Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

V is for … visibility

This is a newish series of short blog posts, ‘An A-Z of ELT materials writing’. I’ll be writing about important aspects that we need to keep in mind when we create materials, whether for our own classes or to be used by others. I’m going through the alphabet in no particular order.

V is for … visibility

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by teachers is ‘How can I sell my materials?’ While there is no easy answer to this question, there is one obvious consideration: visibility. If nobody sees your materials, how can they know they are worth buying when you sell them? How can they see what kind of thing you do if they aren’t ‘out there’. Visibility is also important for those who wish to get paid work writing ELT materials. How are publishers supposed to know that you can write if they haven’t seen your work?

Let’s have a look at these two things a bit more closely.

Visibility for teachers who want to sell their material – marketing

More and more teachers are selling their materials, either through sites like Teachers Pay Teachers or through their own websites and platforms. Creating the materials is the easy part as many teachers have been doing this for years anyway, as part of their own teaching practice. But marketing them is a whole different story, and one which most of us have little, if any, experience in. So, how can you market yourself as a materials writer?

Here are five suggestions:

  1. Build a website or blog and share your materials there.
  2. Build up a presence on social media. Do a bit of research to find the right platform for you. Where do your ideal clients hang out? Instagram? TikTok? LinkedIn? You don’t need to be present everywhere, but it is worthwhile spending tie on choosing the best place(s) to be.
  3. Offer to write guest blog posts for people who have a widely read blog. Again, it’s worth thinking about the readership. For example, if you write Business English materials, a YL-focused blog isn’t for you.
  4. Do a ‘live’ event on social media to tell people about your products or to invite people to ask questions. There are several ways of doing this and it might be scary but it’s an increasingly popular way of reaching people.
  5. Take part in a conference, giving a presentation that links to the area or context of your materials. You can tell people about your products at the end of your session or add a slide with contact details.

Visibility for teachers who want to write materials for a publisher – making connections

If you ask a group of freelance ELT writers how they managed to get a foot in the door with a publisher, the answers will be as varied as the people you ask. Some start working in-house at publishers, as editors or project managers. Some find opportunities through their teaching institutions when a publisher gets in touch to ask for help in trialling materials or giving feedback on new products. Others are head hunted at conferences or Teacher Events, usually after giving a presentation or taking part in a forum or debate. Publishers are always more likely to give you work if they already know that you have something to offer. However, this does not need to be need not be directly linked to writing. Things like classroom experience, teacher training, having expertise in a particular area or context are all key skills that publishers consider of value. So, how can you get noticed by a publisher?

Here are five suggestions:

  1. Get in touch with publishers in the real world. Visit them at their offices or find out which people work in the departments you are interested in and send them an email asking them to add your details to their database of freelancers.
  2. Offer to trial materials with your learners and to give feedback. In the feedback you have an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of how materials work and which elements are key to classroom success.
  3. Join ELT publishing groups and mingle with other writers and editors. This is a great way of getting to know more about how publishing works and where new opportunities might lie.
  4. Offer to write a review of a new coursebook or resource. Many teaching journals and institutions such as IATEFL or TESOL are on the lookout for potential reviewers and the book’s publishers will notice you.
  5. Speak to other ELT writers directly to ask for advice. We don’t bite!

Tip: Take some time to think about the area of ELT writing you’d like to get involved with. Most writers focus on materials for a specific context. This could be related to age, level, an exam focus, or a niche such as EAL (English as an Additional Language) or BE (Business English).

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