Six things authors would rather NOT hear

Right, as many of you know I have stopped teaching as of December 2009 and am doing a lot of promotional travel and conference-attending this spring. An awful lot. In all these trips I meet teachers, representatives from the publisher, conference organisers and fellow authors and teacher trainers (and recently students too!). Ninety-nine percent of the time everyone is really nice, but there are some things that I think all authors prefer NOT to hear. Here are six that “get my goat” to a greater or lesser extent.

1. The distributor has not got copies of your book here.

This one is usually from an extremely frustrated sales representative. It doesn’t matter how good the book is, they go on to say, if we don’t have copies they we can’t sell it. Distribution problems can really make or break a book but more so a publisher. A school who has ordered X copies of your book and it doesn’t arrive will think twice before ordering from that publisher again. This is a dreaded scenario.

2. There is a typo on page XX of your new book.

How is it that, even after a manuscript has been through countless edits there are still pesky little typos that get in there? I’m convinced there are little gremlins in the production stage that do it out of sheer spite. Now, there are typos and there are typos. Some are relatively harmless and slightly annoying and others are real howlers. This sentence is sometimes uttered with glee by a teacher, who then watches the author squirm like a bug stuck on a needle. I believe that almost ALL first print runs of new books, be they methodology, coursebooks, dictionaries even, have one or two typos. And in case you are wondering if my new book has a single typo in it well I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to find out for yourselves!

3. Can you make your session 30 minutes shorter/longer?

This one comes from the local representative or the conference organiser. I don’t mind adapting a talk or workshop but not an hour before I start. Still, I’ve learned to be quite pragmatic about this and just get on with it. Throwing a bit of a tantrum does not help, nor does it endear you to the poor event organiser who is probably dealing with a million other problems at the same time. Jeremy Harmer has more on conference talks and such things at his excellent blog by the way here.

4. I loved your last book X (when the book was not in fact your book)

Ok, this is a completely normal mistake for someone to make. I’ve made it myself to tell the truth. So it counts as a minor irritation. Actually it often leads to a rather embarrassing situation when I say “Umm, no that wasn’t me. That was someone else. But yes it is a good book.” The other person then mumbles something like “Oh, errr, and what was your book? Oh, I’m sure it’s very nice too.” There follows a silence while we both search for something to say.

5. Can you sign this copy of X (a book that is not your book)

I’ve had this situation a couple of times. The funniest is when I say that I didn’t write it the other person cheerfully says “Doesn’t matter, sign it anyway.” Now I’m an obliging sort of fellow so I often do and then feel guilty. So I’m coming clean here. Other authors reading this blog: there are quite possibly teachers out there with a copy of your book with my signature on it. Sorry!

6. Did you include a unit on (insert teacher’s favourite thing here) in your book? No?!? Well you should have!

The first part of the question is fine (although I’ve heard some very weird requests). It’s the second bit where I feel the other person getting pissed off at me because I neglected to include their favourite football team, favourite author, obscure grammar point or lexical set or what have you. When these conversations get ugly it usually finishes with me smiling and saying “You should write a book then, with that in it”. Invariably the rejoinder is “Yeah? Well maybe I will!” and the other person marches off, but not without having grabbed a (often free) copy of my offensive book first!

You may notice I have not mentioned someone coming up and saying “I don’t use coursebooks,” or “I hate coursebooks, I teach with my own materials” or “I’m a dogmeist”. Almost all authors I know are very sympathetic to dogme and teachers making their own materials and don’t take that comment really that personally. Unless of course someone comes up and says “I hate YOUR books especially” which is obviously hurtful but doesn’t happen all that much.

I hasten to add that I don’t hear any of the above that often, thankfully!

Published in: on March 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm  Comments (35)  
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  1. Bravo Ken! er…Lindsay…sorry, yes I meant Lindsay! I will be sure never to talk to/ email/ tweet a coursebook writer ever again. Just in case. So, so long and thanks. By the way, do you want me to tell you about the typo in your blog? 😉

    • Oh god. Not another typo in my blog! Ken Wilson usually finds them (him or Scott Thornbury). Well, I’m squirming, I’m squirming!

