Pocket Money Writing 4 Pearson ELT

SOS Tick - I ain't afraid of no tick!
The other day, while eating lunch, I asked a fellow teacher what she would do about all this Pearson trouble... what she'd do if she'd just worked for over 400 hours yet after receiving a series of simply unacceptable clauses in a long awaited, finally received contract... would she fight back after her project had suddenly been aborted post completion of the entire first draft of the actual work...? 

She said,

"It wouldn't ever happen to me because I wouldn't do all that work without being paid."

I was paid.   Or was I?  Does less than minimum wage count as being paid?

I guess so, huh.

After about 4 months into the project, after several phone calls and sending urgent reminders (I had a tax bill to pay) and then sending demanding emails, I did receive a cheque of £1000 as part of the  "advance" - but technically, as they so oft reminded me, not paid - because, for those of you who don't know this, "an advance is not a payment, it is a loan against earnings - you have to pay this back to Pearson through your royalities." 

I was told this several times because I was simply shocked that anyone could imagine anyone writing for such a low fee.  And that was before realizing how much work it would all be.  And that was post negotiations to get the double of the initial offer.

Now, if all had gone according to plan and I had been a good girl who would agree to everything they wanted, then I would have received a further £1000 for finishing the first draft and another £1000 if the book had been published plus 6% in royalties.

But now it won't come to even that mere pittance...* 

And although my question to my colleague centered around the hours I have lost, to the sheer incredible creative effort I have lost - I simply don't know if I am brave enough or have enough strength left to turn this work into an e-book... the fact is that it wasn't 400 hours of work.   Without sounding like a pity-me girl, whining away on her blog to anyone who might care enough to care, the truth is that the energy that I poured into this project while staying away from writing on my blog, breaks down into this:
  • 10-15 hours in emails and negotiations for a contract which they wouldn't give me or let me see up front because "their legal department was busy, you do have to understand, don't you..."   Said by a seemingly kindly grandfatherly type editor who'd gotten on the phone to appease my fears "We're Pearson." he said. You can trust us, he implied.  And well, when a company gets to that size and you never hear about any trouble, you think why would there be trouble with me, I can write.
  • 80 hours in developing an agreed upon outline based on an agreed upon target group *which as I mentioned in the previous post, changed dramatically to a) IT students who don't have access to computers and b)... the addition of a further target group - more on this in the next posting on this theme.
  • 320+ hours in writing
  • 50+ hours in research 
  • ?+ hours finding photos for the copy (you have to submit suggestions and have a list of cultural things to watch out for. Not easy).

BUT... I guess you're probably wondering, why on god's green earth, did I say 'yes' to such a ridiculous low offer?  After all, as you know I don't even like textbooks... Well, it's not because I like working for nothing - payment is sometimes not only financial...

a) I met the first editor at the BESIG conference and I felt he knew what he was talking about.  He'd been an editor of Business English materials in the past - a series I liked -  so I trusted him and his opinions.   The book was to be an ESP material, which meant they would be a good deal more research into needs.  (Ha* if these were done they weren't shared with me despite asking for this.) 
However, unfortunately, my very nice, very experienced editor was then transferred to another country and replaced by someone who has very little if any Specialized English teaching/ textbook knowledge.   
Someone who despite demanding a unit every 2 weeks took over a month to send me back feedback, thus not telling me until unit 4 that my reading texts were too long...
you'd think by now, as course books vary so much that they'd have a "standard" list or some copy guidelines to follow, pre-written up, wouldn't you?

Did what she asked though.  However the real problem: she had next to zero knowledge of IT, no idea exactly what was wrong with her suggestion to change my realia description to this... 
 an OHP.  Not a Smartboard? Not BlueScreen?  Not on Youtube?

b) The Series Editor assigned to the material was someone whose work I do respect - I felt extremely motivated by his in-depth requests during the process of creating the outline - wanting always much more -  things like specific vocabulary lists, grammar and functions, topics for each sub-section and I  was happy overall with these and felt that his criticisms could only be beneficial to the project. 
I was strongly convinced that I would be able to learn and develop from working with someone of his experience.  I had no idea that he would soon be 'hands off' post this stage and soon I would  left to deal with someone who thinks that:
"people in social media don't talk to people they don't know." 
adverbs of frequency idea (cc)

I had no idea then that items to this agreed-upon-outline could be added magically post termination of the first draft of the work or that elements we had agreed upon could then be decided on as not belonging without any discussion with me directly.  Na ja.

c) Even though Pearson would be taking 94% of the monies made from the book, I calculated that, given the size of the global IT market I could probably break-even within 6 months after publication - especially given that I had received such a ridiculously low advance - and probably within a year make back the money I had lost in giving up classes.  Post that, I would get an income that would help me financially with the 2nd year of studies in my UK Masters.
It seems, what educational book publishers like Pearson seem to forget is that an author's time writing doesn't come from nowhere but is, in fact, a loan from an author to the publisher, that in this "gentlemanly" educational business you don't take a risk like this based on "air and love" -you do anticipate that you will be treated with respect and fairness... that you will earn an income from your work.  And that it's very obvious that if you take this much time off to write then you are not earning the same income, from teaching, during this period.

