Sharing the insanity: Confessions of a self-published writer (Part 2 of 2)

November 14, 2011

In Confessions of a Self-Published Writer (Part 1), I talked about what it was like for me to self-publish in 2002 and how self-publishing has evolved in recent years. This year, I was presented with an opportunity to share what I’ve learned in the past decade or so to help someone else.

When Alia Azim Garcia came to talk to me about publishing her book, it never occurred to me to say no. She was charged with the task of writing a textbook for Human Resources (HR) students and professionals. She had the expertise to write the book and the support of her professional peers in the Human Resources Partnership Council at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University. I had experience in publishing, technical writing, simple book design and marketing. We began to talk about how we could use our combined skill set to make her book a reality.

We rolled up our sleeves and got to work. For the past 18 months or so, a team of us have been working hard to edit, design and print her book. She worked with an editor at the university. I brought in experts in book printing that I have worked with on previous projects. All in all, our team consisted of about 15 people, some working locally and others who worked at a distance, who  each worked on different pieces of the project.

You Did What? AzimThe outcome was the successful publication of You Did What?! A Reality Check on Human Resources Practices. This book is a compilation of scenarios that Human Resource professionals are required to address on a regular basis and provides an excellent resource for training and discussion.

For me, working with a writer to help her publish her work successfully meant sharing my knowledge and expertise of almost a decade of experience publishing paperbacks and e-books to make someone else’s dream of publishing a book come true. I went from being a self-publisher to being a publisher.

As a result, Onate Press, was born. Officially, it is an imprint or a division of Eaton International Consulting Inc., the small business I’ve run for over a decade that’s dedicated to building, researching and delivering educational programs. In effect, I ended up creating a small “indie” (short for “independent”) press that publishes materials to support and are aligned with my values as a lifelong educator.

Self-publishing is fun and exhilarating. When you publish other people’s material, the idea is for them to feel the exhilaration and for you to take on the responsibility of ensuring that the details and logistics of the publication process run smoothly. I have learned that publishing other people’s work can be quite stressful, because you want the final product to be excellent quality for both you and them.

There were lighthearted aspects of the project, too. While the final print-ready copy of the book was in the hands of the printer, we had some fun and videotaped an interview to let people know about the book:

Mount Royal University and the Human Resources Partnership Council have been stellar partners in this process. They have arranged for the book to be officially launched at the 8th Annual HR Breakfast that takes place tomorrow. The breakfast, which is being held at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and is co-hosted by local TV personality, Gord Gillies of Global television, has sold out.

When you self-publish, there is a sense of solitude, of being a lone wolf in a world where others may not understand you or your vision or what you hope to achieve. Unless you are at the very top of your game (and very few self-published authors are), the idea of having your book launched at a local event hosted by a TV personality is simply not feasible. When you publish someone else’s work, working with a team of people are collectively dedicated to making the endeavour a success, the experience is completely different.

The book is now for sale as a paperback, as well as in Kindle editions through (U.S.A and Canada), Amazon.UK (United Kingdom), Amazon.FR (France) and Amazon.DE (Germany).

Alia is donating all of her royalites to the Human Resources Partnership Council Legacy Scholarship, which supports students studying human resources at Mount Royal University.

Doing it yourself is ruggedly exhilarating in a pioneering sort of way. Collaborating with a team brings a deeper sense of success, knowing that you have collectively worked together to achieve a bigger vision. I’m so proud of Alia… and thrilled to have been invited to play a role in her exciting launch into the world of being an author.


Share this post: Confessions of a self-published writer (Part 2 of 2)

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Vain, insane or free rein? Confessions of a self-published writer (Part 1 of 2)

November 3, 2011

Nine years ago I did something scandalous, something that caused many of my colleagues to balk and wrinkle their noses in disdain. I self-published a book.

I have worked in academia since 1994, where the pinnacle of respect comes from articles published in the most highly acclaimed peer-reviewed journals. Self-publishing anything, let alone a “how to” guide doesn’t really result in respect. In fact, it results in quiet whispers of, “Who does she think she is, publishing her own work? We’re scholars, not peddlers. It’s just so… vain!”

I remember one particularly stinging comment of a professor who said, “Anyone who self-publishes their own work clearly has more ego than intellect.” At least he had the courage to say it to my face… and I’ve never forgotten it.

I’ve always struggled with two seemingly disparate aspects of my character. One aspect is deeply curious, driven deep into research to the point of forgetting to eat, methodical and persistent, obsessed with learning, surrounded by books, and slightly susceptible to worshipping great teachers as heroes who have inspired me to be a voracious learner. That’s the scholar side.