      • But please, talk to me all you want! Honest 🙂

  2. The best comment I got on my first book (Teaching English with Technology, with Gavin Dudeney) was:

    “I really enjoyed your book. I read it over lunch.”

    Grrr. Surely it wasn’t THAT lightweight!


    • LOL. What a backhanded compliment!

    • Maybe he meant lunchtime over a period of many days or weeks…

  3. Great list, Lindsay!

    Promo tours are a series of ups and downs, aren’t they? Here’s an addendum to point 6.

    Presenter/author: “And we wrote this book with YOUR students in mind.”

    Audience member 1: “In that case, why are there no references to this country anywhere in the book?”

    Presenter/author: “Er..”

    Audience member 1: “And yet our neighbouring country, with whom we have a 500-year-old territorial dispute, is mentioned six times in the book.”

    Audience member 2: “Seven!”

    Uproar follows. Author tries to concentrate on thinking about the meal at the restaurant which serves the best local food in the city which has been planned for after the talk.

    Happy days, eh?

    • Tee hee. This reminds me of conversations a bit like that in car.
      Driver (host): Is this your first visit to X?

      Me: Um, no! I’m happy to be here. But I visited Y (neighboring country) and thought it was fantastic.

      Driver grips wheel and does not answer. The rest of the ride is in silence. I find out later about the 500 year territorial dispute or similar.

  4. He he… here is another one authors DEFINITELY do not want to hear:

    Teacher: I like your book very much! It’s fantastic!
    You: (hopefully thinking of bigtime sales) Really? Oh, thank you! And how many students do you teach?
    Teacher: Oh! I don’t teach classes. I teach privately
    (one-to-one)and I give photocopies to my students. You see they can’t afford to pay me and buy the book as well. But I don’t understand your publishers! Why won’t they give me a free copy of the teacher’s guide and the workbook and all the CD Rom? They only gave me a free copy of the student’s book. How can I teach the book without the other materials?

    • Ho ho ho, I had one of those just last week actually. It was quite remarkable. I also knew a teacher like that where I worked in Barcelona too – despite all the free stuff she managed to get she never ever shared with other teachers in the staff room.

  5. Me (on being asked to sign a copy of my book): Of course. How nice! Did you buy it locally?
    She: No, I won it in the raffle.

    • I think I may have signed one of your A to Z’s somewhere in Uzbekistan actually, that wasn’t given in a raffle (but might have been a high quality copy, I’m not sure 😦 )

  6. She “I really like you book”
    Me: (beaming)
    She: “but I’ve found something much better”
    Me: ?
    She: “so I’ve advertised my copies of your book for sale on the conference noticeboard. I hope you don’t mind.”
    Me (thinks…’execution is too god for some people’)

    This happened. ETAS, Zug, sometime was back.

  7. I started out reading this with my arms folded thinking how tough it must be for you world-famous, multi-millionaire authors to be wined and dined in exotic locations around the world, all for bunging a couple of gap-fills together. But now I see how rude we plebs can be, I almost feel sorry for you.



    • Ah yes, I was wondering how long before a comment about the multi-millionaire authors… where would we be without them? Actually I don’t think the really big money-winners are in here Darren. They aren’t even really out there giving talks and probably look down on my gentle whining with benevolence and bemusement.

      • There aren’t many who have struck the jackpot in the ELT lottery, no doubt. But we are all doing it for the LOVE. At least, that’s what I tell myself on a Monday morning with thirty teenagers glaring at me malevolently, waiting to be entertained. Replace ‘teenagers’ with ‘disgruntled teachers’ and I expect that’s your book tour, right?

        Thanks for the chuckles, I’m enjoying this thread immensely.

