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I Never Set Out to Be a Publisher but Here I Am!

By Walton Burns founder of Aphabet Publishing 


Alphabet Publishing began as a self-publishing venture that took on a life of its own. As things often do.

In 2016, I had been teaching for 15 years. After I placed second in a lesson plan context, I came to the attention of Nick Robinson who helped me start my career as a professional materials writer doing coursebooks and online teaching materials. Through my work at an IEP, I’d also fallen into the niche area of writing standardized tests and    for a while I’d been sharing materials on my blog. I was just starting to transfer them to Teachers Pay Teachers to try to make a bit of a profit.

Why Self-Publishing?

At the same time, I had the germ of an idea for a book, a group of activities that teachers could use to start off a new term. I’m a big fan of teacher activity books and I have a shelf groaning under the weight of my collection of Penny Ur and Mario Rinvolucri books. I didn’t (and don’t) have the name recognition of Penny Ur and my collection of activities was quite small.I didn’t know if I could make a profit on it and I didn’t think a publisher would touch it, so  I decided that it was time to learn a new set of skills and have a new experience, trying to self-publish it.

After publishing my book, I was approached by a colleague who’d put out a PDF ebook but now wanted to turn it into a paperback. So we took each other on as trial cases. Would I enjoy working as someone else’s publisher? Would she enjoy the process? Could we actually make some sales or not?

That actually went pretty well and I was starting to build up some expertise. I put out a few new books of my own and then I started getting proposals from people I didn’t know. Surprisingly, I started making some larger sales and I realized that I enjoyed reading the Chicago Manual of Style and browsing fonts on websites. I started to attend webinars on book marketing and slowly the fact dawned on me that I was a proper publisher. I still have to do freelance writing and editing on the side to pay the bills (for now, at any rate), but the bulk of my time and energy is spent on publishing.

Author-Led is the Way to Go

As an independent author without a large marketing or research staff, I publish almost exclusively author-led projects. One of the joys of my work is that I work with talented and passionate authors who come to me with an idea that they believe in deeply. Why else would they send me a proposal rather than going to one of the big publishers? So I feel that it’s my job to stay out of the way of the author way as much as possible. And just as I fell into publishing, our books have fallen into a niche, driven by the authors that have pitched to us. Our main focus is on materials that use the creative and performing arts to teach English, whether that be drawing, creative writing, drama, music, or film. We have a series of plays for English language learners, a collection of stories to be completed by the reader and two books of illustrated prompts for students to respond to by drawing, coloring, writing, or speaking.We’ve also collaborated with New Zealand filmmakers who produce scripted dramas for language learners.

We’re big fans of teacher resource books. I think a good collection of activities can be a huge influence on a teacher, particularly a new teacher. Not only is it always good to have a store of activities and different ways of practicing language in the classroom, but it is also good to have activities which come from a particular approach to learning and teaching. So teacher-resource books are a nice way to introduce theory in an easily digestible way.

Propose to Us

We tend to get proposals year-round and we are open to them at any time, though it may take us a while to be able to look at your project. When you do query us, please include as many details about the project as possible. What’s the target audience? Where will your materials be used? What skills do they teach? Why do you think they are in demand? And most importantly, what makes them unique? It’s always a good sign if you’ve been using your materials yourself and/or been sharing them with colleagues.

Finally, where are you in the writing process?

Do you have an MS all ready or are you planning to write it over the next year? We need to know this because we can only take on so many projects at a time.

Because we are small and lack a large marketing budget, we also like authors who are committed to getting involved in marketing. If you have a large social media following or a blog or do a lot of presenting at conferences and article-writing, that goes a long way to marketing a book.

Where Do We Go from Here?

After we get your proposal, we’ll try to get back to you as soon as we can and let you know if it’s a good fit or not. We might ask for some more information, which is a good sign that we’re interested. Should we decide to publish your work, we’d send you a contract to discuss. At the same time, we’d begin editing your book. The first wave is usually for content, ensuring the idea of the book is sound and well-realized throughout. This is usually the phase that requires the most rewriting and reworking.

After that, there are a few rounds of copy-editing or line-editing, where typos and style issues are sorted out. Once we are both satisfied as to the state of the manuscript, we send your book to the designer. The designers we work with are professionals who know what works and what sells.However, we like to give the author some input, so we always share cover and interior designs with you. After that, we put the book up for printing. Currently, we operate through print on demand services such as KDP (formerly Createspace) and IngramSpark. We also create ebook versions of most books, unless we don’t think the book will work well in a digital format.

And if you decide you want to plunge ahead with self-publishing, or even go with another publisher, we do offer freelance editing and design services at affordable rates. Publishing a book is a major step in your life. It should be fun and fulfilling. We want to make sure authors can enjoy the process without having to get overly stressed. So feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in potentially publishing with us or looking to use our services. We have a website at and you can email me at [email protected]

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