The other side demonstrates all the classic personality traits of an entrepreneur: impulsive, headstrong, stubborn, relentless about progress and pushing the boundaries of new ways of doing things (often before I’ve considered all the risks), with a wildly creative spirit that flourishes in an environment where there are high levels of autonomy and self-determination.

When someone tells me that I can’t do something, my usual (though often unvoiced) reaction is, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”

Then I proceed to do it, come hell or high water.

I’ve run a marathon, gone “polar bearing” in Halifax harbour on New Year’s Day, done a Master’s degree in a language I didn’t really speak very well, then did a Ph.D. in a completely different field and started an educational consulting business. I’ve done these things despite the fact that at least one person told me I couldn’t do it… would never succeed. Or was it because someone told me I couldn’t do it? I’ve never really figured out which it was.

In 2002, I added “self-publishing” to that list. Very few people were self-publishing then. It was considered heinously poor form. The truth is, I couldn’t find a publisher for my book. I looked and looked. For months. No one was interested. “It won’t sell,” they said.

I didn’t want to let that stop me, so I hired an editor and a graphic designer to help me do it. Self-publishing taught me a great deal about the process of publishing a book. I still worked with an editor, a designer and a printer. My editor was relentless. Any ego I had before starting to work with her was undeniably and unapologetically crushed in the process. She reduced me to a pile of humble tired bones, pushing fingers forward on a keyboard. It was excellence or nothing. (She taught me that it’s free “rein” and not free “reign”, as I’d previously thought.) God, she was good.

I pushed myself to produce the very highest quality that I could and to learn not only about content, but also form, style and little details of the publishing process, right down to what kind of paper we would use and why.

The first edition of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program ranked among DeMille’s Technical Books Top 10 Best sellers, reaching #1 on that Top 10 list on August 25, 2003. Now, being a best seller among technical books on a small list isn’t like being a #1 best seller on the New York Times or anything, but in its own way, it was a highlight of my career.

It was, however, a bittersweet victory. While I worked like a demon on the project, I often felt sheepish and ashamed in front of some my academic colleagues who found the whole prospect of self-publishing downright disdainful.

If you believe Wikipedia, then you might be as surprised as I was to learn that works by authors such as  e.e. cummings, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Franklin, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain were self-published. Though we need to be clear that there are thousands of people whose self-published work will never be elevated to such high regard. The fact remains that some pretty darn amazing writers went ahead and published their own work when no one else would.

Here we are in 2011, when there are 156 million public blogs in existence (as reported by  “BlogPulse”. The Nielsen Company. February 16, 2011). Today, people self-publish every day, in every corner of the world. Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article about the rise of self-published books. Publisher’s Weekly reported that in 2009, 764,448 new books were either self-published or micro-published.

Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone any more.

I still struggle, on an almost daily basis with being an “academic entrepreneur”. Most of the time, I feel like I don’t fit properly into either world, and with fierce determination, I push aside the feelings in order to push forward with the work. For me, doing the work — and doing it well — has always been more important than how I feel about the work, because I rarely feel good about the work I do. No matter how good it may be, I always want to be better. It keeps me up at night… most nights, in fact.

I don’t know if e.e. cummings really did self-publish, but I do love his quote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” It takes courage to put yourself out there, to use your voice and do something a bit rash and a bit wild. People may sneer. (But then again… those same people would likely find something to sneer about anyway.)

Digital technology has democratized creativity and empowered anyone with a voice to use it. What have you done lately that is wildly creative (and even a little rebellious)? I’d love to hear your stories about how you’ve taken a creative risk and what you learned from it.

(Check out Part 2 of this post, where I talk about how I used what I’ve learned over the past nine years to help someone else launch into the world of becoming a published author.)


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Does language learning make us racist?

August 18, 2011

Language and culture are often lumped together, spoken of in the same breath, as if they were one in the same. Language teachers revel in the cultures of the languages they teach. But does learning another language really make you any less racist? Some researchers caution that if we rely on cultural stereotypes, we may be adding to our students’ myopic view of the world and that we’re not really doing them any favours.

Researchers Byram and Feng (2004) say that language teachers need to get out there and connect with those who work in the field of cross-cultural training in the business world.  They argue that language and culture are value-laden and socially and politically constructed, and that language teachers often rely heavily on stereotypes to teach culture.

