An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Jeremy Taylor
An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
Every writer needs a certain amount of inspiration, talent and luck. But getting a book published is also about having a winning mindset. It means holding on and believing in what you do instead of giving up because of publishers’ rejection letters. Jeremy Taylor, one of the speakers at the ELTForum in Bratislava, has accepted that challenge and never let go. Learn more about the ELT writing world from his unique experience.
SCET: How did you start out as a teacher? Why and when did you start to teach? What do you like most about your job and what is least exciting?
Jeremy: I started teaching as a Biology and Geography teacher at a school in London in 1985, inspired by a great teacher when I was at school. What I love about teaching is the ‘light bulb moment’ when a student finally gets it. The least exciting part is any admin I have to do which, thankfully, is not very much.
SCET: Why and how did you start writing? What was your first book and what do you consider your biggest success thus far?
Jeremy: I had an idea for a short story in 1984 and sat down and wrote it out and typed it up later. I thought it was brilliant and sent it off to Roald Dahl. He sent me a reply… I won’t go into the scary details but my first publication wasn’t that short story. It was The English German Joke Book, published in 1989. My biggest success? Er, still waiting for that.
SCET: Your English joke books have been successfully published in several language versions. How did you get into writing books about jokes?
Jeremy: The first book was the result of my efforts to learn German – telling jokes to my German friends. If they laughed – or groaned – I knew I had taken another step forward. When the German joke book was published, I was then able to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair armed with a published book to try and twist the arms of other foreign publishers.
I think jokes are an excellent way to practise a language. They are short and you are rewarded every few lines for your ‘work’. Older learners may be familiar with some of the jokes which will help them understand more easily. They are exposed to new structures and new vocabulary, but will almost certainly cope with them.
SCET: Is it easy to get published as a freelance writer of ELT books? How did you find your publisher?
Jeremy: Definitely not easy. It is often a chance meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair or at a conference. In fact of the 50 print books that I’ve published, about 40 of them have been the result of talking to an editor face-to-face. You might have a brilliant idea for an ELT book but unless it fits in with a publisher’s thinking, then they are unlikely to say yes. If you offer your skills to work on a workbook, photocopiables or a teacher’s guide, then you are more likely to get your foot in the door.
SCET: How did you start publishing eBooks? Compared to the print editions, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having books published digitally?
Jeremy: Wandering around the London Book Fair, I saw a company promoting eBook software. It looked brilliant and I produced a few books with integrated audio and I thought I was about to become very rich. Sadly the reader for the software was clunky and I made less than a £100 on the venture but I could see the potential. No more pesky editors to deal with. No 6-9-month waits for publication. You could finish a book and get it published in minutes. And the royalties, of course, are much more generous as you don’t have distribution, printing or editorial costs.
The downside is that you have to do all your own marketing. No one will buy your brilliant books unless you market them – and that is something new for many writers. Also those pesky, expensive editors actually do a good job and tidy up your manuscripts ready for publication. I haven’t given up on print publishers and have just finished a second coursebook for a Swedish publisher, but I think new ELT authors should consider looking at both options.
Jeremy Taylor is a freelance writer and teacher trainer. He lives in a small village in the Czech Republic and spends his time training teachers, writing books, taking photos and hiking and biking in the beautiful Czech (and Slovak) countryside. To find out more about him, have a look at his website: www.jeremytaylor.eu.
This weekend, Jeremy will have a workshop on getting students talking through a variety of activities.