Monday, May 31, 2010

Third guest post - Sean Banville, author of 1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers

The author of this week's guest blog post may already be familiar to some of you ELT blogoholics. Karenne Sylvester of Kalinago English referred to him as "an unsung hero of ELT", which I hope changes soon (the unsung part, not the hero of ELT part)...

He's the man behind the Breaking News English website, as well as 4 other sites full of free ESL/EFL teaching materials, ESL Discussions, ESL Holiday Lessons, Famous People, and Listen a Minute, not to mention his informative blog. Somehow with all this activity he still has the time to teach full time at a university in the United Arab Emirates. And he's got an e-book which is the subject of this post. Unlike the books mentioned in the two previous posts, Banville's book is an e-book published without the help of a self-publishing company. Here's Sean to tell you the story of his e-book, 1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers:

I started writing my one and only e-book in late 2004. I had just uploaded my very first website and I thought selling an e-book on it would get the millions rolling in. No need to read to the end to see if the book made me rich - it didn't. But, I'm glad I wrote it. I have got back in financial terms the time I invested in writing it. In fact, the literary adventure got me going on a second e-book, which suddenly became a website at the last minute - more on that later.

I have a huge collection of ESL ideas and resource books. I bought anything and everything that came out. One day, it struck me how little was in them - so few ideas for so much $35, $40, $49.99… One glossy book I bought, written by a well-known ESL author, had 23 ideas in it. "Hang on a minute," I thought. "I can do better than this," I thought… "I'll write a book with 1,000 ideas in it," I thought.

And so with all that thinking, that's what I did. I decided to write a book that would complement my breaking news website. I never doubted for a second that I would be able to come up with 1,000 ideas. I had a brainwave and came up with a sharp and snappy title: "1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers".

I had never written a book before. I didn't want to waste time reading about how to write books, or what's involved in creating a successful e-book. So I just spent a few hours each day writing down the ideas I came up with. Slowly, it began to look like they might fit into different categories, which would become the chapters. Once I had the chapters, it made it easier to come up with more ideas. Then came sections within the chapters and more ideas for those. The result was a mixture of 1,000 ideas and photocopiable resources.

I can't remember how long it took to write - not too long. I was very pleased with the result… until it came to proofreading the whole thing several times. That wasn't much fun.

With the proof-reading over, I made a cover page for it and uploaded it onto my site. I thought a price of $9.99 seemed fair. The research I did on similar books meant mine was at least half the price of "the competition" and up to $40 cheaper than the ones with the glossy cover and 23 ideas you can buy in bookstores.

I made the book available for sale on my 41st birthday - thought that would be a good omen. I eagerly waited next to my e-mail InBook for the flood of orders to come. I wasn't exactly deluged that first day. I got five orders, which made it my most successful day ever. That was nearly five years ago. I was really pleased with that first day. The fact that I've never matched those heady sales figures since has never really worried me. Each sale every other day or every other few days makes me really happy. So too do the e-mails I get from people who buy my book to tell me they really like it.

In those early days I was approached by several ESL websites with an online shop on their site. These sites wanted permission to sell my book on their site, giving me a share of the sales. One site wanted to sell it for $29.95. I said no to all these sites, thinking it could create some ill will if someone bought the book only to find it $20 cheaper on my site.

Soon after I put my book for sale, I started my second book. I liked the idea of 1,000 things on this and that, so I had a brainwave and came up with the sharp and snappy title: "1,000 Discussions for Language Teachers". Not sure how far through writing this I got when I decided to abandon the book idea and turn it into a website. It became ESL - an abridged collection of just 600 discussions. I thought I might make more money from Google ads if the materials were in the form of a website instead of a book. I'm not sure which would have been more successful financially, but I'm happy with it being a website.

My adventure with writing an e-book has been pretty much that. I never got too excited about the thought of possible riches, and have never been disappointed with the trickle of sales I eventually got and am currently getting. I think it's a pretty cool thing to have on my sites. That thought and the e-mails I receive from satisfied customers are reward enough. I would happily write another book and put it up for sale on my sites, if ever I had another idea.

I never really spent too much time on how to market my e-book or sell it. I've always been too busy making teaching materials for my seven websites and blog. All I have done to 'market' it is create a dedicated page ( advertising its wares, with a sample 6-page PDF download. I often wonder whether 6 pages of free samples might be too much - people could be happy with those and not buy the book. Who knows?

