If Carlsberg did writing projects…
Ha, what would we ask for as writers? What would be your ultimate terms and conditions? Mine would probably include:
- choosing my co-author
- (almost) complete freedom over content
- flexible deadlines so I can work around my teaching job
- wait, I set the deadlines!
- input into the overall design
Too much to ask, right?
No! It’s not! Can you believe it?!
IELTS Reading Practice (Prosperity Education) has finally been released – check it out on Amazon here. It’s basically a self-study book for students taking IELTS Reading Academic. It could work well as a supplementary resource for teachers too – it’s the supps book we wish we had. So… we wrote it.
Reviews have been really positive so far. Jim at Sponge ELT reckons the resource ‘has been done phenomenally’. Monica Ruda-Peachey says it’s ‘well crafted’ and that we’ve ‘certainly delivered’. David Wills at TED-IELTS thinks it will be ‘tremendously useful for students’. Martin Sketchley at ELT Experiences used the word ‘invaluable’.
Me and Paul are chuffed with this feedback as we put a lot into this project. The approach taken to this resource is fairly representative of our classroom practice too, so it’s nice to know that others see the benefits!
For those interested, here’s a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ for the book.
How did it come about?
I connected with Tom O’Reilly from Prosperity Education on Linkedin (where else?) last year. He was keen for Prosperity to venture into the IELTS market, and contacted me off the back of some IELTS-related posts I’d shared. *Hashtag I told you sharing on LinkedIn works*
He made it clear from the outset that Prosperity wanted an IELTS resource written by practicing IELTS trainers. ‘You know what resources are needed,’ he said, ‘you tell me what needs publishing, and let’s see if it’s doable’. How refreshing!
My response was pretty much this. ‘I know what’s needed, and I know who you need to write it’. I’d worked under Paul Murphy for years at the British Council. The guy knows IELTS like the back of his hand. He’s a really talented writer, great teacher and a competent project manager. Paul was keen (phew!) but he wanted to collaborate with me on it.
We put together a sample ‘unit’ in no time. The ideas flowed, the structure seemed logical to us. Lots of scaffolding needed for a self-study reading resource (we opted for a pre-teach), strategies development building towards more ‘authentic’ exam tasks, vocab building, enhanced texts, less grading than other IELTS resources, repeated practice, recycling vocab across texts, crossover to other parts of the IELTS exam for those teachers using the resource as a supp (it’s flexible). Tom seemed impressed – I’ve never had an idea so emphatically given the green light. From that moment on we had free rein to really make the resource our own.
Working with Prosperity was very much ‘power to the writers’. Few (if any?) editorial changes were made without our agreement. There were queries from editors and reviewers as to why we’d chosen certain tasks. We justified our choices and I’d say 90% of the time we got the final say on the content (without needing to talk anyone around!). We were given plenty of input on the design too, be it overall layout, fonts, covers.
Being given that level of input into a project certainly ups your own investment (time, emotions, etc). It’s also scary. It was made scarier for me as my name sort of fell in front of Paul’s on the cover page without discussion. I hate having to be accountable, so was secretly hoping Paul would take this one on, just in case (haha). If it turned out the content was rubbish then I could just distance myself and blame things on all the Celtic references Paul had included in the texts. Alas, we were second-named in a review by Jim Fuller as ‘Clements and Murphy’, so there’s no escaping accountability this time!
Joking aside, this was a very equal writing partnership and I benefitted a lot from working with Paul. Having so much freedom with regard to content, for me at least, is a blessing and a curse. I don’t know when to stop with the add-ons and the fluffy ideas, and the ‘how about this, and this, and this’, and the ‘I’m wondering now if we should scrap these bits’ (times 1000!). Luckily, while I obsessed over relatively minor issues, Paul was able to see the bigger picture and tell me when to keep things clear, simple, purposeful. Writing with Paul is the same as being managed by Paul. Concise, direct, professional – I’d better not say we are chalk and cheese as that might be to my detriment, buuuuuut…
As for Prosperity Education, I’d say they are pretty hard to fault. I’ve never been given that level of autonomy by any publisher, yet we were thoroughly supported throughout. Clear guidance, regular check-ins but nothing at all pushy, a real feeling on having you ‘on-board’ with the process and letting you know what’s up next. I learnt a few more things about the writing process from that actually. While I didn’t need to be hands on at certain stages, being informed about upcoming processes like typesetting, reviewing and so on was nice – I’m used to that ‘thanks for the content, we’ll handle it from here…’ feeling, so this (again) was refreshing.
I’d say this is joint Number 1 in my all-time list of writing projects. It’s the first time I’ve been able to look back at a whole resource and say it reads as almost 100% ‘our work’ as writers. Most of the projects I take on involve writing to fairly tight briefs (lol), so this was liberating. We had the chance to produce a resource that we thought was genuinely needed, and an independent publisher was willing to absorb some of the risk. I can’t really ask for more than that.
So, this was my ‘Carlsberg’ of writing projects. And yeah, I proud of this one – we did a good job I think.