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Publishing a Monthly Newspaper
to Sell More Books

by Elizabeth Claire

About 12 years ago, having written 20 books to help students and teachers of English as a Second Language, I watched the books languish in the publisher's catalogues, with the publisher sending me piddling royalties as I starved.

I decided that I could get the word out about my books, particularly Classroom Teacher's ESL Survival Kits, The New Boy Is Lost!, What's So Funny? A Foreign Student's Guide to American Humor, and Dangerous English for Language Learners and Others, by advertising them in a free newspaper which I would give out to all the schools with ESL programs in the county (Bergen County, NJ) plus at libraries, literacy programs, and ethnic grocery stores. Having taught English to immigrants for 30 years, I knew I could create a newspaper with vital information they needed, provide a service, and as an additional service, make them aware of my books that would help them.

I had found out that i could get 3,000 copies of a 12-page, 11 x 17 newspaper printed for $300. I thought, “Heck, I've got $300.”

Publishing a newspaper was a tremendous amount of work, and I intended to do this just ONCE. I found a partner who wanted to advertise her language school, and we lined up a few dozen teachers who wanted to advertise their tutoring services. We named it Easy English NEWS so the people who were our target audience would know it was for them and pick up a free copy.

It took a month to create the 12-page newspaper, with maps of Bergen County NJ, places to go, things to see, explanations of the government, American customs, holidays, and humor, with a crossword puzzle and photo interviews with newcomers at an ESL program.

We lined up recipients for the paper — everyone likes something free, so it wasn't hard. We had to write to and then call program directors at 59 schools in the county to see if they'd like free ESL materials. We asked how many copies of the paper they could use. We also had to explain the newspaper in person to owners of Chinese, Arabic, Hispanic, and Japanese grocery stores, bookstores, video stores, nail salons, etc. where owners could give it out free to their customers.

Inside the 12-page paper was a modest ad to fill out a coupon to get a brochure of my books to help people learn English. So of course, I'd had to enter the distribution business, stock up, create order forms, set up a shipping table, and prepare for an inundation of people buying my books from me.

Some orders came in, but no inundations. What did come in was a flood of compliments for the free newspaper.

Well, writers like to be read and love to know they are being read, so with that food for my soul, I decided to write another issue of the paper. And then another, and another, and another.

We then made a plan to syndicate the newspaper in other counties in the U.S. that also had high immigrant populations and make money that way, with each local newspaper being supported by its own local ads and being distributed free. Although we launched Easy English NEWS of Napa County, California with five ESL writers there, it didn't produce a profit for us, so we decided to go national and charge for the newspaper. It got more and more and more complex when I had to commit to producing a paper for a full year.

This could be a VERY long story, if I told the entire thing, but today, 11 years later, 110 issues of hard work later, with sales to 1,800 schools across the country in addition to individual sales, I turned down $350,000 for Easy English NEWS. This year it will bring in $400,000 in sales.

I now send out the full catalogue of my books to all our customers twice a year. My own book sales increased to $80,000 a year, but sales at the publishers of the books (and hence, royalties) increased as well. People were now hearing my name via the free samples of Easy English NEWS and my book catalogue that go out to every ESL program in the country. The schools also buy my books directly from the publishers — Pearson Education, Delta Systems, Alta Book Company as well as from my company, Eardley Publications.

The newspaper eventually provided me with three things: funds, a ready market for books, and materials to anthologize. I self-published American Manners and Customs, an anthology of a column I wrote for Easy English NEWS, and now reap the publisher's share on that book, which is nicer than the author's and distributor's share on my other books. And, given I have a paid subscription base of 38,000, which means 2,200 teachers and 110,000 immigrants in their classes each month, I have a running start to market whatever new books I produce. And I have material for anthologies of the 14 different departments of the newspaper (holidays, humor, crossword puzzles, American history, etc.) — already copyedited, just needing arranging.

I've heard ESL teachers at conferences refer to me as The Goddess of ESL and swear that their classes depend on my materials. I realize that it wasn't enough to produce excellent materials — they have to get in front of people or all the effort is wasted.

I'm not sure I'd recommend that someone start a newspaper in order to sell their books. It was YEARS before it paid off. While book sales supported the newspaper for the first years, the newspaper paid off more than the books actually did. However, newspapers have to be written afresh each month, and a book stays written once you've written it. The crush has been to find the time to produce new books, but they are in the pipeline: ESL Phonics for All Ages will be a series of 6 books, and American Manners and Customs, books 2 and 3 are in the works.

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