I guess were I to venture into marketing it more, the way to go would be to set up a separate website for the book - "1,000 Ideas for Language" or something just as snappy. A fellow webmaster did the same and he seems to think (in a tweet or two) that a separate, dedicated site is worthwhile.

My parting advice would be to write that e-book if you really want to write something. Once it's written, there are many ways to get it out there, although I'm not the expert on this. I'm just happy I wrote mine.

* Sean Banville
* Free ESL lessons based on current news stories.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Second guest post - Paul Rowe, author of Multifunctional Activities

This week, Paul Rowe, an ELT expert working in Vietnam explains why he self-published his e-books, The Little EFL Book and Multifunctional Activities. (There's even a third title on the way, Multifunctional Activities for Crowded Classrooms.) He gives some very persuasive reasons why self-publishing can be a highly rewarding option for ELT authors.

As promised, I will write something about being an author of EFL books. If you don’t mind I would like to look at ‘why’ we might write books.

Aren’t there enough EFL/ESL books already written? Book stores, the internet, libraries, English schools, TESOL conferences, all endlessly dispensing the latest books to cure non-English. Teaching English to non speakers of English is a billion dollar industry. The use of books makes this industry possible. The sale of books makes this industry obscenely wealthy. But does the industry need more books? The industry would say “of course”. Teachers might have another opinion.

Hall’s series is focused on self publishing. We usually write because we genuinely feel we have something of value to pass onto our fellow teachers. Or maybe we are not happy with the support, resources and books available at the moment. Either way, authors are usually trying to help teachers make teaching a more enjoyable experience.

This is exactly how I got into writing my EFL books. I definitely was not impressed by what was happening in EFL teaching. To me it seemed that across time the process of teaching ESL had become very confused and complicated. There were so many options that teachers were swamped with choices. This seemed to be at odds with nature’s way of teaching/learning languages.

I have always been a minimalist. I don’t like long words, complicated ever- changing theories and endless, inconclusive research. Busy teachers don’t have the time for this. More importantly, most EFL teachers only spend a year or two overseas teaching, and then they head back to their REAL job. So getting straight to the absolute basics of being a successful EFL teacher is critical. I found no books which could do this. Therefore I set out to write an EFL teaching for dummies. This turned out to be much harder than I initially thought. It was only a chance meeting with Professor Paul Nation, while accidentally crashing a speakers’ dinner, that moved this idea forward. Paul Nation mentioned three actions of a successful ESL teacher. To my knowledge he has never written anything on this. I was very excited about this and questioned him more about it. I instantly realized that if teaching was based on proven actions, then endless theories, both educational and linguistic, could be thrown out of the equation. I did this with great delight. The moment I drop-kicked the theories and started using the actions of successful esl teachers, everything felt right. I felt confident and knowledgeable. After my illegal dinner with Paul Nation I headed for home. By the time I finished my short subway ride home, the book, now known as The Little EFL Book, had been completely outlined.

It took a couple of years to finish off, and to get brave enough to release it. It took some friends to point out to me that I had in fact written a completely new way to teach another language. I was stunned by this. Overtime I realise that I had also written the world’s simplest approach to teaching another language. I consider this to be of great benefit to the typical here-today-gone-tomorrow EFL teacher who wants to do a great job teaching.

This has only ever been released as an e-book, through A huge advantage of an e-book, is that it can be easily updated by the author. The ability to do this is very comforting. If you change your mind on something, just change it. No one will know. I am so happy with the e-book format that I have never had to seriously think about hard copy sales. Of course, I can at any time get into this aspect of publishing, with just a couple of mouse clicks in my Lulu account.

Another exciting reason why we write books is because something we wrote about in a former book, triggers a line of thoughts and actions. In The Little EFL Book I started discovering a notion which I called ‘multifunctionalism’. It seemed essential to good quality EFL teaching and learning. No sooner was book one finished, than I started on Multifunctional Activities. It was also released as an e-book. Multifunctional Activities for Crowded Classrooms is on its way as we speak. Another e-book.

I have been very fortunate. Because the first book was so different to anything on the market, and so well received by teachers, it seems that any subsequent books will also be highly regarded.

So in ending, if you can help fellow teachers in their struggle to make the world a better place, go ahead and write. We need more of these kinds of books.

Good luck.

Paul Rowe

An EFL teacher living and working in Viet Nam.
Masters of TESOL, B. of Educ., B of Arts, Dip Teaching, IELT, PELT, ISLPR.

