The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


This morning, I received my annual royalties statement for a couple of little books I wrote for CUP a few years ago (Common Mistakes at Proficiency & Common Mistakes at IELTS Advanced). Neither were particularly huge bits of work (in fact, I think I spent much longer doing corpus research for the rest of the books in the series than I did on writing these two), so I find it rather strange and miraculous that they still provide one of my best sources of income. It feels rather like free money!

When my statement arrives, I usually have a quick browse through then file it away. But as it's now been five years since the first was published (3 years since the second), I thought I'd add up how many copies have been sold altogether. I was quite surprised and, in some little way thrilled, to find that there are more than 85,000 copies of books with my name on the front floating around the world somewhere. I've no idea if that's good or not, but it sounds quite impressive to me!

On the downside though, it does make me rather sad that more of my work doesn't involve royalties. It seems a bit odd that the amount I earn for the work I do doesn't seem to bear any relation to the amount of work, effort, time or creative input it involves. I've worked on more than 50 publications since I went freelance some 10 years ago - either writing, editing or researching - and for all of the rest of them, I've got no more than a rather basic hourly rate. Obviously for most of them, including the dictionaries, I've been no more than part of a team effort, but there have been a few bits of solo writing too. Over recent years, I've been pondering how to move from being a mere ELT writer to being a proper ELT author (with its accompanying rewards!). Asking around though, it seems that you either have to be lucky and in the right place at the right time (as I was with the two Common Mistakes books) or just incredibly pushy and prepared to put an awful lot of effort into potential projects that may or may not ever come to fruition. Much as I'd like to embark on the latter plan, I just can't afford to - it takes all my time (and energy) to plough on with the work that I'm offered. So I guess, for the moment at least, I'll just have to be content with my hourly rate and the tag of ELT writer.

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