How to annoy commissioning editors (and find work)

Another ‘how to become a materials writer’ article has popped up – Kirsten Holt’s article for ETPro  offers some more good advice for budding writers. Every time I read one of these posts I’m itching to chip in. I really want to help others get into materials writing. My advice is always the same:

  • It’s easier than you think.
  • As with most things, it requires effort at first (unless you’re lucky!).
  • There is something missing from lots of the advice already out there.

Read on, I’ll tell you what that is.

I can say first-hand that some advice in those previous posts does work.

  • When people say ‘enter lesson plan competitions’, then enter lesson plan competitions. I have directly benefitted from winning one of these competitions, as mentioned MAAAAANY times (sorry, self-promo).
  • When people say ‘write for industry magazines’, yep. Get some resources published, this is good for your portfolio. I have used my magazine resources as sample work, gaining contracts as a result.
  • If people say ‘join a database of writers like ELT Publishing Professionals’ then that is sound advice. I haven’t taken a contract through ELT PP yet. However, I have expressed interest in three projects, and received replies from all three publishers. Were my workload lighter at the time I’d say that at least one of those projects would have resulted in a writing contract.

Some of the other advice, meh. I don’t think it’s necessarily true.

  • Attending conferences. I would probably do myself a disservice if I had to network face-to-face. I get nervous in social situations and mask those nerves by punning. I think publishers are more likely to say ‘did you meet that weird punning guy?’ than ‘I bet that weird punning guy is worth offering a writing contract’.

Besides…

Who needs a conference to network? The most networking I did at CamTESOL was chatting to the woman next to me about her knitting. That’s probably down to my poor networking skills more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, (presenting at) conferences might be a route into writing. However, they’re not cheap. They’re also not that great if you fear presenting. Plus, people might forget who you are once they’ve had a few drinks. Mind you, other writers might have found all their work through conference interactions. Just because I haven’t, that doesn’t mean the advice is bad.

What I can say though with great, great certainty, is that there is another way to get your big break. I hinted as much in my article for ETPro earlier in the year.

LinkedIn.

I’m like a broken record with this one. Get on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn, etc. Kirsten says the same in her article, so this is nothing new. However, it’s what you do on LinkedIn that matters. I hinted as much in this interview with Atena Juszko.

If you want to know how to get your DREAM WRITING JOB IN ELT through online networking, all you have to do is sign up to receive my free guide on ‘LinkedIn for would-be writers’…

Ha! Not really!

It’s not rocket science. Here you go:

Step 1: Optimise your LinkedIn profile. As usual, Atena can help with advice there. But as we’ve both said, listing your current role as Materials Writer / Editor etc is important. List your job title as what you want to be!

Step 2: Keep connecting with other professionals. Expand your network!

  • Add other teachers from around the world – this will help you learn about other contexts and might help in the long run if you’re looking for advice about working in other countries / writing for certain markets
  • Connect with influencers. If they don’t want to connect, follow them (I mean on the network!). Just search for / follow hashtags and see who is popular/saying interesting things
  • Post things! Share your blog posts, or interesting articles along with your views. Lots of hashtags. As usual, like and comment on other posts. When people view your activity, they will view you as engaged in your profession.

Step 3: Connect with as many commissioning editors as you can find.

Step 4: Wow wow wow wow wow. Back up a bit…

Step 3.1: How can I find commissioning editors?

THE MATERIALS WRITING WORLD’S WORST KEPT SECRET ALERT

  • Search for ‘Commissioning Editor ELT’
  • Choose ‘people’
  • Select 2nd and 3rd connections
  • Scroll through and surprise yourself with how easy it is to actually find commissioning editors
  • Try to connect with them

My success rate is about, hmmm, 30% I think. Some just ignore me. Fair enough, no harm in trying. Secondly, some probably don’t use LinkedIn much. Some are probably thinking ‘aaah this guy is after writing work – you’ll have to try a lot harder than that mate!’. Some think ‘why not, this might save me some effort in the long run. No harm in connecting. I can always just delete them if they pun a lot, like that awkward guy at the conference one time…’

Bear in mind that LinkedIn is a professional network. It is not a social network. You are connecting in a professional capacity. This is the equivalent of networking at a conference in this day and age. It’s a lot easier too. If someone doesn’t want to connect, they don’t have to do that awkward thing like at conferences where they find a way to leave the conversation. They just never have that conversation in the first place!

The real Step 4: The message….

If you send a commissioning editor a message along with your connection request, then they are under no illusions as to what you want. My advice is don’t bother. Wait until they connect, then you know they are at least slightly interested and you’re not annoying them.

If you use the LinkedIn app then messaging is quite easy. I have a message template in my iPhone Notes which I paste in. It basically says who I am, and that I’m looking for writing work. Then I tweak the message to personalise it.

Response rate? Hmmm. Of the 30% that respond in general, I’d say half.

Typical types of response:

  • Great, we’ll keep you in mind.
  • Thanks. (That’s the LinkedIn ‘quick response’. If you get that then they probably aren’t fussed…)
  • Thanks, I’ll pass your details on/around.
  • Thanks for getting in touch, could you forward some more info (e.g. sample work) to my email.
  • Funnily enough, we are looking for a writer. Let’s talk.

How often do you get the last type? For me, just twice this year. However, how often have editors come back to me on LinkedIn after this initial connection (be it weeks, months, years down the line)? A LOT.

Why? Well, that’s for commissioning editors to tell you. I’d like to think that being pro-active and showing willing counts for a lot, but who knows what is happening behind the scenes. One thing I do know is that I’m not the only writer who does this. I’m sure it’s commonplace. It’s just, well, maybe others are reluctant to say so because it might mean less opportunities for them!

In truth, I wouldn’t be sharing my techniques for finding work if I felt you were actually going to use them! Of course you won’t! No-one ever does – they just find excuses…

‘oh, but what if an editor asks for some sample work? I don’t have a portfolio…’

‘what if they feel like I’m annoying them?’

‘but I don’t have time to do all that…’

‘cheers, that’s sound advice. I’ll do it. Honest.’

‘yeah, I’ve been meaning to update my LinkedIn profile…’

 

So, this post is for the latest person who asked me ‘How do I find materials writing work?’

Something tells me that they might listen. Then again, I always think that.

5 comments

  1. I’m not a commissioning editor, but I work for a publisher and we’re often looking for people to help us with research projects. LinkedIn is definitely one of the sources I use regularly. So. I’d agree with what you say, Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the post, Peter. I think with both writing articles and/or presenting at conferences, it’s about what you feel most comfortable doing. I’m much happier (albeit nervous) standing up presenting practical ideas to a room of ELT professionals than I would be writing those same ideas into an article. But, as you say, it’s about having a presence and being seen to be involved in the profession.
    (*Read and comment on one ELT blog – checked that off my PD list for the week!)

    Liked by 1 person

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