Features on ELTNEWS.com View All Features
Visit ELTBOOKS - all Western ELT Books with 20% discount (Japan only)

Interview with Paul Riley

paul_riley.jpgPaul Riley is the General Manager, English Language Teaching Department for Oxford University Press in Japan. He has been with OUP for eight years, working previously as an editor and sales rep, and before that was a teacher and curriculum developer. He has an M.Ed. in TESOL from Temple University. He is from Massachusetts in the United States. He speaks fluent Japanese and is married with one child.

Paul spoke with ELT News editor Mark McBennett at the Tokyo English Language Book Fair at the end of October, 2002.

Life before publishing

ELTNEWS
You've been in Japan for 15 years now. You must like it here! What brought you here in the first place? Did you have a job lined up before you arrived?
Paul
Nope, I was a Sports Fishing Guide in Alaska for two seasons after graduating from University and came to Japan after realizing that winter work in Alaska was like the movie "The Shining." I had an "Issei" Japanese roommate in college who used to tell me to go to Japan, "because with blonde hair you can meet girls and get a job without any trouble." In the mid-80's he was right. In those pre-bubble days, any number of times I was offered English Teaching (and other) jobs just walking down the street.
ELTNEWS
What made you decide to take a post graduate course at Temple University?
Paul
I left Japan after a year-and-a-half of conversation school teaching, traveled around the world and then went back to the States with the intention of getting a "real" job. When I got there, however, I realized that I really liked Japan and decided to return, but do it right and be a proper teacher. Consequently, I entered Temple when I thought I had enough money to do so.
ELTNEWS
Did your Masters qualification open up new doors for you?
Paul
I'm not not sure if the Master's made me a better teacher, but it made me more confident in the classroom and with my colleagues. It also helped to get job interviews.

A new career

ELTNEWS
ELT News has interviewed many authors but you're the first person with a career in publishing. How did you get into this field?
Paul
I was managing the International Training Department at a major Japanese automobile manufacturer when the economic situation in the mid-90's forced them to cut back their training programs in ways that did not interest me. Around the same time I was approached by a friend in publishing and decided to take the plunge...
ELTNEWS
How important was your teaching experience when you moved to OUP?
Paul
I manage author tours, give teacher training workshops and manage all aspects of our Japan ELT operation. I can't imagine doing that if I couldn't speak with people on their own terms. My education and teaching experience give me the tools and confidence to do my job successfully.
ELTNEWS
How has your career developed within OUP? You spent over a year back in the US, didn't you?
Paul
Yes, from May 1996 to September 1997 I worked as an Editor in the East Asia Publishing Group based in the US. I worked on a number of projects including Tactics for Listening, Springboard and Good News, Bad News.
ELTNEWS
What different responsibilities did you take on as you moved up from ELT Sale Consultant to Editor to General Manager?
Paul
A rep is fairly independent and is basically in charge of his or her own area, but follows instructions from above. Becoming manager meant running the whole show; managing the people, the program and the finances.

I realized the difference shortly after returning. We had 20 people at National JALT in Hamamatsu in 1997. It was the second night of the conference and I had had someone make reservations for dinner, but I didn't know where the restaurant was. The Oxford contingency met in the lobby of the hotel and didn't move for 15 minutes. It was at that point that I realized that I had to get everyone to the target destination. That aspect of my job has never changed.
ELTNEWS
I noticed a lot of personnel shuffling between the major publishing houses in September. Is publishing a very 'itinerant' business in that sense?
Paul
Yes, there is a lot of movement for a number of reasons:
1) It is a very high-paced, high-energy job and people burn out quickly.
2) Most of the reps. are expatriates and some only consider a job in publishing as a short-term assignment to give them an interesting angle (i.e. non-teaching experience) on their resumes.
3) Experience and contacts are the most important attributes for being successful as an ELT rep. As with any sales or promotions job, knowing the systems, people and lay of the land are key qualities that publishers look for. Learning the product is the easy part. Therefore there is a lot of movement between companies.

The book business in Japan

ELTNEWS
How much of your time is spent out in the field, giving presentations and seminars?
Paul
I spend at least a quarter of the weekends a year at book fairs, workshops or presentations. I personally give probably 20 - 30 training presentations per year.
ELTNEWS
No doubt you're busy preparing for this year's JALT conference.
Paul
Yes, it's the biggest event on our yearly calendar. This year we are particularly pleased to be sponsoring Henry Widdowson and Rob Waring as featured speakers. We are also proud to present the main social event of the 2002 JALT National Conference, The Oxford Debate and Classics Party on Saturday, November 23rd. The evening kicks off at 6:10pm in the Chuo Hall with the Oxford Debate.

