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Vol. 19 [1] May 2011

Between the Keys logo

The Official Newsletter of the Materials Writers, a JALT Special Interest Group

Views of the path from proposal to publication:

The Long and Twisting Road


Roger Barnard

Tama Art University, Tokyo

In the early 1980s I was teaching at Athénée Français in Tokyo. With motivated students and qualified, enthusiastic colleagues, it was a great place to work. I had completed the RSA Diploma course a few years earlier and was beginning to wonder whether I had sufficient stamina, dedication and funds to attempt an MA course in applied linguistics, a possible stepping-stone to one of those enviable university positions I occasionally heard about at parties.

I also had an itch to get involved in writing and publishing EFL materials and after seeing Marc Helgesen smoking a pipe at a JALT conference, I was even more determined to become an EFL author myself. I'd started writing and illustrating materials for my own classes soon after arriving in Japan in the mid-seventies. Surely the next step was an EFL textbook? That is where fate took a hand. Out of the blue, Warren Wilson called me. We had taught together a few years previously at a small language school near Tokyo Station. He had left after me to join a larger school in Shinjuku and had started to develop his own materials to use with large classes of young, bright, but somewhat unenthusiastic students. He had remembered the supplementary materials I had made, and wondered if I would be interested in joining him in writing a textbook. I jumped at the chance (I was younger then). From then on, we met once a week at restaurants in the Ochanomizu area, spending virtually every evening and most weekends writing materials and trying them out in our classes. We mapped out a syllabus and cut and pasted (with scissors and glue) three or four units to send off.

In early 1987 we made a tentative enquiry to Publisher A (an imprint of Conglomerate X), who gave us some useful information on how to make a submission and at the same time hinted politely that perhaps we should approach one of their competitors. So off went our first formal submission to Publisher B, who promptly and emphatically rejected it. The main reason, we were told, was that there was 'not enough variety of pairwork'. Undeterred, we sent the sample materials to Publisher C, who were interested enough to commission some reviews in the United States, even though the book was primarily designed for the East Asian market. The reviews were decidedly lukewarm, so we courteously withdrew our submission and sent the stuff off to Publisher D, who commissioned more reviews, this time favorable. The manuscript was passed on to Publisher A (yes, the very same Publisher A) following their marriage with Publisher D.

In late 1988 we received an inquiry from Publisher C. Was Fifty-Fifty still available? Well, yes it was, but we were still waiting to hear from Publisher A. Around this time, Publisher E, who had developed connections with Publisher A, expressed interest in the book and asked to be informed should Fifty-Fifty still be available in 1989. In fact, in 1989 Publisher A joined forces with Publisher E and possibly in search of a more settled way of life, Warren moved back to the United States.

We were then informed by Publisher A that the merger with Publisher E had necessitated a reassessment of their publishing plans and although they could not go ahead with Fifty-Fifty, they would pass the manuscript on to Publisher E, still operating as a separate entity under the Publisher A umbrella. When Publisher E proposed a number of drastic revisions, including deleting the listening sections, we decided to withdraw again. Luckily for us, Publisher C offered us a contract shortly afterwards and the original single-level Fifty-Fifty was published in 1992. The response was good, and Book 2 appeared in 1995. In 1998, Publisher C was acquired by Conglomerate X, and the second edition appeared, with a new ‘Intro level’.

In 2007, exactly twenty years after our first inquiry to Publisher A (in fact, Longman), the very same publisher launched the third edition of Fifty-Fifty.