Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

What’s a ‘new edition’ all about?

The other day someone asked me what I was working on, and I told them it was a new edition of an existing book. But not my book, somebody else’s. They were surprised to hear this and asked me more questions about new editions and versions. I thought I’d write a blog post about the topic. It’s the first in a series on ‘Questions I get asked when I’m talking about writing’. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you’re interested in this kind of post.

The rise and rise of new editions and new versions

In recent years I’ve seen more and more new or revised editions of existing course books appear. One reason might be because it’s cheaper and quicker for a publisher to make a new or revised version of an existing book than it is to produce a brand new book from scratch. Another reason might be that an existing book is almost perfect for a new market but tweaks are needed to bring it in line with a national curriculum or other Ministry dictates. Sometimes a book just gets a bit outdated so a new edition might modernise texts or build in an extra pedagogical layer that might not have been considered important when the original was being written. When we write new course books we are usually briefed about not including references to anyone or anything that could become outdated. These days, more and more frequently, a publisher recognises the need for more references to sustainability or for increased and more visible EDI.

What new editions or versions have I been working on recently?

I thought I’d mention some of the writing work that I’ve been involved in recently that falls into this category as an example of the kind of work that might be available.

A new edition of an IGCSE ESL course book.

Changes were made to the IGCSE on which the whole course is based. They were minor changes, but they needed to be reflected in the exam practice sections of the book. When the publisher realized they had to bring out a new edition, they decided to add some extra resources that were missing in the original. These were a series of video animations and supporting worksheets linking to key language which had previously been presented through audios. Now the publisher can say the course is ‘new and improved’. My task was to bring the exam practice sections in line with the new IGCSE and to write the video scripts, which was great fun.

A new ‘localised’ version of an existing primary course book for a new market.

The Ministry of Education in the new target market have a policy that all course books should include a percentage of the region’s culture in reading texts, listenings, etc. The existing book had a more global approach, so my task was to rewrite some of the readings, keeping the main topic but giving it a local flavour. It presented a few minor challenges but was an interesting project as I learnt a lot about the target region.

A new ‘lower level’ version of an existing course book for a new sector within the current market.

After market feedback the publisher discovered that some schools might not adopt the course book because the level was a bit too high. They decided to simplify things by reducing the number of units in the book, having fewer vocabulary items in each unit and providing more support for teachers and learners. My task was to rewrite stories, texts and audio scripts, and to identify and write the support sections which included things like a glossary and tip boxes.

An updated version of an existing course book to freshen it and make it a bit more modern.

I haven’t actually started this yet but I’m about to. I’ve been told that I’ll need to rewrite about 40% of the content. This percentage is important. I’m not sure if it’s the same in every region but for a book to be considered ‘new’ it needs to have a fixed percentage of ‘new stuff’. On the books I’ve worked on, this is usually around 35% to 40%. I wrote the original stories in this course and I’m hoping they won’t need changing. I don’t think they will because they are quite good (if I say so myself) but, more importantly, the illustrations are brilliant and new illustrations would increase production costs significantly.

Who writes new editions or versions of existing books?

In my experience, if I am receiving Royalties for a course book, I’ve been keen to write the new version too so that these Royalties won’t go down. But sometimes the original author is either unavailable to write, or they simply don’t wish to. Then the publisher can ask another author – perhaps someone who wrote a different level of the same course so will be familiar with the project, or just a new writer who will be briefed on the original book and the new sections. Of the books I mentioned above, I was the original author on three of them but not on the third. The three I’d already worked on were infinitely easier to get my head around. Two were Royalty-based and two were fee-based.

Is a new edition or a new version a good thing?

Usually, yes. On the one hand it usually means the original course book has had good reviews, so the new version is likely to sell well. Teachers often like new editions of books they are familiar with too – when given the choice of this or a completely new course book which they need to spend time navigating. It also means that most of the extra resource materials teachers might have made to supplement a book can still be used, as can things like flash cards etc. On the other hand, it means more work opportunities for freelance writers, editors, illustrators, etc.

Is a new version always a new version?

Ehm, yes and no.

Sometimes a course book is given a new title and a new front cover, and no other changes are made. There are a number of reasons for this, but most are to do with marketing. I’ve had this happen with a few of the course books that I’ve written over the years. In one case, I was told it was because in a particular region there was already a course book with the name we had chosen for the book, so we needed to come up with a new one. In another case, the original name was virtually impossible to pronounce in a particular region, so we renamed it. And in a third case, the original name had just been used for a brand on a completely unrelated product, something that the publisher had no desire to be associated with.

Can anyone write a new edition?

Yes! If you can write, of course. For every new course book that gets written, there are a heap of other resources and elements which need changing to bring them in line: Teacher Guides, activity books, revision booklets … anything you can imagine that accompanies a course book. Sometimes some of this work is done in-house at the publisher’s, but more often freelance writers do the work.

If you’re interested in working on such a project, why not get in touch with a publisher you’ve worked with before, or one you’d like to work with, and ask if they have plans to bring out a new edition or version of an existing book. Ask them to keep you in mind for some of the writing work. It could be a good way to get started.

And please let me know how you get on, if you do!

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