The Debate will be presided over by JALT Featured Speaker Prof. Henry Widdowson and feature a panel of well-known linguists focusing on issues of relevance to language teaching. The Towry Law/Oxford Classics' Party will immediately follow from 7:15 to 8:45 in the event space behind the EME in the Dai Hall. The party presents a chance to win one of two trips, to Australia or Hawaii, while enjoying wine, beer, light refreshments and entertainment by the 'Rising Pints', a lively Irish band.
ELTNEWS
The Japanese book distribution system seems pretty complex and rigid. How would you say publishing and distribution in Japan differ from other countries?
Paul
Yes distribution here is very complex compared to other countries. First of all Japan has its own ISBN and Bar Code system, which is why the foreign books are always found segregated on the top floors of big book shops and not at all in smaller shops. Because the majority of book shops are not set up to handle these foreign ISBNs, there are many middle men and there can be a lot of delays involved in getting books if you place orders through "traditional" channels.

Secondly the Japanese market has very high standards and requires a quality that is higher than the rest of the world. This is apparent in all retail sales and requires different systems and more stringent quality control systems than in other countries. Other differences arise from the cost of importing and warehousing English books, which is obviously going to be more cost- and time-intensive than in Europe or the Americas.
ELTNEWS
Describe for us a typical day in the life of a publishing office.
Paul
This is probably not that different from most international business, but may differ greatly from the daily grind of most teachers.
  • Arrive early morning to answer e-mails from customers, colleagues and various publishing centers.
  • Attend meetings with staff, customers and business partners.
  • Liaise with authors and teaching groups to plan presentations, book fairs, events, etc.
  • Handle "emergencies" (such as stock shortages, complaints, staff illnesses, etc.)
  • Follow up on internal and external Action Points that arise from any and all of the above.
  • Try to find time for your family and get enough sleep so that you can do it all again the next day.
ELTNEWS
What is your best-selling title in Japan? Do you have a particular personal favorite?
Paul
We enjoy great success in the Children's market with the best selling Let's Go series and our new courses, English Time and Magic Time. Passport is certainly one of the best-selling adult titles in Japan and, along with Let's Go, is on my favorites list as I helped launch the titles when I was a rep. My personal favorite, however, is Good News, Bad News, because I was the Project Manager and was involved from conception through editorial and production and later responsible for sales and promotions.
ELTNEWS
With the changes in the elementary school curriculum, have you seen a noticeable boost in children's book sales this year?
Paul
Yes, the Children's sector is currently one of the few growth areas in the Japanese ELT market. We are particularly strong in this area and The Oxford Kids' Club is one of the largest (if not the largest) organization for children's teachers in Japan. The Kids' Club has been in operation for about 10 years and has just reached a milestone as we recently surpassed 5,000 members.
ELTNEWS
Have you ever had any problems with authors?
Paul
Hmmm, that's a difficult one to answer as many of our authors are active participants in ELT News' author forums... Suffice it to say that our authors have very high standards for their publications as well as for their promotional arrangements, but success requires diligence in all aspects of publishing and promotions. Oxford prides itself in its commitment to Quality, Reliability and Support.

Some words of wisdom

ELTNEWS
What advice would you offer to someone currently teaching in Japan that wants to make a move into publishing?
Paul
Publishing is not for everyone. It requires an outgoing personality, a propensity for long hours and hard work and a willingness to listen and learn. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys education, but wants more of a commercial context for their employment.
ELTNEWS
What about someone who thinks they might have a good idea for a book?
Paul
Many people think that they have a book in them. To get published, it isn't enough to just have the idea, you actually have to write the material. Aspiring authors need to think about what makes their idea special and put that idea into a compelling proposal. It is important to do a survey of the market and to think about "unique selling propositions", i.e. those things that will set your proposal apart from everything else that is currently available.
ELTNEWS
For every good idea submitted to you, how many bad ones would you say come your way?
Paul
We receive hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts every year and in the eight years I've been in publishing only a handful have been accepted for publication. A good start for an aspiring author is become an active reviewer and presenter to get your name and ideas "known" to the powers that be. A proposal from a "known" quantity will have a much greater chance of being accepted than a proposal from an "unknown."
ELTNEWS
Paul, thank you for taking the time to speak to us.



« Interview with Jared Bernstein | Main | Interview with Setsuko Toyama »


Recent Entries

Recent Comments

Comments

Events

World Today