Monday, May 17, 2010

First guest post - Chuck Johnson, author of Phat English

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts by ELT authors who have chosen to self-publish their works. I'm hoping these writers can shed some light on why they chose to self-publish and share some expert information on the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.

This week I'm very honored to present a post by Chuck Johnson, author of Phat English. Chuck is not only an EFL teacher, but also a pronunciation coach, a blogger, an actor, and a martial arts expert. You can read more about this multitalented individual on his Phat English blog, and his blog on the GaijinPot website. In this post, Chuck tells us about Phat English and relays his views on self-publishing.


When I first conceived of Phat English, a teaching method that utilizes specially designed hip-hop music to teach subtle nuances of GAm (General American and Canadian English) pronunciation, I was shot down by pretty much every publisher I brought the concept to.

Perhaps it was because I was trying as a foreigner in Japan (which is arguably the most risk averse society on earth), perhaps it was because I was young, inexperienced in business and writing, (or even teaching for that matter) or perhaps it’s because most people were skeptical that it can actually work. Whatever the reason, in the beginning, self-publishing was one of seemingly only two options I had: that, or quit.

Thankfully, I decided to dig my heels in, and go with the former. That was 5 years ago and it has never been a decision that I have regretted. Going through, and figuring out InDesign and Photoshop on my own, I was able to produce the first draft of my book for only the cost of hiring a friend to do my illustrations. After creating the first draft, I was able to publish a single copy- and then try it out, instead of having to commit to making and selling at least 50, 100 or 200 like most publishers asked for.

This allowed me to keep the book in a constant beta form, with which I could continually fix mistakes, experiment, improve explanations and layouts, and continually hone the book to the point that I was not just confident enough to start presenting and selling it- but to actually offer a 150% Money Back Guarantee to any unsatisfied buyers while I was doing it - something that not many people in the industry can claim to do.

Beyond that, the other great thing about self-publishing is that it allowed me the freedom of doing things my way. As I had no stuffy or controversy-averse corporate bosses to answer to, I could use the kind of humor, characters, and illustrations that I thought would appeal to high school and college kids, and keep it that way. I could also stick with my ideal of making the main characters in the text American ethnic minorities (something that I was also discouraged from doing, and as an African American English teacher myself, had always really yearned to see).

This is not to say in any way, shape, or form that self publishing is simple or the best way to go for everyone. Although I do very much endorse Lulu’s author support structure, (once I sold enough on my own, they offered to represent me on Amazon, and most recently at the North American Book Expo), much like in producing a film, the great advantage of selling your idea or script to a major publishing house is that you can pretty much rest assured that the whole process- from design to marketing and sales- is going to be taken care of by industry professionals who know what they are doing. In my case, every element of “Phat” right down to its success and proliferation, has always rested on my shoulders, and even if I enjoy it, I grow from it, and I learn from it, it can at times be both exhausting and expensive.

In the end however, the best thing about self-publishing is that you are not ruling out the major publishers. In fact, if you get schools, universities, and businesses using it, (as I have with Phat), you are bound to start getting their attention. And if they come to you, (instead of vice versa), you will be standing as an accomplished writer and businessperson- and not just some nobody with an idea- and that means negotiation power. For the time being however, even if I don’t make my living exclusively from Phat, I can enjoy every individual book sale because I know that I earned it completely through my own efforts. When I see people use it, I know that they are learning and growing and evolving as people because of something that I created with my own hands, and that also isn’t something that a lot of people can claim. Perhaps if that seems like something that appeals to you (or if as in my case, you don’t really have a choice because everyone else thinks your idea is lunacy) then self-publishing is a good option for you.


See and hear Phat English for yourself at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's worth taking a look...

Just a couple of days ago, my blog was featured on the $trictly 4 My Teacherz blog as part of this new thing (VALE A PENA...) invading the blogosphere. It seems if someone is put on one of these lists, it is imperative one must make a list of their favorite blogs, avoiding naming blogs that have already been mentioned. Flattered to be mentioned and placed at the very top of the list. (Thank you, Nicholas.)

Since the other bloggers have probably exhausted all the notable ELT/EFL/ESL/TESOL/Applied Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition related blogs, I thought I would share a few blogs on a topic close to my heart, creativity.

These nine (not-quite-ten) blogs might interest you if you: (a) want to become a more creative teacher, (b) would like to help your students develop creatively, or (c) just find the topic of creativity in general worth reading about. Pay attention, and you just might notice one blog that actually has something to do with ELT...

