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English Language Teaching Global Blog


A decent proposal

Man writing by candlelightWant to be an ELT author? Don’t know how to get started? Neil Wood, Managing Editor for Business English, ESP and EAP titles at OUP offers some advice.

If you have aspirations to be an ELT author, it pays to know what you’re letting yourself in for. Be under no illusions – the work is demanding and the rewards, at least in financial terms, are by no means guaranteed. So how do you get started?

There are a number of ways, but it usually starts with a proposal. There are basically two kinds: those which arrive unexpectedly on an editor’s desk, or in their inbox, and those written in response to a request from the publisher.

What the publisher is looking for will obviously vary, but in responding to any proposal there are usually three basic questions that need to be addressed.

1. Is it of publishable quality (or does it have the potential to become so)?
2. Is it commercially viable in its present form?
3. Does it fit in with our current publishing plans?

The first two are self-evident, but question 3 is often crucial, especially for speculative proposals. ELT publishers normally have a publishing plan stretching several years into the future and developed in response to quite specific market requirements. Sending in an unsolicited proposal is therefore largely a matter of luck – unless it arrives on the editor’s desk at exactly the time they are looking for something similar, it may not be accepted.

That said, there are famous examples of unsolicited proposals that went on to become blockbusters – the Streamline series was an early OUP success which arrived unannounced and proved enduringly popular. Then there’s ‘the one that got away’ – at least one major publisher failed to see the potential of Raymond Murphy’s idea for a student grammar before it was snapped up by CUP. In that case, the rest, as they say, is history.

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