First of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview. As a teacher and a blogger, I am really interested in e-books, so I thought it was time to pick your brain a bit, and ask you a few questions about e-books. So, here are my questions.
What is an e-book (what are its properties) and how can it be read?
That is a good question. I think the simplest ebooks are PDFs. You can read them on any device. The most popular version is the ePub format that most online ebook distributors use. There are various other formats too but for me, I just think about the original Word Doc on my computer and then select ‘all formats’ when I upload them. Doing this helps anyone with any device read them from iPads to Kindles to phones to maybe even watches I guess.
Why e-books? I mean why did you decide to make an e-book as opposed to sharing everything on your personal blog for example?
Well, I went through an article writing phase where I felt that articles were a good way to share ideas and help people learn things. Then I went into blogging and learned about how I can interact with people quicker and become part of a blogging community. After that, I realized that I wanted to write longer blog posts but in the same kind of direct style. So, I started writing short ebooks as I loved the idea of having a collection on my iPad and reading short books on the bus, at break time or at home. I really liked having complete books i.e. introductions, main parts and samples. Each could deal with one subject and looked professional, I hoped.
What are the advantages of an e-book?
For me, I can read them on my phone. I use my phone all day for everything almost. Being able to open an ebook and read a page when I have some time between lessons or on my commute is very helpful. I can also quickly move through the book and change books. Every week, I am able to select my weekly reading list and put them on my phone or iPad too. If I come across something new, I can download it on the bus and read it there and then. As I also teach with a phone and tablet, having books handy to open and use is very convenient and not as heavy as carrying around textbooks.
Are there any disadvantages?
I wouldn’t sit and read for hours on my phone, iPad or even computer. I prefer to read a short book or just a part in one go. Long ebooks can take time to download too. Some people use black and white or grey Kindles which I am not keen on. I much prefer a colour iPad Retina for reading.
Can teachers make an income from e-books?
Hmmmm. The golden question. I would say NO. I don’t know anyone who does but I guess some must do as there are lots of ebook writers. Probably novels make better money but only if the writers are known and they do marketing, lots of it. Most of the comments I have had from teachers/writers is related to this. Some are not happy about free ebooks or ebooks in general. Actually, I approached several publishers and none were interested. You can’t blame them though. I like writing and sharing them. If you think it is going to make you millions, you will be very surprised.
The majority of new ebook writers seem to be either bloggers eager to make a book or writers at publishers who want to make better money. I advise both to research costs and potential profits. The new VAT rule devastated the industry so you will make a lot less money now than before. When you end up with less than 50 or 40% of a book and then have to pay taxes in your own country, you do have to question if it’s worth the hassle.
I’d like you to now give us a step to step guide on how to go about making and uploading/sharing an e-book. Let’s call this the e-book starter kit.
Go the easy way and use an online platform. Write your book on it, select a cover and click ‘publish’. Done. I spent weeks of pulling out my hair doing formatting and I almost quit. I saw http://www.fastpencil.com/ the other day and it seemed good. I find writing on these platforms to be much easier than writing a Word Doc. Here is a much better explanation of the full process than I could give:
Can you tell us a bit about your e-books? What do you write about? How do you get inspired? How has writing e-books affected/benefited you, your career?
I wrote 10 ebooks for Business English teachers. They are based on years of teaching and aimed at helping teachers become better at BE. My aim was to focus on developing teachers so they can help themselves rather than just be dependent on using books and worksheets all the time, even though they are good. I also crowdsourced a TEFL Teacher Tips ebook with some newish friends and co-wrote an IELTS Tips ebook.
The first 6 books were almost fully formed in my head as I had been thinking about them for years and I had already written articles on them so the books were a natural extension. The other 4 in the series I had to come up with from scratch as I decided to do a series. I had always been jealous of series and series editor and I thought “why can’t I have one?”. No publisher would ever let me write a BE book let alone a series. So the other books took some time to come up with. I just kept teaching and writing down possible topic ideas that colleagues would like.
The Teacher Tips one had ideas from all of us so I can’t take any credit for that one and the IELTS one I only helped with as my colleague, Jenny Bedwell, is an IELTS genius.
I have about 6 more ebooks in various stages on my computer. I am great with the ideas but writing 10+ pages is hard. I can easily write 5-10.
As the first 10 are free, I have made no money from them but I really enjoy seeing the downloads and hearing nice comments from people who find them useful. Most of these have been from poor areas where they can’t afford or even get traditional books. I also love writing and the whole process. I found a wonderful editor, Noreen Lam, who is very positive like me and really helps me come up with good ebooks. At the beginning, I was 100% against having an editor because some previous ones I had worked with had been a bit too tough, I needed more of a thinking partner than a member of the grammar police 😉 And someone who understood ebooks and edevices. They aren’t just books on phones.
