February 2017
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Walton Burns, Freelance Writer, Branford, Connecticut, USA

I get a lot of teachers contacting me to ask how they can self-publish their materials. A lot of experienced teachers have folders full of worksheets, exercises, and activities they do with their students. However, they may not be coherent or cohesive enough to make up a textbook, and few of the big publishers are taking unsolicited manuscripts, anyway. Not everyone can afford to go the full self-publishing route, seeking out printers or e-book designers, and learning about marketing. I recommend considering an educational marketplace site like Teachers Pay Teachers.

With Teachers Pay Teachers, you can publish your original material and keep the copyright and full creative control. The best part is that teachers come to the site to look for materials: I make sales whether I’m marketing or not.

Setting It Up

Setting up a Teachers Pay Teachers account is free and fairly easy. You will need a Dwolla or PayPal account, but those are also both free to set up. At the sign-up page you can choose a standard membership, which allows you to download resources.

If you want to sell materials, there are two accounts: a basic seller’s account and a premium seller’s account. Basic membership is free and you get a 60% royalty on everything, less a 30-cent transaction fee. Premium seller membership costs $59.95 a year, but you earn 85% royalty. If the total purchase is under $3.00, there’s also a 15 cent fee per item. Premium sellers can also have their products featured on the homepage. It sounds very complicated, but the premium membership has definitely been worth it. I would recommend starting off with the free membership to get up and running, and then upgrade when you start selling.

There’s also a new publisher’s membership that you can look into if you have or represent a publishing company.

What Can You Sell?

You can sell a wide range of digital goods on the site, including word documents, excel spreadsheets, pdfs, e-books, movie and audio files, posters, and even software programs. They’ve just recently started allowing users to create videos as well. Those can be paid or free, and I’ve found doing a little video of my products in use is a nice funnel for sales.

In general, the site encourages people to put up high-quality materials, and there are numerous suggestions and FAQs on what makes for good materials. However, no one approves your materials as you upload them. You can put up anything you want and let your sellers decide if they like it or not. You can set your own prices, or even offer products for free. There is a minimum price of 95 cents, because if you sell for less than that, you won’t make any money.

You are asked to categorize each product by grade level, subject area, and type of activity, and there are separate ESL/EFL and university-level ESL/EFL categories. It does sometimes feel a bit limiting. It isn’t always easy to fit your resource with the categories—especially as the site does cater more to K–12 teachers in the U.S. public school system. On the other hand, those categories help teachers find your resources without you having to market them. You can edit those categories all you want to see what gets you the most sales.

Features to Help You Sell

When you sign up, you also get a virtual store-front where your products are featured with a unique web address that you can share with people. You can add banners in specific areas to advertise products. You can also create custom categories of your products.

Another nice feature includes the ability to throw sales on your whole store or selected products. From time to time, the site also hosts sales and encourages you to further discount your products and multiply the sale.

You can also share products directly on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google +. There’s a nice dashboard that gives you detailed sales information and, even better, traffic information. You can see what websites are sending people to your store. For me, the majority of sales come directly from Teachers Pay Teachers, but I don’t do a lot of outside marketing. However, my best conversion rate, the percentage of people who buy a product after viewing it, is from people who go to Teachers Pay Teachers via my blog. I know that many teachers do very well advertising on Pinterest, but it hasn’t done much for me.

K–12 School Teachers

The only caveat I have is that most of the teachers shopping on Teachers Pay Teachers are K–12 teachers working in the United States. If your materials work in that context, you will do better. There’s also always a demand for accessories that work in a school classroom, such a posters and bulletin boards, as well as professional documents like gradebooks and parent-teacher night forms and so on. On the face of it, there appears to be a certain amount of bias toward cutesy clip art in worksheets and the cover. Because a lot of my materials were developed for teaching adults and university students in an EFL context, I’ve had to adapt a lot.

However, there are definitely ESL and EFL teachers out there, not to mention homeschools, self-studiers, and other materials writers. I’ve been known to buy from other teachers to help me along with projects. And I hope that if more ESL/EFL teachers get on the site, it might become better known and used by English language teachers.

Some Quick Advice

Finally, if you do decide to sign on, here’s some quick and easy advice that has helped me.

  • You need to have 10–20 products up before people take you seriously. And the more materials you have up, the more money you make. The people making thousands of dollars a month have hundreds of products up.

  • Make nice covers and thorough descriptions. Be sure the descriptions link to other products.

  • Include a preview for every paid item. Many people won’t buy without any kind of preview. I make them by including key pages from the complete lesson, blacking out anything too easy to copy.

  • Include a page at the end of each item that advertises other related products.

  • Make products for special events like Back to School, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and so on. I have a few holiday items, and frankly, I sell more of those in November and December than I do the rest of the year!

If none of that has convinced you to check the site out, there’s an amazing iPhone app. And it actually makes a “ka-ching” cash register sound when you make a sale. It’s worth joining just to sit in a public place and hear that sound as the money rolls in!

Walton Burns is a teacher and award-winning materials writer. He began his career in the Peace Corps in the South Pacific 16 years ago. Since then, he has taught around the world. As a writer, he has cowritten four textbooks and written lesson plans for language schools. Check out his blog and website.

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TESOL 2017 MWIS Open Meeting, MWIS & Intersection Session
Make time for MWIS’s Open Meeting on Wednesday, March 22 at 6:45-8:15 in Rm 617 WSCC. Also, see Walton and Jane’s Leadership Update for a list of MWIS and Intersection Sessions.
MWIS November Call for Papers
MWIS seeks you input. Read the Call for Papers to learn how to share your experiences and knowledge with other MWIS members.
MWIS Social
After the MWIS Open Business Meeting (Wednesday, 6:45-8:15, WSCC Rm 617), join us for the MWIS Social, at the Elephant and Castle (1415 5th Avenue), two blocks from the Convention Center, at 8:30 PM, to continue those connections over drinks, food, and great conversation. We have tables reserved. Come get drinks or a late dinner with your fellow authors, writers, editors, content-creators, and teachers. The social is a good chance to get to know MWIS members, or just relax and have a good time. It is pay your own way, as always.