In this interview with e-Author Phil Wade, we look at his journey into ELT materials writing and how he sees the future of e-publishing in ELT.
Phil has been in ELT for over 15 years and currently teaches at universities and in companies. He is interested in creating tailored courses for specific needs. He has the CELTA, DELTA, MA TESOL, a PGCE, certificates in Coaching and mentoring and is doing a Phd in Education.
You seem to produce a lot of work for free. Why have you decided not to charge for your books?
I get asked this a lot, mainly by course book writers. Well, I used a lot of free online materials and blogs for a long long time as a language school teacher and always wanted to give something back. I got into writing but never got to write what I wanted. My idea was to produce short titles about things I was interested in and to work with the people I wanted to. Thus, my ebooks were born and as they are quite quick to make, my contributors, Noreen Lam and Kati Alice Bilsborough kindly donate time for free and numerous other reasons, I give them away for free.
I’ve heard that you don’t want to produce paper versions of your books. Why is this?
Maybe I’m wrong but I thought ebooks were a response to too much photocopying, paper books and the growing rise of mobile tech. I don’t really see the point in making ebooks to print and copy. For me, I make them with the idea that people will use them on phones as most people use their phones for a lot longer nowadays. As a teacher, I put everything on my iPad and my students put all their docs and my materials on theirs or their phones. It saves time, is more convenient and free. My students and my department have $0 photocopy budgets.
Do you prefer blogging or books as a medium? Why?
I used to blog a fair bit but my blog kind of ran its course and I got limited by it, articles too. My writing evolved and ebooks seemed to fit what I wanted or rather HOW.
Some people are critical of those who give their work away for free and they say that it undermines our profession and makes people feel they should get everything for free. How would you respond to this?
Yes, I’ve been told this. I’d say to question who is saying it and why. Facebook seems to have quite a few people representing companies who are quick to either defend them or attack you if what you are doing seems to tread on their toes. I really don’t have to defend myself and neither do you or anyone else who is sharing a free worksheet or a lesson plan. You can make and share what you want. And also, as far as I see it, there really are not many self-pub ebook writers out there. Few publishers seem interested but the British Council does do some great free ebooks and nobody questions them.
My other response might be that if new and unpublished people can write ebooks that seem to detract or compete with professional ones, maybe the latter should be better. Healthy competition is always good though and it sometimes disappoints me that there is this kind of attitude.
What platforms and tools do you use to publish your ebooks? Why did you choose these platforms?
Just Word 2007. Nothing else. I just open Word, write then publish. Oh, I add a cover page too. Personally, I find Word very boring. It really does not inspire you to be creative. My current trick is to write on my phone or even on paper and then transfer it.
How do you market your books and make sure people find them?
I’m very boring. I don’t think about selling as I give books for free so I just post on FB and in a few groups. I soon get tired though. I’m not a fan of the hard sell to my PLN. I do a few posts and then sometimes I make fun images but soon get bored.
You recently won an award from the IATEFL Business English SIG. How important are awards and prizes for you?
Well, at the start, I won a OneStop one and a Language Point prize and then later the BESIG one. It was great to get some recognition and I tip my hat to BESIG for supporting a 100% freelance writer. In contrast, I entered the ELTons the year before but didn’t even get past the first stage. For me, it’s not about prizes or fame as they haven’t really changed anything for me. This is just a hobby. I generally finish a book and then move on. I never read them again. I hope some people read the ebooks and find them useful. A repost, a share or a review are very nice outcomes, in my opinion.
You started an ELT eBooks movement. Can you tell us what’s that about and what it aims to achieve?
I’m not sure it’s a movement and if it is maybe The Round started it but maybe I just fuelled it a bit by showing that anyone can write an ebook for $0 money. As I see it, it is part of my teacher development. I design courses, teach them and then write ebooks. It is very good for reflection.
I did make an FB group but we were never very many. Every so often I get requests to ‘share my secrets’ and tell people how to make lots of money from e-booking. For some reason, there is this myth that it is profitable. Someone actually said that I’d be retiring soon on my profits. I won’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even made enough to get a first cheque from the one book I sell. When you tell people this, they soon back off.
What’s the long term business aim for you? Do you want to get ‘discovered’ by one of the established publishers, or are you happy to continue producing books for free?
Not at all. I worked for several publishers and then was offered some course books but they just aren’t my thing. I then asked about writing short ebooks but none were interested. After that, I asked schools and online organisations but again, no interest. I’m very stubborn so when people say ‘no’, I like to prove them wrong. As I see it, and some others, our ebooks fill a niche or niches. I very much doubt that publishers could make enough money from an ebook to even cover costs.
I started with a list of ebooks to write and I’ve more or less done them all and then some so I might do another and stop. My next goals are to write more academic articles, set up an innovative journal and to create some kind of hybrid medium.
How do you see the future of ELT publishing and the role of ebooks within it?
I haven’t bought an ELT book in years and I haven’t used one in a long time. The last ones I saw looked a bit samey. I stay creative by making lessons and courses and also never work anywhere that has materials. This could be infuriating for some but I love the freedom. Because all my courses are very specialised, there just are no books I could use, the students wouldn’t buy them too and even just getting enough copies would be hard. I work in France and from what I know, we cannot legally make students buy books and for 10 or 20 hour adult contracts, they aren’t worth it.
I really haven’t seen much real innovation in publishing. You hear about it and the term ‘groundbreaking’ but I think it depends on the writer. For instance, I recall that a dictionary won a big prize a few years ago. I wouldn’t say that is innovative but some would. It depends on your perspective. This though highlights something else in that we are stuck in the ‘x sells so make more of x’ mentality. Same for films. People won’t get something new which they might like or even want. This is why Google is good in that they have innovative labs and groups where they just design crazy things that are not meant to sell but will lead to something else that might lead to a viable product IF it’s sold at the right time.
Do you have any tips for ‘would be’ ELT authors?
Open Word or Pages, start writing, add a cover page, click on ‘save as PDF’ then share it. I initially started with the idea of ‘fast publishing’ in mind and a form of marketing, which I’ve forgotten the name of, where you make something, release it, get feedback and then improve and improve it. This is how my first books evolved. For me, I really find the process of publishing interesting and creating models for books and then experimenting with promotions. I also love working with a cover designer and have dabbled in it myself. I must here say that Kati, the very kind designer of some of my ebook covers, is very kind in that she listens to my ideas and then has a real talent in making what I think I want.
I am not, as many will notice and hate me for, a fan of editing. I like to have a style and I want people to be able to read it. I don’t want it to be steamrollered and to produce a bland ‘course book …. quality’ product. I have worked for a couple of tough editors who either just wanted a ‘mini me’ to write like them or gave me so many templates and stock phrases that I just ended up copying and pasted instructions and text.
Ebooks, as I see it, are in between blogs and FB so very very different to books. If I had to write like in course books, I would quit. Teacher manuals and teacher development books are different but generally more formal and much longer so very different. I may sound like a spoiled kid but I love writing, creating and publishing. I like to be involved in all of it. I also track ‘data’ i.e. downloads and distribution channels and also spend time looking for key words for titles, the structure of covers, fonts and other things. I have a degree in Marketing and occasionally teach advertising so this interests me. I also specialised in literature on my first postgrad and have that a bit too, so this hobby kind of combines both I guess.