MWIS Newsletter

MWIS News, Volume 17:2 (September 2004)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue...

A Message From Our Co-Chairs
Creating Fresh Ideas for Stale Topics
The Author-DE Relationship
What is MATSDA?
Write for Essential Teacher
When You Can't Do the Job
About This Member Community

A Message From Our Co-Chairs

By Susan Iannuzzi, and Deborah Gordon,

Greetings all,

Hopefully those of you who attended the 38th Annual TESOL Convention in Long Beach, California, this past spring left refueled and regenerated with lots of new ideas. A lot has happened since Long Beach. Amongst other things, we have a new newsletter editor, Tay Lesley. In addition, Dorothy Zemach and Carlos Islam were elected co-chairs elect, and we (Susan and Deborah) took over the positions of co-chairs. We would like to take this opportunity to show our gratitude to Maya Deborah Lazarus, our past newsletter editor, and to Irene Schoenberg, our past IS chair, as well as to Tay, Dorothy, and Carlos for stepping up to the plate to graciously volunteer their time.

The past few months have been busy ones, dealing with getting the proposals read for the TESOL 2005 convention in San Antonio, Texas. Fortunately, the process has been a lot smoother than it was last year. This is due mainly to a new online service that is exceedingly more user friendly than the one we all attempted to use last year (those of you who read proposals both years will agree, we are sure!). Many thanks to all of you who assisted with that task.

One unfortunate bit of news we need to pass on to you is that we have fewer session slots this year than we had last year. That is because an unusually small number of proposals, only 29 as opposed to about 60 last year, were submitted to our IS this year. Because the amount of session slots assigned to each IS is proportional to the amount of proposals received, we are left with fewer slots to fill. This is truly a shame because there were so many interesting and well-written proposals submitted. If your proposal was not chosen this year, we encourage you to try again next year when, hopefully, we will receive more proposals and so have more slots to fill. We are aware that many people were frustrated by last year's problems with the proposal vetting system and, perhaps, as a result, thought twice about submitting this year. If you were one of those people, please consider retooling those proposals for next year!

The good news is that all of our slots look like they are going to be extremely interesting and useful. Furthermore, there are a number of very exciting discussion groups in the works, and, the academic session that Dorothy and Carlos have planned looks nothing less than stellar. The presenters for the academic session will be Diane Larsen-Freeman, Michael McCarthy, David Nunan, Jack C. Richards, and Brian Tomlinson, so clearly we all have lots to look forward to. See you in San Antonio!

Creating Fresh Ideas for Stale Topics

By YouJim Kim, Southern Illinois University,

As an ESL/EFL teacher, I often need creative ideas to make my classes more fun and attractive to students. Depending on the topic, I also seek out different strategies to provide an interesting communicative learning experience. For instance, my students generally consider topics such as geography, history, and politics boring. For this reason, it is more difficult for me to engage students and teach them using such topics. Therefore, I have been very interested in developing interesting materials and activities based on a content-based approach.

The materials presented in my poster session at the 38th Annual TESOL Convention in Long Beach were developed for an ESL course targeting recently arrived undergraduate international students in a Midwestern U.S. university. Based on a combination of teaching methods, including the Communicative Approach and task- and topic-based teaching, I developed 5 days of lesson plans (Day 1: Symbols of the U.S.A; Day 2: Illinois; Day 3: Washington D.C.; Day 4: Planning a trip to Washington, D.C.; Day 5: Presidents' Day). These included a jigsaw reading along with interviews, presentations based on an authentic reading text, engaging games, and more. The main purpose of the materials was to increase students' motivation to interact with people in English.

Many people who attended my presentation were pleased to see the fun activities, included a true/false game using flags and a map puzzle of the United States, both of which facilitate students' interaction. They also liked the idea that these games would allow the students to win meaningful awards, such as state of Illinois quarters and postcards. They were especially interested in a jigsaw reading activity. We all agreed with the challenge of lowering students' affective filter on such topics and the importance of effective hands-on activities.

