lexically. In addition to authoring a variety of books, he provides training for teachers who want to learn how to teach using his methodology via his online platform called Lexical Lab.
We were lucky enough to get the opportunity to sit down with Hugh Dellar for a face-to-face interview where he shared his insights into authorship as a career path and the opportunities that exist for young, ambitious authors in the twenty-first century. (Watch the full interview at the bottom of this page.)
When asked what someone who, as an author, would like to follow in his footsteps should expect, Hugh half-jokingly replied, "Pain and misery." He goes on to say that, due to changes in the ELT writing industry, Hugh Dellar feels that he is one of the last waves of people who has been able to make a decent living out of being an author.
Royalties, or a percentage of book sales that the author earns, weren't questioned as much in the past as they are now. Over the years authors and their royalties have been squeezed as the emphasis has switched from writers being viewed as "creatives" or as generators of ideas for publications to writers being viewed as simply content creators with a focus on template-driven material and flat fees. These factors have made it more difficult for someone to break into the industry through a mainstream publisher and make a living.
On the one hand, there's an older generation of writers who still tend to get work because they've got proven records. If someone has written a course books series before, there's an understanding that they know how to write to a brief, how to draft and redraft, how to work to a deadline, etc. On the other hand, there are people who will come in and work for a third of the compensation that an established author might want to accept. Their work will typically be modified and polished by a series editor and squeezed into a particular type of template.
This keeps the industry quite competitive, but also promotes a type of race to the bottom wherein those who can complete tasks moderately well and are willing to accept the least amount of compensation will end up with work.
If you've got ideas about what material you want to write and you've got talent, you really have two options:
While the first option might seem soul-sucking, especially if you're just pumping out templated content day in and day out, if you absolutely need to find paying work, there are gigs out there. After all, getting paid $8,000 to write a teacher's book is not nothing.
Clearly the second option is more attractive from an independence point of view, but there is a barrier to entry for anyone who feels uneasy about using technology. The content produced by young, up-and-coming, technology-friendly teachers who sell their own products online and promote themselves through social media websites, such as Instagram, is variable. Let's be honest, their time is spent mastering marketing more than mastering teaching.
However, we cannot rely on the big publishers and other large organizations in English language teaching to remunerate talent to the degree that it needs to if it's going to really foster a strong relationship with that talent and keep them happy. These companies will always need someone to create content that teaches English online and offline, so there will always be the opportunity to produce teacher's books and other work under the flag of someone else.
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