And okay, let's face it...

I thought I'd be able to add a voice to this market.  Ego, reputation.   It was tempting. Lots of voices, why not add mine in an area I know a lot about: IT?  Alas, that be the dreams of a silly girl who should have known better.

Pride falls.

Anyway, finances, huh...  I guess a company that makes 3,075,000,000 in profit has really got to get this from somewhere... so why not from naive authors - after all, yachts and chauffeurs do really need to paid for.

No point in crying over spilt milk, no point in feeling



A little lost.


Doubtful of my abilities to write.



At the end of the day, I guess, I was the one who agreed to do the work without having a contract to sign prior to work,  something binding them to pay me...
for their failures, for their lack of research or knowledge regarding the target market and for their total and complete project mismanagement...

I thought they'd do me right when I told them as early as possible that my new editor wasn't capable...  and when it came to digital rights...

C'est la vie.

p.s. as I'm aware that many of my readers are global and 1000 pounds might sound like a lot of money...  so you can work out what this means in your own currency- add up your rent, health insurance and bills for one month.  1000 is less than that.

18 Responses to “Pocket Money Writing 4 Pearson ELT”

  • David says:
    August 10, 2011

    Interesting, I wrote for Pearson, and they too made me wait for ages before I got my official contract. I wonder if that is standard practice, and it definitely feels shady to me. I wonder if a class action lawsuit is in order?

    Surely in most places you get a contract and THEN are expected to start working.

  • Glennie says:
    August 10, 2011

    Sympathy going out to you Karenne.

  • Sue Lyon-Jones says:
    August 10, 2011

    Sympathy going out to you too, Karenne, and I'm sorry that you had such a negative experience over this.

    Personally, I would be inclined to chalk it down to experience and move on, though if there was an agreement between you to work for them and money exchanged hands, then you did actually have a contract... albeit not the one that they envisaged you agreeing to, once you had finished writing the book!

    Contracts do not need to be in writing to be binding and enforceable. To quote from Wikipedia, "A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties with mutual obligations, which may or may not have elements in writing."

    Contract Law - Wikipedia

    August 10, 2011

    Nice link, Sue. A billion thanks!

    Thank you Glennie, god, whattayear.

    Hey David, I have had other people mentioning this "delay" in supplying a contract - my grandfatherly type seemed to make it sound like they had to do something special, create one that was particularly for me, but when it did come - not only was it not okay, it also had errors (in amounts, my company name) and typos where they'd cut and paste from a different book.

    Does feel decidely odd...

  • Leahn says:
    August 13, 2011

    Hi Karenne,

    What an exhausting emotional roller-coaster ride. I feel for you!

    A couple of years ago an ELT author told me about the cash he made per book and I was shocked!

    It's incedible the effort and heatache authors put it to go through this process.

    I guess, I would be really down for a while but then as Sue says get back on the horse... once bitten twice shy and all that.

    Good luck,


    PS I like the fact we have a platform to air this kind of stuff. No shoving it under the carpet.

    August 14, 2011

    Thanks so much Leahn, yup it is definitely a "chalk it up to experience..." thank you for letting me know it was okay to air this stuff... part of me, obviously thinks "what the heck am I doing, Pearson is such a big company and I'm just a little old teacher" but no one ever told me this stuff - mafia-style, what goes on in the ELT world says in the inner circle of the ELT world and everyone bites their lips and keeps quiet about it... it's not on the net and after several DMs and emails, it is looking like it is standard practice of Pearson's to give authors the round-around with their contracts. Sigh.

    One of my friends told me "you realize you've burned your bridges now, not just with Pearson but with all other publishing houses" and that made me sad for a bit until I realized, actually Pearson has burned the bridge - there's no way I'd waste my time again going through something like this again.

    It was interesting work and once I get some help, I intend on securing the copyright for my material, and doing something online with it - for free, obviously!

    Anyway, big hugs and thanks so much for your comment and support.


  • Anonymous says:
    August 15, 2011

    I work for a new publisher of iPad apps and am shocked that your contracts were delayed. That is highly unprofessional. We insist that all our authors don't budge an inch, don't write a single thing, before their contracts are agreed upon and signed by both parties. Just shocking.

  • Anonymous says:
    August 16, 2011

    Never ever do anything without a written contract. This is EFL remember.

    August 16, 2011

    Hi Anonymous2,
    I know.. I know... :-( I knew, sigh, too at the beginning of the year too - I even delayed the main start after writing the first unit - but there was so much pressure to write as quickly as possibly - seriously they wanted a unit per two weeks and after having a senior editor call me to ensure me that everything was normal, that I'd get a contract - time was ticking and I folded. I folded on too many points so I guess I learned a major lesson too, not to fold. I shouldn't have written a word really.