From this presentation, I was able to share my experiences teaching college level ESL students and listen to different teaching anecdotes from other teachers in various settings. We concluded that "no pain, no gain!" is the best way of describing a diligent teacher/material writer's attitude. The more teachers know about their students' needs and prepare materials accordingly, the more effective their classes will be.

The Author-DE Relationship

By Linda Butler,

To prepare for my part in a 2004 TESOL colloquium on the author-developmental editor (DE) relationship, I conducted a small survey of materials writers to find out what an author wants from a DE. By phone and by e-mail, I contacted a dozen experienced writers, and I would like to share their responses with you. Although there were certain common threads in their comments--for example, we all want our DEs to answer our e-mail quickly and completely--some marked differences stood out.

The first question on my e-mail survey was, "Have you worked as a) an author, b) a writer-for-hire, or c) both?" I realized too late that using author andwriter-for-hire as if they were clear-cut alternatives confused some people. I think of materials writers on a continuum, ranging from authors at one end to writers-for-hire at the other. I started out in materials writing at the author end: I wrote a proposal based on materials I had developed for my own classes, took it to a publisher, got a contract, and wrote the books with relatively little input from the publisher. I have also worked at the other end of the continuum, writing to very specific guidelines laid down by the publisher and revising as directed by a DE.

It is true that I receive royalties for those projects on which I see myself as an author, and for those on which I see myself as a writer-for-hire, I have been paid up front, but I think the difference between the two roles also has a lot to do with independence and control. As an author, I want and expect a lot of both; as a writer-for-hire, I do not. I believe that where a writer sees him- or herself along the author/writer-for-hire continuum--whether because of the nature of the particular project or because of the writer's previous experiences--affects how the writer sees the role of the DE. And perhaps the more independence and control a writer expects, the greater the potential for friction between writer and editor.

For example, here are comments from two veteran materials writers who responded very differently to my survey. Writer 1 is firmly ensconced at the author end of the continuum. She has written a number of highly successful textbooks that grew out of ideas that she and her co-authors proposed to their publishers. Writer 2 has done it all in ESL publishing, although at this point, she says publishers come to her with ideas, not vice versa. What she wants to work on now are projects that originate in the marketing department of major publishers.

Writer 1 wrote, "Good DEs spend time understanding the author's vision and what the publisher has agreed to in contracting the project … and [do] not try to impose some other vision of what the project should be." She also wrote that good DEs "understand their ‘place' on the project, i.e. [they] understand the difference between being an editor and becoming one of the authors." This writer did not say as much, but I guarantee she would agree with another author who wrote, "A DE MUST NOT CHANGE THINGS IN MY MANUSCRIPT WITHOUT CONSULTING ME." (Three writers actually used the very same phrase to describe making changes such as that. They called it "a cardinal sin.")

Writer 2, the other veteran, told me that she could not stress enough how important it is for the author to have the DE involved from the very beginning and to get agreement up front on exactly what the publisher wants. She expects a lot of back-and-forth with the DE at the start, before she writes very much.

The hardest lesson is to give up the natural ego defense that comes with the author territory and learn to trust the DE, who should be working directly with the publisher's marketing staff and should know better than the author (no matter how long he or she has been around) what will work in the target market.

Writer 2 summed up by saying, "I don't argue anymore." You hear two very different voices here, don't you?

Other writers also addressed the difference between working as an author and as a writer-for-hire. One put it this way:

As an author, what I create is mine. As a writer-for-hire, what I create belongs to the publisher. I feel a tremendous sense of ‘protectiveness' over my own writing, and I can get touchy when a DE makes suggestions I disagree with. In contrast, I find it much easier to revise things when I write for hire; I'm not emotionally attached to them in the same way.

Another wrote:

There are major differences in working as an author or for-hire. As an author, you are in the driver's seat. The DE brings ideas, suggestions, insights … but in the end, you as the author, make the final decisions. … As a writer-for-hire, I am more willing to do what the DE says. I may pose opinions or suggestions, but if the DE rejects them, I will do what she asks. A DE is more of a commander, with a writer-for-hire as a troop in her army.

