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Writing For English as a Foreign Language
by Nicole Kobrowski

With the ever increasing interaction possibilities in our global village, there has been an increase in the need for a common language to do business and to communicate in. That language is English. Some children as young as three years old begin learning English. In most European schools, English is a required language from the age of ten. In thousands of schools worldwide textbooks and other English learning materials are needed.

By writing for EFL, you gain experience, knowledge of the publishing industry and can create a world wide customer base for your books. In addition to traditional book store distribution, these books are sold to private companies for employee education, language school for child and adult education and online at sites such as amazon.com (now also in Germany and the UK), Barnes and Noble, Borders and other online vendors.


To write for this market, a few pieces of equipment are vital. First, a computer with Internet access, an email program, phone and fax are vital. Once your submission has been accepted, publishers want revisions and answers as soon as possible. Most major manuscript changes are still done as hardcopy and a disk for layout but minor questions are best handled via phone, fax or email. Also, a high quality scanner for pictures is very useful. Most EFL publishers will have stock pictures. If you need something special, you may be expected to provide it. Budgets are tight when it comes to artwork so be sure to clarify this with your editor.


For authors, there is a bit of good news. Most educational publishers (especially in Europe) will only look at a manuscript without an agent. Budgets, competition and working with books for a very specific group of people leaves no time for agents.

On the Internet a simple search for EFL or textbook/educational publishers unleashes a plethora of information. Message boards for TEFL/TESL (Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language) are plentiful. Try talking with teachers in these fields. Another option is looking in a guide book such as "Writer’s Market" or "Writer’s International Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents". Choose publishers who want subjects that you are interested in writing about. Just because it is English doesn’t mean it is all grammar. There are fields of EFL writing open in the medical, all technical and even tax preparing fields. Another way to break into EFL writing is an author referral or calling educational institutions and dropping your name with them. EFL publishers sometimes call universities and trade schools when looking for potential authors. Finally, writing a query letter presenting a marketable proposal is always a good bet.


To make your ideas work, you have to research the markets. Every major bookseller has a section on English as a Foreign (or Second) Language. Most larger local libraries will have a section dedicated to this topic. Reading the books or going to some of the publishers homepages and downloading sample chapters is also very helpful to see what is already on the market and how your idea fits in or is better than the rest. When you query the publisher you must be able to tell them how this book can be marketed and how you can help in the marketing process. Be absolutely sure to mention your target audience and how the book can be used in different classrooms. For example, my book "Electric Line" is aimed at students 16-18 years old in a work-study program, but is flexible enough that it can also be used as an intermediate Technical English book for adults in companies.


Textbooks, whether for children, teenagers or adults, are becoming more realistic. Real situations with real companies and up-to-date information are the norm. The downside to this approach is that even with current, the books still lean to the conservative because publishers feel conservative is easier to market. Also, as in any branch of writing, you may not have complete control over the content. Something you feel is brilliant may not fit the publisher’s end idea or you may have to settle for black and white instead of color photos.

You may be asked to collaborate with another writer or you may want to work with a co-author. Be prepared to evenly share the profits unless it is written otherwise in your contract.

Your pay varies from publisher to publisher. Some will give you a set price for a project. A very small amount of them will offer a small monthly salary to trusted and loyal writers. Most are done on a commission basis. This rages from 5-15% of the selling price, profit or the price after the salesman’s commission has been deducted. The need for these books is so great that when a publisher finds an author to fill a book need, payment becomes very negotiable.


Always clarify your contract. Some European publishers offer their contract in languages other than English. This is not an attempt to cheat you. Ask for a contract written in English or sit down with your editor and have them explain everything to you.

Find out exactly how and where your book will be distributed. Find out what book fairs your editor attends. If they are a European book publisher, find out if they have a distributor in North America.

Define deadlines and concepts. While writing a book for Technical English, suddenly, the project turned into four books for four different technical areas and the deadlines became jumbled due to this and a change of editors in the middle of the project.

Make sure it is clearly stated if you will be paid for phone costs, copying, etc.


Below are some of the major publishers in North America and Europe:


Klett Verlag (Germany) (In German)


Oxford University Press (US)


Oxford University Press (CAN)


Oxford University Press (UK)


Cornelsen Schulbuchverlag (Germany) (In German)


Cambridge University Press (UK)


Heinemann Educational Publishers (UK)


MacMillan Heinmann English Language Teaching (Global)


McGraw-Hill Publishing Group (US)


Addison Wesley Longman (Global)

This article was published in Global Writer's Ink in September 1999. http://www.inkspot.com/global/

© Copyright 1999, Nicole Kobrowski

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