Creating a CD-ROM-based English Conversation Textbook
Sapporo International University
This paper describes the process of publishing a manuscript from conception to receipt of the finished product. Prior to writing this bilingual English conversation textbook with an original CD-ROM, the authors assembled 20 eye-catching newspaper photos. After writing original stories based on the photos, they created reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary exercises suitable for the classroom, and as self-study materials. Then they created original supplementary materials to place in a PowerPoint slide show on a CD-ROM. After submitting a sample chapter to a publisher, they negotiated a royalty agreement and signed a contract to produce the entire 20 chapters. After much editing, discussion about cover design, title and pricing, the textbook was printed a full 18 months after the process had begun.
Writing an English conversation textbook is a stimulating and rewarding experience, but it takes much time and thought. Writing a bilingual textbook with one native-speaker author and one Japanese English teacher requires cooperation, coordination and a shared vision. And co-authoring a bilingual text with an original CD-ROM to supplement the text means that at least one of the authors must possess the technical know-how to convert effective pedagogical ideas and materials into a computer-based format. Moving from the idea stage to the implementation stage is probably the biggest hurdle for aspiring authors (Larsen-Freeman and Long, 1991).
At the conception of this project the authors felt that they could fulfil these requirement for authoring the text. Both of them had cooperated before in both teaching and presenting at academic conferences. They shared an interest in current research on motivation. From their experience as teachers, and in keeping with Yanagida’s claim (1999) that incorporating recent technology enhances motivation, the authors believed that they might be able to increase interest among students using their text by including an original CD-ROM. They felt they had the technical competence to produce this CD-ROM. It was this concept of an original CD-ROM which stimulated the authors to consider more seriously co-authoring an English conversation textbook. They were excited by the idea of bringing a new product to the market.
Clarifying the approach
Approximately one year prior to conceiving of the idea of co-authoring a CD-ROM-based English conversation textbook, one of the authors had coincidentally started collecting interesting photos from a daily English newspaper. He had assembled hundreds of eye-catching newspaper photos and captions which he thought would interest and/or entertain college students and young adults. Initially he had a vague plan to use these photos in a college writing class to practice descriptive vocabulary. However, once the authors began to formulate a theme for their text, they realized that the photos could serve that purpose.
It is not enough to have a good idea and then to start writing exercises based on that idea. It is imperative to develop a pedagogical strategy at the very beginning (Brown, 1994; Skehan, 1996; D. Willis, 1996). The authors reflected on how best to apply these photos in a text which could be used both in the classroom and as a self-study resource. The authors wanted to create a text with this dual format for two reasons. From a pedagogical point of view, they felt that a text which was created solely or primarily for classroom use might restrict students who were motivated to study text material outside class (Sheerin, 1989). From a business point of view, Germano (2001) emphasized the importance of maximizing the breadth of the potential audience. The authors thought that their text would sell more widely if it appealed to both classroom teachers and students interested only in studying on their own.
After much thought and discussion, the authors decided to sort through the approximately 400 newspaper photos and choose the best 20. During the selection process, photos whose impact would fade with time were rejected. Such photos included, for example, any which reflected the new Chinese New Year, which changes year by year. Each photo chosen had to have an immediate visual appeal. (See, for example, Appendix.)
Gradually, a suitable approach began to take shape in the authors’ minds. They decided to use one photo as a jumping-off place for each of 20 chapters.
Aspiring authors will improve their chances of a favourable response from a publisher if they know their market (Germano, 2001). Although the authors had not yet made any serious overtures to prospective publishers at this point, they were aware of the need to do market research and to shape their product according to the results of that research. The authors decided to create materials at a level of difficulty corresponding to the Japanese Step Test (“Eiken”) Level 2. Although the authors intuitively felt that the ability of the majority of Japanese students is below the “Eiken” Level 2, their market research led them to believe that there was a dearth of suitable materials at that higher level. They arrived at this conclusion after examining the sales catalogs of numerous publishers in Japan. They confirmed their conclusion by conferring with sales representatives of several publishers. Furthermore, they saw that the Japanese Ministry of Education was putting more emphasis on English conversation in public schools. They felt that this increased emphasis should lead to an increase in the average level of ability of Japanese students over time as well as to an immediate increase in interest among Japanese for study materials related to English conversation. In addition, they felt that the dual nature of their textbook, containing a self-study element, would appeal to more advanced students, who do not need as much guidance or explanation as students of lower ability.
For each of the 20 photo-based chapters in the textbook proper, the authors decided to write an original story of about 130 words using the theme of the photo as an inspiration. In keeping with Larsen-Freeman and Long’s (1991) advice, they inserted one or more items of cross-cultural interest in each story. They placed a vocabulary warm-up exercise before the story which contains five of the most difficult words. After the story there is a bilingual list of all the difficult words and phrases.