Not everyone agreed on these differences, however. One who identified herself as both an author and a writer-for-hire wrote: "I didn't find much of a difference, although I thought as an author I'd have more control."

In the survey, I also asked writers to describe a good experience with a DE. Five ideas came up repeatedly:

  1. Establish parameters at the beginning: How are we going to communicate? What is our schedule going to be? How will the DE provide feedback?
  2. Make sure your DE understands your goals and methods because, as one author put it, at some point, "you have to abandon a part of the process to the DE."
  3. Stress that when something is unclear or inconsistent, the DE should ask, not jump in and change things. As one writer put it, a DE should "understand that sometimes consistency has to be violated for pedagogical reasons."
  4. Let your DE know what kind of feedback you value most. Two authors commented that they want their DEs to be direct and not make them read between the lines. Some authors want their DEs to give examples of what they want and why when they make a suggestion; others just want to know what's not working.
  5. Recognize that each of you brings a certain expertise to the project. One author wrote,
    "Some DEs seem to think I am their slave. Others seem to think I am a valuable equal. Often, I think that their view of me is not based on me and my work; rather it is based on them and their own self-image."
    Another wrote, "The DE is not a slave for the author. But the author does not need to do just whatever the DE wants, either."

The final survey question was, "Have you ever worked as a DE?" Answers varied from "No, never have and never would," to "Yes, and it has made a big difference in how I work with a DE." One writer commented, "As a DE, … I have learned the huge role of my author's personality in our relationship." Another wrote that

[W]orking as a DE has shown me what a pain authors can be, and it has made me determined not to be like the difficult ones. ‘Bad' authors are defensive and act like you're imposing on them instead of trying to make them look good and sell their books.

Sometimes it seems that what goes wrong in an author-DE relationship cannot be helped, no matter how hard the author and DE work to set up their ground rules, keep the lines of communication open, and treat each other with respect. Several authors mentioned personality and chemistry, intangibles that help create the sense of teamwork that characterizes a good author-DE relationship.

Finally, many writers mentioned the gratitude they feel when they have a good experience with their DE. I certainly agree with the author who wrote, "A good DE is worth his/her weight in gold."

What is MATSDA?

By Carlos Islam, University of Maine,

An organization all MWIS members should be aware of is the Materials Development Association (MATSDA).

MATSDA is a nonprofit international association founded in 1993 by Brian Tomlinson to bring together researchers, publishers, writers, and teachers to develop high quality materials for the learning of languages. Tomlinson is the editor of Materials Development in Language Teaching (1998, Cambridge University Press) and Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2003, Continuum Press).

MATSDA holds conferences and workshops centering on issues related to the development of language learning materials and also publishes its journal,Folio, twice a year. The journal regularly includes articles by eminent professionals in the English language teaching field as well as newer and less established professionals.

As well as having many members from Britain, MATSDA has members from the rest of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, Australia, and the United States.

In October, a North American branch of MATSDA will be launched using the University of Maine as its administrative base. This will mean more easily accessible conferences and workshops for U.S. members.

You can find out more about MATSDA as well as how to become a member from its Web site:

Write for Essential Teacher

By Dorothy Zemach,

Back in January of this year, there was a flurry of posts on the electronic MWIS list on the look and content of Essential Teacher, TESOL's new magazine (not journal! not replacement of TESOL Journal!). I gathered up the comments and presented them (sans authors' names) at the Essential Teacher meeting at TESOL 2004 in March, as other columnists had also been asked to do.

For some reason, I was the only person to have gathered any negative feedback; perhaps materials writers are understandably more critical of writing and design. (Feedback from overseas readers was particularly positive.) In response to some of that feedback, some design changes have been made for the next volume year; I am particularly happy that the size of the photos of columnists has been reduced, so that I no longer feel like a centerfold.

