Spreading le word

Tonbridge School student Liam Porritt explains the pitfalls and pleasures of writing and publishing a French revision guide

Most 16-year-olds want their friends to know they play in a band, or perform in a dance troop, or play cricket for their county. I, however, have ended up known as ‘the book guy’. The only problem with this is that, whenever I go out somewhere, people say, “You’re the book guy, aren’t you?” Sadly, unlike with singing or dancing or cricket, they just want to work out whether they should avoid me for the rest of the evening!

Writing and publishing revision guides has had its fair share of difficulties, aside from my reputational suicide. The process of founding a company – Exam Grade Booster –starting to write a guide, working out what should and should not be included, actually finishing it, getting it checked for mistakes, designing a cover and then trying to sell it are all aspects that have presented their own challenges.

When I began writing the book in the summer following my GCSE exams, I intended to write one book that would cover the required exam technique for every subject. However, I soon found that I had far too much to say and decided to focus on GCSE French and GCSE Chemistry, while James Wells, who was initially supposed to be doing the Arts side of the ‘all-in-one’ book, would complete a guide for GCSE English (which is now nearing completion).

So, intent on completing the GCSE French guide, I worked through each chapter, trawling through all of my GCSE notes looking for nuggets of information that would be of benefit to students during the revision process. This posed an immediate difficulty: I had hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of notes and work sheets from my previous five years of French study. Working out what was worthy of including in the guide was probably the most time-consuming part of the process. An added complication was the fact that I needed to make the guide applicable for all exam boards and for all students of all abilities…

However, from the feedback I have now received, I think that the guide does (generally) find the balance between covering the basics needed by some candidates and stretching the knowledge of more advanced students. According to the Independent Schools Modern Languages Association review of the guide, “There is certainly an emphasis on linguistic variety and grammatical rigour without being in anyway daunting for the less motivated pupil.”

Another challenge faced in the publication of the guide was to convince people of its credibility, given that it is written by a student who has barely any more knowledge of the subject than the people for whom the guide is intended. In fact, during discussions with Hodder Education, who were interested in publishing the guide, I found out that, in their market research, students said they “wouldn’t buy the guide because there were likely to be mistakes”. Taking this feedback onboard, I approached six of my previous and current teachers (as well as a professional proof reader) to ask them to check it. Fortunately, they all agreed to be ‘checkers and approvers’ of the guide, adding much-needed credibility to the quality of the material.

Once the guide was complete, the most arduous part of the process began: ordering and checking proof copies! I ordered seven proof copies and spent hours meticulously checking the formatting before finally approving the book on CreateSpace (the platform I use to publish and print the guides). A day later the book was live on Amazon and could be bought by anyone from any corner of the planet. The whole project has taken me over a year and a half, and at least 750 hours of work.

I am no genius. I genuinely think that anyone is capable of achieving highly in examinations if they understand the formulae which need to be used to gain marks. Exams do not purely reward clever people, they reward people who work hard and are well prepared for them – and rightly so.

Over the past three months since publishing the guide, Exam Grade Booster: GCSE French has sold over 650 copies across the country (and even some in the USA). With a whole host of talented students looking for ways to share their knowledge (and make a bit of money too), the future of Exam Grade Booster looks positive, with plenty of new guides to be published within the next six months.

The only thing to worry about for the growing team of authors is how long it will take for them to be known as ‘the book guys (or girls!)’.

‘Exam Grade Booster: GCSE French’, can be bought through Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Exam-Grade-Booster-GCSE-French/dp/1494807076/

Liam attended Tonbridge School thanks to a junior bursary. He has been offered a place to study French and Spanish at Trinity College, Cambridge


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