First on the list, Roger von Oech's Creative Think blog contains some smart posts on creative thinking. Here's a good example, "What's Your Creativity Style?". I can also recommend von Oech's books, A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.

Tim Hurson's blog, Think Better, offers engaging posts with catchy titles, such as You Can't Mow the Lawn With a Chainsaw. I read Hurson's book, Think Better, last year, and I was very impressed with his fresh take on the Creative Problem Solving model. His blog has not been updated in a while, but it's definitely worth exploring.

James C. Kaufman, a creativity researcher, has a blog titled And All That Jazz, which can be found on the Psychology Today website. Some very witty posts that do a good job of relating the findings of creativity research to everyday life and pop culture. His book, Creativity 101, is an excellent introduction to the research on creativity. You can read an excerpt here.

Michael Michalko is one of my favorite writers on creativity. His books Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity are beautifully written and offer a wide range of creativity exercises. His blog on hasn't been updated recently, but it has some great posts. Also, check out his website for even more of his work.

Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin blog (a.k.a. Digital Roam) presents some of his ideas on solving problems through drawing, or visual thinking.

Chaz Pugliese published his first book a few weeks ago on creativity and ELT, titled Being Creative. I was fortunate enough to get a copy and I think it's a great addition to the Delta Teacher Development Series. Earlier this year, he blogged for a few weeks on the Delta website, which you can see here.

Mary Beth Maziarz has a blog to go along with her new book, Kick-Ass Creativity. Take a minute to read this post, Why Does Creativity Matter?

Celestine Chua covers a large number of topics (including creativity) on her blog titled The Personal Excellence Blog. I bookmarked this post on 25 Brainstorming Techniques which appeared on her blog last year.

Another blog that has some superb posts on creativity is Psyblog, Jeremy Dean's blog all about scientific psychology and everyday life. Three posts well worth your time here: Boost Creativity: 7 Unusual Psychological Techniques, Why Group Norms Kill Creativity, and Brainstorming Reloaded.

Well, there it list of recommended blogs on creativity.

In just a few days, as promised, the first guest blog post in my series on self-publishing in ELT. See you soon!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coming soon...a new series on self-publishing in ELT

Last year, I self-published my second book, Provoking Thought, through Booksurge (a company now known as Createspace), which has been an extremely positive experience.

Recently, I've been in touch with some ELT experts who have self-published their own works. In May and June, A Teacher in Taoyuan will feature several guest posts from these authors.

Although Alex Case and Lindsay Clandfield have written some brilliant pieces on getting published in ELT, I thought I would focus on self-publishing here.

What is self-publishing? Self-publishing is basically publishing a book on your own, without a publishing company. POD (print-on-demand) companies have made it very easy to put together a book. Companies such as Xlibris, Authorhouse, Lulu, iUniverse, and Createspace all offer a wide range of services and packages. You can decide which level of service you want. The most reasonable packages simply offer the book on their websites and add an ISBN number. If you are willing to pay more, you can get help with editing, proofreading, cover design, and marketing.

Briefly I'll list some of the pros and cons of self-publishing:

Some pros:

- you don't have to face constant rejection from publishing companies. Many publishers are unwilling to take on new projects from obscure authors, so sending out book proposals might seem like a waste of time.

- you have complete control over the content of your book. You don't have to compromise anything.

- you can get your book out quickly. While it can take long months, even years to get your book through the publishing process, your book can be self-published in a matter of weeks.

- you might find self-publishing perfect for your situation. For example, you might want to publish a number of books for a teacher training session or a seminar.

- you still have the rights to your book (although this may not be true with all POD companies). This can be ideal if a major publisher wants to re-publish your book.

- if you're lucky, you might profit off self-publishing (however, see cons #1 and #2 below)

Some cons:

- you have to pay for everything yourself. Not a problem if you're an expert at proofreading, formatting, cover design, sales, marketing... However, if you're paying others to do all these things, it can get expensive.

- you may never earn back your initial investment. Even if you've put together an ELTON-worthy classic, destined to revolutionize language teaching as we know it, there's no guarantee you will sell more than a few copies.

- there's less prestige for a self-published title. Therefore, it may be difficult to get your title reviewed or get your book on the shelves in libraries and bookstores.

If you'd like to learn more about self-publishing, these links should give you plenty to think about:

Wikipedia entry - Self-publishing

How Stuff Works - "How Self-Publishing Works"

CNET - Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know

In the next few weeks, I'll be handing the keyboard over to some ELT authors who will share their experiences with self-publishing. Stay tuned!