I was recently contacted by the Hall Houston, the author of Provoking Thought to contribute a piece to his blog A teacher in Taoyuan about my experiences as a self-published ELT author. The content of that piece is as follows. For those of you working in the ELT industry (in Japan or otherwise) I would recommend checking out his blog.
On self-publishing… When I first conceived of Phat English, a teaching method that utilizes specially designed hip-hop music to teach subtle nuances of GAm (General American and Canadian English) pronunciation, I was shot down by pretty much every publisher I brought the concept to. Perhaps it was because I was trying as a foreigner in Japan (which is arguably the most risk averse society on earth), perhaps it was because I was young, inexperienced in business and writing, (or even teaching for that matter) or perhaps it’s because most people were skeptical that it can actually work. Whatever the reason, in the beginning, self-publishing was one of seemingly only two options I had: that, or quit. Thankfully, I decided to dig my heels in, and go with the former.
That was 5 years ago and it has never been a decision that I have regretted. Going through www.lulu.com, and figuring out InDesign and Photoshop on my own, I was able to produce the first draft of my book for only the cost of hiring a friend to do my illustrations. After creating the first draft, I was able to publish a single copy- and then try it out, instead of having to commit to making and selling at least 50, 100 or 200 like most publishers asked for. This allowed me to keep the book in a constant beta form, with which I could continually fix mistakes, experiment, improve explanations and layouts, and continually hone the book to the point that I was not just confident enough to start presenting and selling it- but to actually offer a 150% Moneyback Guarantee to any unsatisfied buyers while I was doing it – something that not many people in the industry can claim to do.
Beyond that, the other great thing about self-publishing is that it allowed me the freedom of doing things my way. As I had no stuffy or controversy-averse corporate bosses to answer to, I could use the kind of humor, characters, and illustrations that I thought would appeal to high school and college kids, and keep it that way. I could also stick with my ideal of making the main characters in the text American ethnic minorities (something that I was also discouraged from doing, and as an African American English teacher myself, had always really yearned to see). This is not to say in any way, shape, or form that self publishing is simple or the best way to go for everyone. Although I do very much endorse Lulu’s author support structure, (once I sold enough on my own, they offered to represent me on Amazon, and most recently at the North American Book Expo), much like in producing a film, the great advantage of selling your idea or script to a major publishing house is that you can pretty much rest assured that the whole process- from design to marketing and sales- is going to be taken care of by industry professionals who know what they are doing.
In my case, every element of “Phat” right down to its success and proliferation, has always rested on my shoulders, and even if I enjoy it, I grow from it, and I learn from it, it can at times be both exhausting and expensive. In the end however, the best thing about self-publishing is that you are not ruling out the major publishers. In fact, if you get schools, universities, and businesses using it, (as I have with Phat), you are bound to start getting their attention. And if they come to you, (instead of vice versa), you will be standing as an accomplished writer and businessperson- and not just some nobody with an idea- and that means negotiation power. For the time being however, even if I don’t make my living exclusively from Phat, I can enjoy every individual book sale because I know that I earned it completely through my own efforts.
When I see people use it, I know that they are learning and growing and evolving as people because of something that I created with my own hands, and that also isn’t something that a lot of people can claim. Perhaps if that seems like something that appeals to you (or if as in my case, you don’t really have a choice because everyone else thinks your idea is lunacy) then perhaps self-publishing is a good option for you. Chuck Johnson www.phatenglish.com