Having targeted a slightly higher than average level of students, the authors created exercises around the stories at a corresponding level of difficulty. Following the story and bilingual list of words and phrases, they decided to put four types of exercises to reinforce the learning of the material in the story. Thus, the rest of the chapter consists first of five reading comprehension questions requiring the student to answer “True” or “False”. Initially, the authors designed this exercise with a third choice, “Don’t know” (based on the information contained in the story). The authors felt that a simple True/False format left too much to chance; the student had a 50% chance of guessing correctly. By including this third choice, they could reduce the chances of a lucky guess while requiring a more careful reading of the story. Later, they rejected this idea and settled for the True/False format. Their publisher felt that True/False questions with a “Don’t know” component often required a level of ability even higher than “Eiken” Level 2. The publisher also felt uneasy about using this type of question which most Japanese are unfamiliar with.
The second exercise included in each chapter after the photo-based story focuses on grammar. The grammar points tested are based on grammatical constructions contained in the story.
The authors wrote an approximately 50-word summary of the chapter story and created a cloze exercise as the third exercise in the chapter. The cloze exercise contains nine blanks, and the nine missing words are written out of order in a list below the cloze summary.
The final exercise in each chapter is based on the vocabulary in the story. This vocabulary exercise presents an item and typically asks students to provide a different part of speech. For example, the verb “modify” is presented and the student is asked to provide the related noun, “modification.” Using this format, the authors are able to test students’ knowledge of nouns, verbs and their tenses, adjectives and their modes, adverbs, and antonyms and synonyms.
The CD-ROM: the concept
Development of the format and contents of the CD-ROM did not occur sequentially. The conception of the CD-ROM and the clarification of the authors’ approach to this part of the final product took place concurrently with the evolution of the textbook proper. The authors did finish writing the materials for the textbook before starting to compose those for the CD-ROM.
The authors conceived of the CD-ROM as having two distinct roles to play. When the textbook was being used in a classroom situation, the authors conceived of the teacher assigning the material on the CD-ROM as homework. When the textbook was being used at home for self-study, the CD-ROM was formatted in such a way as to provide challenging listening comprehension exercises to substitute for classroom speaking opportunities.
The CD-ROM: (contents)
The CD-ROM contains completely different material, but it also contains much of the material printed in the textbook. It has the same 20 chapters and photos. The Table of Contents of the CD-ROM as it appears on the computer screen reads as follows: (1) Reading (the textbook story with recorded narration); (2) Grammar (the same exercise as in the textbook; the answers are activated by a mouse click, and a Japanese explanation of the grammar point appears after clicking); (3) Matching exercise (the same cloze exercise as in the textbook; again, the mouse is used to select the correct answer); (4) Vocabulary (the same cloze exercise as in the textbook except that the student does not select the correct answer; instead, the student clicks on the part of speech and hears a narration of that word and its related answer).
The final part of the Table of Contents on the CD-ROM is entitled “Slide Conversation.” This section contains the new material formatted as a PowerPoint slide show. Chapter 1 of the Slide Conversation contains the same photo on which the textbook story for Chapter 1 is based. In the case of the Slide Conversation, however, a completely new original story was created. This story is shorter (about 90 words), and easier (about “Eiken” pre-Level 2). In addition, whereas the authors used the photo to inspire the textbook story, the Slide Conversation story is a description of the photo. The latter story is essentially an extended caption for the photo.
Slide 1 of the Slide Conversation contains the photo and a narration of the new original story, but no text of the story appears. Student may click with their mouse to listen to the narration as often as they want. Then they click on an arrow to proceed to the second slide. Slide 2 contains the text of the story and a sound bar to click in order to hear the narration again.
Clicking on the arrow, students can proceed to Slide 3 which contains five reading comprehension questions, in narration form only; there is no text of the questions on Slide 3. Again, students can click to listen to the narration as many times as they want.
Slide 4 contains the text of the reading comprehension questions followed by suggested answers.
The story from Slide 2 reappears on Slide 5 with nine words missing. This cloze exercise is different from the cloze exercise in the textbook in that the missing words do not appear in a list following the story. Instead, students can click on the sound bar to listen to a narration of the complete story, the same narration they listened to on Slide 1. By listening as many times as they need to, students can complete the exercise.
Slide 6 is a duplicate of Slide 2 with full text and a sound bar for listening to the story.
As in any PowerPoint slide show, students can click at any time during the six slides and go back or forward to repeat a step and check forgotten material.
The process outlined above describes the conception and creation of the whole product, which eventually became the textbook entitled, This is Media.com. A great deal of what has already been described had to be done before locating a publisher and making a contract for publication of the textbook . This is the rite of passage of a first-time author (Mathieu, 1981). Once an author has established a track record, he can usually obtain a tentative commitment for succeeding projects simply by submitting a detailed summary of the idea (Germano, 2001).
An author in Japan can easily make an initial contact with a publisher. Almost all the companies which are involved in publishing English language textbooks send representatives to the regional and national conferences of such academic organizations as JALT (Japan Association of Language Teaching) and JACET (Japan Association of College English Teachers). In addition, these companies have area representatives who visit colleges in every part of Japan on a regular basis. Therefore, opportunities abound for meeting someone working for a publishing company.
