How to self-publish your own ELT materials

Dorothy Zemach self-publishing Wayzgoose Press

This post was written by guest writer Dorothy Zemach.

Dorothy Zemach Wayzgoose Press ELT writer author Dorothy taught English, French, and Japanese for over 25 years in Asia, Africa, and the US. She holds an MA in TESL from the School for International Training in Vermont, USA. An author of over 20 textbooks, she now concentrates on writing and editing English language teaching materials and conducting teacher training workshops. In 2012, she founded a micropress (visit at Wayzgoose Press) that publishes fiction, non-fiction, and educational materials. Her areas of specialty and interest are teaching writing, teaching reading, business English, academic English, testing, and humor. She is a frequent plenary speaker at international conferences, and a blogger for Teacher Talk at Azar Grammar. Her personal website is http://dorothyzemach.com.


Do you have a book in you?

Every summer, I offer an online course called Self-Publishing for ELT Professionals. And this summer is no different. Thank goodness! It’s like the one thing in my life that has not been rewritten by COVID-19.

The course is filling up, but there are still some spots left. But mostly I want to talk about self-publishing because I want to plant some seeds. I’m sure there are people reading this who have never considered publishing a book before. And yet … maybe you should.

Who should publish a book?

Someone with something to say. Something to share. That covers most teachers I know, actually. You see, a ‘book’ doesn’t have to mean a 6-level coursebook series, or War and Peace. A book can be any collection of written material. Some books that I have either written or shepherded through the process have included:

  • A collection of blog posts
  • The bylaws and guidelines for a professional organization
  • My mother’s personal recollections of growing up in wartime Hawaii
  • Materials to accompany a course
  • Original fiction
  • Adapted public domain short stories
  • Advice to teachers
  • Advice to students
  • Results of original research
  • ‘Bonus’ content given out free when someone signs up for a mailing list via a website link
  • Poetry
  • Republished out-of-print material
  • A travel memoir

What are some advantages of self-publishing?

Versus publishing with a traditional publisher, the main advantages boil down to control over your own content; the ability to reach a small or niche audience (that larger publishers simply can’t afford to target); and higher royalty rates.

Will I get rich self-publishing?

There’s no easy answer. Like any kind of publishing, it’s going to depend on the quality of your material and its relevance to enough paying consumers. But it’s certainly possible. For one thing, the amount of money you earn per copy sold is much higher than with a book published through a traditional publisher. But not everybody who self-publishes offers their work for sale. I use my collection of essays (previously published in TESOL’s magazine) as a conference giveaway and a gift when I visit schools. Teachers might give their ebooks to their currently enrolled students at no cost, as a convenient way of disseminating information. And so on.

Are there any caveats?

Oh, sure. Self-publishing means you have all the control, but it also means you do all the work (or contract someone else to do it for you—like hiring a proofreader or a cover designer). You still need the work done that a publisher does, including editing, proofreading, and design. You can’t—or, well, you shouldn’t—skip those steps just because you’re a one-person business now. But it absolutely is possible to learn to do those things yourself, or to learn how to find qualified professionals to do the work you don’t want to engage with.Dorothy Zemach self-publishing ELT

So does this course you’re teaching have any secret information?

No. There isn’t really any ‘secret information,’ and you should be suspicious of any marketing that claims there’s such information available … for a price. Everything I’m going to teach you how to do you could figure out yourself by researching online. The point of taking an online course is really the same as taking any course. I’ve spent the years since 2012 and now going through all this and experimenting and discovering what works and what doesn’t, so it’s like a shortcut. Also, since this is a class, you get a community of other writers to work with. You share ideas and exchange feedback and encourage one another. Plus we have deadlines! It’s why you’d pay for a gym membership instead of exercising at home.

Are there any requirements?

Yes. You do need to have something completed, that you could work with. That could be as short as one blog post or one unit of teaching material or the first chapter of a novel. The reason you need something in hand is that we move pretty quickly into formatting, so if you don’t have some text in hand, you have nothing to work with. Your book or project doesn’t need to be finished! But you will need the idea and at least a few pages.

How do I find out more?

Head on over to the course description here.

The first class will go live on July 5. We do get writers from all over the world, so not everybody is able to join live, just because of time zones. For those who can’t attend the live sessions, everything is recorded, and pdfs of the slides are made available. We also have a dedicated discussion forum where everyone can interact.

Some example books that came out of this course (I’m including some of mine because I always do a book alongside the rest of the class):

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