Content, though; now that is still open. With the exception of six regular columns, the content of Essential Teacher is supplied by TESOL members. Who, then, is in a better position to contribute solid, useful, interesting articles than MWIS members? Because the publication is sent to all TESOL members, you have a large, broad audience. I was stopped in the streets of Beijing last May by someone who recognized me from Essential Teacher, who even remembered all my articles. (I also listened to someone rip ET to shreds at AAAL in April, trashing the look, paper quality, topics, and contents of all the articles, though in the end I decided not to take it personally, since she said she had never read any of them). ET is still a new publication and offers an excellent chance to both new and established writers to have their say and influence its direction.

For more information, go to for the submission guidelines, or just click to them from the TESOL Web site at Regular columns can have guest writers, so if there is one that you are particularly interested in, you could contact its regular writer with your idea and ask to write a column. Who knows? You could wind up writing one full time someday!

Dorothy Zemach works for the Cambridge University Press and is an Essential Teacher columnist.

When You Can't Do the Job

By Tay Lesley,

Not long ago I posted a message on the MWIS-list in which I discussed having to give up a writing job:

I recently had to ask a publisher to let me "off the hook" for a job I had agreed to do some time before. I wanted to do it, but couldn't because I had taken on a new job that turned out to be more work than I had bargained for. I could not decline the new job because I did not have work at the time, and the job that I had committed to was not starting for several months, so I thought I could manage to do both. As it turned out, I couldn't.

I asked members of the list if they had encountered a similar situation or had any advice about what to say to the publisher. One respondent said that I had left out an important piece of the puzzle, which was whether I had signed a contract or not. (Actually, I had not.) This respondent said that it was perfectly o.k. legally to back out of a verbal agreement, though that might still have an impact on the relationship with the publisher.

Another respondent stressed the importance of just telling the truth. This writer related an experience of giving up a job that turned out to be quite different from what was expected originally. Since a contract had been signed, the writer told the publisher that they could keep all of the work completed up to that point at no cost to them. The publisher agreed, and there were no hard feelings.

A third respondent suggested that it was important to notify the person in charge of the project immediately (preferably by phone) so they could look for another writer, and asked a number of questions: Did you complete any of the work? Could you recommend someone else to finish the work? Could you complete it if the publisher matched you with a co-author? (The answer in my own case was "no" to all these, but I can see how a "yes" to any might have altered the situation.)

This respondent also noted that publishers understand that writers have to take other jobs, and that many situations occur that make it necessary to bend schedules. The writer continued,

I assume you're asking this question because you hope to work for that publisher again in the future, and of course missed deadlines or an unfinished assignment doesn't look good. But if this is a one-time thing, and you have a proven track record, and you let them know as soon as possible, I think they should be understanding.

I am grateful for the experience and wisdom reflected in these responses. What comes through clearly is how much the writer-publisher relationship depends on trust, which, it seems to me, can only be achieved by being truthful. In case anyone is wondering: The publisher in question did accept my explanation and found a replacement writer, and in the end I think no great damage was done.

About This Member Community Materials Writers Interest Section (MWIS)

MWIS serves as a forum to exchange professional, noncommercial issues and concerns that relate to the writing, editing, and production of instructional materials in ESL/EFL. A regular newsletter, and conference participation, workshops, demonstrations, and papers have served as the means for the exchange. Under consideration are other possible activities: an award for outstanding contribution to materials preparation, and a clearinghouse to link up new writers, publishers, and regional affiliates.

MWIS Leaders 2004-2005

Cochair: Deborah Gordon,
Cochair: Susan Iannuzzi,
Cochair-Elect: Dorothy Zemach,
Cochair-Elect: Carlos Islam,
Newsletter Editor: Tay Lesley,

Discussion E-List: Visit to subscribe to MWIS-L, the discussion list for MWIS members, or visit if already a subscriber.

More Resources:
  • President's Message: April/May 1998
  • MWIS Newsletter Volume 16, Issue 2: June 2003
  • MWIS Newsletter Volume 16, Issue 3: August 2003
  • MWIS Newsletter Volume 17, Issue 1: March 2003
  • President's Message: December 2002/January/February 2003