I benefit from increasing my PLN too and I have been lucky enough to get to know other writers and people in the industry. We all support each other. As I see it, the main problem is always advertising. It is very very hard to promote indie ebooks as not every journal or TEFL association wants to review them. Perhaps though this is a good thing as it makes a very distinct line between traditional publishing and digital. This does mean that we need to develop the alternative publishing industry though which is why I created a marketing campaign for me and 3 other authors (Adam Simpson, Jorge Sette and Tyson Seburn) . I started with some images showing our ebooks and added the ‘by teachers for teachers’ and ‘for teachers by teachers’ slogans and #ELTebooks. As I see it, if each author advertises all the books, we each get more coverage and hopefully, the amount of writers will grow. This really is ELT writers making ebooks for other ELT teachers. Some critics have said the quality isn’t as good as real books and that we may be lowering coursebook writers incomes or pay etc but I don’t agree. From what I know, all publishers are having a tough time and really should be moving more into technology. These ebooks are a new niche as they are very specific, short and accessible. Published books tend to be longer, more formal and more general. They need mass markets and to be based on market research and forecasts. Our ebooks can be about anything and made much faster. This is a completely different market, as I see it.
Another point is that I actually haven’t worked anywhere in years that has used traditional coursebooks as nobody can afford them and they aren’t convenient. Every place I work uses digital materials and the odd handout. I even make ebooks for my courses now at the end to revise everything. I’m not bashing publishers or coursebook writers at all. I think they are great and I wish I could work on them but I’m not that good, famous or lucky. I believe in diversity and empowering teachers. I hope my books appeal to teachers and help them develop.
Oh, I entered the BE books for the David Riley award too and they were mentioned. That was incredible. My ELTons application wasn’t quite as succesful.
Where can someone find your e-books?
On Smashwords and iTunes. I don’t use Amazon which nobody seems to understand why. I don’t think you can give free books on there and I heard there is a set minimum price. I like the culture of Smashwords as it is for indie writers and iTunes is all about quality.
Business English Teacher Development series:
Top IELTS Speaking Tips:
TEFL Teacher Tips
Thank you so much for this interview!
My pleasure. It was very nice to be asked. I love your blog and your FB posts 🙂
Follow #ELTebooks on FB
Phil has worked in ELT for 15 years. His current teaching interests are Business English, speaking skills and Blended Learning. He is a qualified Coach and Mentor and does ELT Marketing work.
This is so inspiring! Thanks both of you!! 🙂
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Thanks Clare!! It’s all Phil. I just asked a few questions 🙂 I am glad you liked it. I found it very interesting too 🙂
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The Great Phil Wade 🙂
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Thanks for that! Phil,you’ve been part of my PLN for a long time and it’s inspiring, as Clare says, to read this post. I’m looking forward to having a look through your resources and I’ll share the links with my Mexican colleagues as, as you say, published materials are overpriced here.
Are your books available on Scribd?
Interesting what you say about not using regular coursebooks. We don’t either. I’m hoping that soon will be able to replace coursebooks and handouts with interactive resource on mobile devices to support classroom teaching . Though here we are rather behind on the technological front so it will feels some way off.
Thanks for all the comments.
I may sound a bit negative about the money thing but unless you can write something for 0 cost, promote it for free and have a great network of potential customers, it will be slow going. This means you have to think long-term. Low first year sales can be disappointing but over 2, 3+ years may be OK.
I think if you enjoy writing and sharing then go for it! Any money is a bonus. However, if you do go into it for just making a bit back, which I think is fair, then be VERY careful. The new VAT rules are messy and you could get into legal trouble. Also check your tax status and make sure you declare enough in your own country. Add these up and the add on publication fees/cuts and you won’t be left with much unless you set a high price. But that would need more content and a better cover image. I just did it for free at the start and I loved it. I have never reread them as I moved on but I do check my downloads. I got over 4000 in the last 6 months which is very satisfying. I am not sales person so I did almost no advertising until recently. I find it hard as I don’t want to do the hard sell on my PLN but I do like sharing. It is a tough line.
Scribd? Early versions were as I shared them via The Language Point. I used a Lean Marketing approach at the start to see what worked.
Nowhere I work has budgets so books are not an option and the courses are either set by the government or the top honcho so they are very specific. For Business clients, they have VERY specific needs that change every week. Making lessons and using minimal printed resources is the norm. On most uni courses there are handouts which are collections of extracts, exercises and stuff from research papers and past tests. It is so much easier for me to make some PPT, add online exercises, make online stuff and run a BYOD lesson or just a speaking-based one from my tablet. I think, I may be wrong, that the primary and secondary markets are still big for coursebooks. If I remember, the big chains like Berlitz, EF and Wall Street all use blended stuff they made. As for teacher development books, personally I cannot keep buying big books and carrying them round the world when I move. Digital ones are more convenient. I also can’t carry them to work and back and from one job to another. But I am biased 😉
Totally agree with your point about TD books. Although some books are available from Oxford, other larger publishers don’t seem that interested in publishing ebooks. At least we have The Round, Delta, and ELT Teacher 2 Writer (and your books too!) to plug the gap.