An author must initially select which publisher he would like to work with. The authors herein decided to approach Seibido because it is one of the largest publishers of English language textbooks in Japan. The first contact with Seibido was made in a casual manner at a JALT national conference. This happened one year before the authors adopted a concrete concept for the textbook, clarified it and started to develop a sample chapter. At the time of the first contact, one of the authors mentioned in a very general way the idea of creating an English conversation textbook with an original CD-ROM. The Seibido representative at the conference expressed general interest, and name cards were exchanged. There was no follow-up communication.
A year later, after the authors had discussed their concept in depth and selected the 20 core photos, one of them contacted Seibido again. He reminded the representative of their prior meeting and conversation and proposed sending a sample chapter to Seibido within several months. The proposal was accepted, but with no commitment.
The sample chapter
The authors set about creating a sample chapter to submit to the publisher. First they decided on which of the 20 photos would most appeal to the publisher. The native-speaker author created the original stories based on that photo, then composed the reading comprehension exercises and the cloze exercises for the textbook and the slide conversation on the CD-ROM. The Japanese author took responsibility for the vocabulary preview and bilingual list words and phrases in the textbook, and for the grammar and vocabulary exercises in the textbook and in the slide conversation on the CD-ROM.
Next the native-speaker author recorded narrations of the textbook story and the slide conversation story, answers for the two vocabulary exercises, and the reading comprehension questions for the slide conversation.
Having completed all the material for one chapter, the Japanese author made a trip to the Seibido office in Tokyo for a formal presentation. The president of Seibido attended the presentation, was favorably impressed, and offered a contract for completion of the project and publication. Royalties are usually a non-negotiable issue for first-time authors, and are typically set at 10% of the retail price, or slightly less.
The finished product
It took six months to create the remaining 19 chapters. Seibido meanwhile paid copyright fees for the 20 photos taken from the newspaper. It took another six months for the Seibido manuscript editors—two native speakers—to finish three complete editings of the authors’ manuscript. Following this, professional narrators created studio recordings of all the spoken sections, after which mistakes in the narrations had to be corrected. Seibido then used a CD-ROM subcontractor to record all the visual and audio elements for one chapter, which became the promotional disk. After much discussion with the authors about cover design and color, Seibido did an initial printing of 1000 copies for promotional purposes. There was an interval of three months before the complete CD-ROM could be produced for the second printing of the textbook. From conception to completion, it took 18 months to make This is Media.com.
Choosing an appropriate title for a book at this time becomes an important decision. The authors, in conjunction with the publisher’s editor, discussed at length a title for the textbook. The authors wanted to have a title which reflected the inclusion of the CD-ROM, a title related to computers. In the end, the publisher accepted one of many titles proposed by the authors, This is Media.com.
The Japanese author had additional duties to perform before this project reached completion, including helping to design the advertising flyer for the soon-to-be-released textbook, and writing a Japanese introduction to the textbook which contained the authors’ concept, recommendations on how to use the materials, and an explanation of how to use the CD-ROM in the computer. Finally, the Japanese author wrote a teacher’s manual in Japanese which contained Japanese translations of all the stories as well as answers to all the exercises.
One very important decision that was made near the end of the whole writing and printing process was about pricing the authors’ textbook for the marketplace. Publishers customarily try to strictly control expenditures on design, cover, paper quality or advertising, in order to keep book prices low (Mathieu, 1981; Germano, 2001). Books like This is Media.com are usually priced around 1800 yen. However, Seibido did two new things with This is Media.com. First, it spent more than usual on cover design and color. Significant additional costs were incurred because of the inclusion of a CD-ROM with the textbook. This is Media.com was the first textbook sold by Seibido with a CD-ROM. As they had to use a subcontractor for the expensive production of the CD-ROM, they were obligated to sell the textbook at a much higher price than initially expected. When Seibido performed a market survey following the initial sales season after the book’s release, much of the feedback mentioned the high price as an obstacle to purchasing it for use in high schools and colleges.
Promotion and marketing
Although the publisher’s marketing section takes major responsibility for the promotion and marketing of a new book, a publisher typically will not allot much money for advertising the product of a first-time author (Mathieu, 1981). It is incumbent upon any author, but especially a first-time author, to contribute as much as possible to the promotion and marketing of a new book (Mathieu, 1981; Germano, 2001). The publisher will provide a certain number of promotional copies of the book from the first printing which authors are well advised to distribute to friends and colleagues as effectively as they can (Mathieu, 1981; Germano, 2001). Authors should also make as many presentations as they can at academic conferences about the material and techniques contained in their book (Mathieu, 1981; Germano, 2001). At these presentations they can distribute free copies of their book. They can also seek to have the book reviewed by a trade or academic publication.
All such promotion and marketing efforts will have an effect, but in the end, the quality and appeal of the book will be the most important factors determining sales. And as the authors discovered, pricing decisions will also affect sales.
The beginning of this article reads as follows: “Writing an English conversation textbook is a stimulating and rewarding experience, but it takes much time and thought.” All potential first-time authors should keep this in mind. The vast majority will not get rich having their work published. On the other hand, it is an enriching experience in many other ways.
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