  8. At publisher’s stand, checking to see if they brought any copies:
    “Ermmm, no. I’m not sure if I’ve heard of that. Are you sure it’s one of ours?”
    Me: Yes very sure. I wrote it. And you paid for me to be at this conference to promote it.
    “Seems to be an oversight. I know we didn’t bring any copies here. You can tell people that they’ll still get the conference discount if they order it through us”
    Me: Yes, but most people who want it don’t live in the UK and by the time they’ve added shipping to the discounted price, they don’t end up saving anything

  9. I had a lady at the weekend tell me it was the wrong shape.. Never happened before,honest.

  10. One thing I hate to hear as a presenter:

    Rep: Look it doesn’t really matter what you talk about, they just want to hear a native speaker.

    (So why have I just spent the last week writing, rewriting, enhancing, polishing my presentation? Makes me feel a bit like a performing monkey!)


  11. guess i’ll be thinking twice…or maybe six times!…before throwing my hat into the textbook ring! no big bucks for me!

    wait…do brits even use that expression??? i just told a 28 yr-old friend that her life sounded like “peyton place” (the proto-typical american soap opera of the early 60’s) and she said, “what?” this from the girl who, when i told her i was at “loose ends”, asked me, “where’s that? montclair?”. oh, i’m losing my audience as i age beyond it! have i really become a throwback???

    guess any material i write will have to be updated by a staff of those born in the 80’s! then they can teach me how to wiki a blog.

    susie aka “mom” of “fame”

  12. I have to say that the replies have made for compelling reading. Rest assured that any of you in attendance at IATEFL Harrogate will be approached and asked to sign my tattered, fourth-hand copy of Headway Pre-Int.

    • Ok, all you other authors… take a number! I’m first to sign Adam’s book ya hear?!

      • I’m holding you to that!

  13. Having once got up before dawn and flown the length of Japan to present to a completely empty room I can assure you that what authors really don’t want to hear is the sound of silence. Well that and snores I guess. Heard a few of them too in my time.

  14. What about questions regarding the Common European Framework and the Language Portfolio? The authors of a book could tremble because either: a) they’re just not into it, but they had to conform to the trend because the publisher said so; b) they love the CEF and the portfolio and are afraid of any critique coming from skeptics.

    Lindsay, could we talk about the portfolio in the next weeks? I find it rather dry and would be interested in any ideas to spice it up. Also, do the readers of your blog really find it useful?

    • Do publishers realise how many of use have to choke back the vomit when we read the words ‘mapped to the CEFRL’ on thr front cover? Seriously, stop it.

      • LOL. Ok, good idea actually. I will think of a CEF related six. Should be interesting, or maybe not!

      • Thanks, Adam and Lindsay, for your comments! I’d be really glad to hear what really experienced professionals like you think of the CEFRL and the Portfolio.

      • I developed my School’s vocabulary syllabus and let me tell you that I think the CEF really bottles it when it comes to dealing with vocab.

  15. Ha! Loved this post – what I’d like to know from all of you authors though is if you’ve ever been asked to write any unusual or downright strange dedications in any of your books…

    • Or sign a body part!

      Please tell me that a TEFL groupie has given you a felt tip pen and started unbuttoning her blouse!

      • LOL!!! Ummm. No.

  16. Well, I bet at least ONE of you big-shot authors has.

    I met a woman once with Stephen Krashen’s face tattooed on her left hip, and Noam Chomsky’s on her right.

  17. Another informative post that offers insights into the EFL/ESL publishing world. While I have not been fortunate enough to hear these unwanted comments yet, I do hope this posting and comments will allow me to avoid a few publishing pitfalls. Perhaps.

    Your first point about distribution I have learned, painfully, first hand. Hence, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to hear those slightly disconcerting comments or suffered those awkward moments. Perhaps that will change.

    After all, sometimes “forewarned is forearmed.”

  18. Apologies for coming into this so late, but I’m curious as to why “mapped to the CEFR” induces such a strong reaction from Adam. The framework is not without its faults, to be sure, but surely it does provide a useful alternative to mapping a syllabus only to grammar or functions? It seems particularly unfair to fault it for lacking a specific focus on vocabulary; that’s a bit like criticizing a city bus for not providing bucket seats and climate controls for all passengers. As a proficiency level descriptor system, it works very well–and as a teacher, when I read that a textbook is aimed at CEFR level B2, it tells me more than when I read “high beginner” or “intermediate” with little further clarification.

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