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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Six things about Pecha Kucha ELT

This is one of the “latest thangs” in the world of conferences, and since I helped launch the idea in ELT I thought it merited its own list.

1. Pecha Kucha comes from a Japanese word meaning “chitchat”. It’s an innovative form of presentation, which was started by two designers in Tokyo.

2. Each presenter is allowed twenty slides on a programme like Powerpoint.

3. Each slide is shown for twenty seconds. The next slide comes on automatically. This gives a total presentation time of six minutes and forty seconds. ONe of the great phrases I heard to describe a Pecha Kucha was “Get to the (Power)point and sit the hell down”.

4. While it may be short, a Pecha Kucha is in fact quite difficult to do. It requires a lot of practice and good speaking skills to do a good one. It reminds me of what Churchill said (I think it was Churchill) about giving talks. He said if you asked him to talk for 90 minutes to the House of Commons he would need five minutes to prepare. If you asked him to talk on the radio for three minutes he needed weeks to prepare.

5. A Pecha Kucha event usually has several speakers, one after another. It’s often a mixture of a conference and a social event, and usually happens in the evening. There is often a bar or drinks available. It’s a lot of fun to watch, even the not-so-good presenters.

6.  There have been Pecha Kucha events in English language teaching at several conferences in at least four different countries. The event provides a welcome relief from the syndrome known as “death by powerpoint”, all too frequent at talks. If you’re interested the next events are at TESOL Spain in Seville or IATEFL in Cardiff.The Cardiff Pecha Kucha will be broadcast live over the internet, for free. For more information and how to see it, you can register here.


I’ve created a website all about Pecha Kucha ELT here, for those of you interested in knowing more. There are detailed instructions on how to set one up, as well as videos of previous ones. There’s even a link to a lesson plan on Pecha Kucha for business students.  If any conference organisers are reading this site and looking at a way of spicing up their event, why not try one?

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 9:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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