  • Dorothy Zemach says:
    August 29, 2011

    I'm so sorry you had an experience like that! It's especially frustrating to start with an editor who really gets the project (and you) who then gets transfered. That is the point though of getting a contract in place--it doesn't really help you to have a great understanding with someone if that person moves on to somewhere else.

    I'm now completing my 3rd & 4th Pearson student books, and have also done a number of teacher's guides for them, and I haven't had problems with contracts being delayed or with being paid, and I've always had good editors. (I haven't always been successful in getting the contract *terms* I wanted, but once I sign, then I've agreed, and anyway, all that is another story. ;) ) So I hope you don't let one bad experience keep you from writing & publishing again in the future.

    If you are a TESOL member, I highly recommend downloading from the Materials Writers Interest Section area on the website the Guide to Negotiating ELT Publishing Contracts. (That might not be the exact title, but it's something close to that.) Some useful info in there I think for both new and experienced writers & authors.

    August 29, 2011

    Hi Dorothy,

    Thanks so much! Am not a TESOL member but have been thinking of joining and will keep your link in mind - sounds very useful.

    I'm not sure about "official publishing route" anymore though, this experience has now made me deeply distrustful of them and I am really not convinced they care about the material they publish - just the amount of money they can make.

  • Dorothy Zemach says:
    August 29, 2011

    Well, I don't think publishers make that much money, especially now. It's a very difficult time for the industry, and especially for publishers that work a lot with print materials. Of course, they have to be able to cover their own costs and pay their staff and make you a profit, and they (like you) invest years of time and money upfront with no guarantee of return. It is very much like gambling, lol.

    Not that that's any excuse to delay a contract, of course, I don't mean that. But I don't feel an "us versus them" divide on GOALS--we all want great materials that work and that sell. Where publishers and authors sometimes disagree is on how to implement those things.

    In the case of your project, it sounds like there were some sliding parameters--and in the end, I'm not sure how (or why) you'd write an IT course for people with no computers. That would be challenging indeed! And to me sounds like there wouldn't be much of a market.

    As a disclaimer, I should say that most of my ELT friends work in some aspect of publishing--authors, writers, freelance editors, in-house editors, etc., for both "the biggies" like CUP and OUP and Macmillan and Pearson and for smaller presses like University of Michigan. I've published with all of those, and a few others, and still 'believe' in the process and the profession--although I've had some projects not work out very nicely too. (Fortunately, very few.)

    August 30, 2011

    Ta, Dorothy, yes - I do think that the print publishing industry is suffering as well... but "suffering is relative" - Pearson doesn't really seem to be hurting http://www.pearson.com/investor/ar2010/financials/group-accounts/consolidated-income-statement.html

    To be honest I think the whole concept of "staff labour, utility costs, distribution...yada, yada" is mostly just talk designed for the authors to take as little a piece of the pie as possible. In fact, I was okay with taking a small percentage on the print version but dug my heels in when it came to the potential of an e-version at some point down the road, because a lot of the "cost" would disappear and like the music industry, there are just too many in print, who simply see this as an opportunity to increase their bottom line.

    To be fair, I am not convinced that all publishers treat their authors badly and do know some great authors on great contracts who have sold great books... and who have had a super relationship and are very happy.

    But I also know some crap authors who have had great contracts and who have sold a great number of really crap books... and, of course, I also know some good authors who through excellent support learned a lot from the process...

    There is no one "author-editor-publisher" experience. I was terribly unfortunate and got landed with
    a) bad contractual situation
    b) piss-poor editorial help
    c) mixed messages on target group market knowledge on their end

    ...however my experience is just that.

    I really hope these blog posts serve as a warning to folks entering the profession - that they lock these things down before starting work but like you said, there are so many more authors who have really good experiences and "my" experience shouldn't take away from those.

    I am really glad you came back to my blog to share - it's very good to hear the other side, about when it goes well :).

  • Richard Gresswell says:
    September 02, 2011

    Hi Karenne

    I would just like to say what a great job you are doing in the world of social media with your blog and twitter etc - and that's where the future is :)

    Best regards

    September 02, 2011

    Thank you so much Richard, I agree that the future is online :-) and I've been terrible at tweeting and blogging (while writing the book and juggling other projects and teaching! LOTS of 2am days in the last 6 months and now moving to the UK! But I'll be back as I enjoy social media so much! Thanks for your kind words, I'll take it as a virtual hug!

  • The TEFL Tradesman says:
    September 12, 2011

    Tefl shysters - they're everywhere! And I'm so glad that you've exposed Pearsons for the 'bad eggs' they truly are. I'll be putting a piece on my blog about them, just to add a little bad publicity.

    In fact, the whole IATEFL thing is an industry construct, designed to make money for the big publishers.
    Stay away from the lot of 'em, I'd say.

  • The TEFL Tradesman says:
    September 12, 2011

    PS: I forgot to add that I once met a guy who works in China and makes an extremely good living pirating loads of Pearson stuff, just adding a few explanation in Mandarin.

    Serves them right!!

    September 16, 2011

    Thanks Sandy :)


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