The ESL Publishing Industry In Taiwan: an exercise in futility?

By | January 3, 2007

There are hundreds of publishers here in Taiwan. In fact, the support of affordable printing, small printing houses, and lots of informal opportunities make Taiwan an ideal market for the beginning ESL writer. However, my own experience has been less than enthusiastic as I tried to participate in several ESL book projects here in Taiwan, but I was frustrated by the whole process.

The first project was hampered by overbearing management that was looking for writing lackeys who had to write to the project goals only. There was no creative freedom at all. I thought that my ideas were quite appropriate but when I got the feedback from the ‘editors’ there were so many suggestions/edits/rewrites/cut outs that what the editors were suggesting seemed about as far removed from what I had written as from a blank piece of paper. The book project had been intended for high schools in Taiwan, and had come recommended by a former colleague of mine from one of the National Schools here. So I thought it was supposed to be a serious endeavor. How wrong I was.

The second project was for a series of ESL books to replace a well-known book that was being used at a local exam preparation school. It was a far more aggressive project, and one that involved some really talented and imaginative types. However, the senior (absent, usually) management of the book project couldn’t define the limits of the project, couldn’t hire/retain the talent, couldn’t follow up on the project’s initial goals by supporting the project leaders, kept changing the parameters of the project, didn’t have a market worked out, didn’t have any actual printing/publishing deal worked out, etc…

But worst of all, the management wanted everything YESTERDAY. To add insult to neglect, there was a holiday here in October, but just on the EVE of the holiday, he sent an email reminding us all of the deadline the following Friday. Result: he pissed me off seriously. I had planned to spend some time during our holiday, actually enjoying working on the project, but his email instilled in me a loathing of the project so much so that I actually did the work grudgingly, hit the deadline, but my enthusiasm for the project tailed off after that considerably.

I think the management failed to understand that coming up with 2 courses of materials, teachers materials, student materials, home materials, tapescripts, etc.. was a massive undertaking. But the additional technology of including a special ‘reading’ pen actually made the whole thing much harder. In addition, we were involved as a team in writing TWO series at the same time, that added to the burden. I felt the whole team, esp. the full-time writers were pulling out all the stops, but the effort was only being rewarded with a little financial reward and your name on the book at the end. There wasn’t even the guarantee that the book would show up in any bookstores, either.

For both of these projects, I sweated blood creating content for other companies, that turned out to be unappreciated. In addition, I was invited to sign contracts by never saw ANY contract on both occasions. Quite unprofessional, to say the least.

For those writers who are intending to break into the ESL Writing market here, stay true to what you want to write; create a great project; do approach the more reputable publishers here, don’t forget to keep in mind the international publishers, too; avoid being ‘commissioned’ to write unless you want to sell your soul; and most of all, write because this is what you LOVE doing.