Starkey (2007) agrees with that point, only he takes it a step further by saying that language teachers may unintentionally promote stereotypes or narrow views of other cultures by talking only about “food, fashion, festivals and folklore” as representations of culture. He even goes so far as to say that language teachers can become so enamoured with the positive aspects of the target culture (particularly if they have lived or studied in that culture) that they develop a kind of cultural idealism, to the extent that they dismiss their students’ latent prejudices.

That article struck a chord with me. As a Spanish teacher who has lived in Spain and worked for short periods in Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela and Cuba, I can honestly admit that I am somewhat enamored with the people and cultures of the places I have personally visited. In my classes, I have tended to focus on the “positive” aspects of these places and I have been known to avoid or gloss over questions around poverty, drug cartels, the Basque separatist group ETA, or lack of clean water and electricity in some of the areas I have been.

Rarely do I tell students about the time I was working alongside a Cuban professor and when coffee was served, I asked if he drank his coffee with milk. He replied that he loved milk, but that he saved his weekly ration for his two year old daughter because he felt she needed it more than he did.

Nor do I tell them about being in Honduras a year after Hurricane Mitch and seeing shelters made of twigs where houses had been instantly destroyed. The makeshift shelters were hardly enough to protect anyone from the elements.

Nor do I tell them about the homeless man at the bottom of the stairs in a Madrid metro station who started to smell after three days because while passers-by thought he was drunk or asleep, he had in fact died, with thousands of people (including me, I am ashamed to say) passing him by. None of us knew… and personally, it had never occurred to me as a young, naive 20-something student from abroad, that someone could actually die in a subway station. Such a thing was so far out of my personal experience at that point in my life, that the shock of the nameless Spaniard’s death is something I’ll never forget.

I don’t share those stories with my students. Not ever.

I try to present the happy side of culture in my classes. I only start to “dig deep” or share stories that could be shocking or distressing when I am working one-on-one with students or in small groups with students whom I think can “handle” the other side of the reality I have lived and seen.

As I read these articles, I can’t help but ask myself if I have done the right thing all these years? Who am I to judge what my students can and cannot “handle”? Should I have pushed “the dark side” a little more, I wonder? Have I glossed over some of the more complex realities of real world culture in order to encourage my students to become as enamored with language learning as I am?

Starkey paired up with another scholar, Audrey Osler and together they wrote an article about how representations of culture in language learning textbooks has an effect on students’ understanding of that culture. While positive representations of culture can often be found in textbooks, culture goes beyond photos depicting national dress or typical food.

Researchers who specialize in the area of intercultural education and competence are calling on us language teachers to engage our students in deep conversations about identity, cultural integration, race and social values. They are also calling on us to engage with teachers of global citizenship and cross-cultural trainers who work in the business world, to help our students develop deeper understandings of culture and the idea that a person can have multiple cultural identities.

I grew up in a bi-cultural family, with a Canadian father and a British mother. I have lived in Canada, England and Spain. I’ve studied Spanish, French, German and American Sign Language. I sometimes rely on my national Canadian identity, which is firmly grounded in multiculturalism, to explain my own sense of multiple cultural identities. I think I do this sometimes just because it is easier than trying to “drill deep” into questions of identity. I am starting to realize that having parents from different cultures may very well have influenced my own cultural identity and fascination with the world outside the small city of 65,000 where I was born.

What about you? What elements have constructed your sense of culture and identity? If you’re a language teacher, are you enamored with language(s) you teach and the cultures you have experienced? Is it important to you that your students develop the same love of language that you have?

How do we “dig deep” into culture in a beginner-level language courses and engage our students in critical and reflective dialogue to help them develop true intercultural sensitivity and competence?


Byram, M., & Feng, A. (2004). Culture and Language Learning: Teaching, Research and Scholarship. Language Teaching, 37, 149-168.

Osler, A., & Starkey, H. (2000). Intercultural Education and Foreign Language Learning: Issues of racism, identity and modernity. Race Ethnicity and Education, 3(2), 207-221.

Starkey, H. (2007). Language Education, Identities and Citizenship: Developing Cosmopolitan Perspectives. Language and Intercultural Communication, 7(1), 56-71.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Pastel de Tres Leches – a la canadiense

June 8, 2011

Every semester, I like to close my language classes with a fun activity. Years ago, I used to arrange for a field trip to a local Mexican restaurant. However, times have changed and such field trips now require reams of paperwork and releases… even for adult education classes. So now we have a pot luck in class. This week, my adult education Spanish class wraps up and I decided to make my pastel de tres leches.

If you’ve never had it, then “three milk cake” or “cake soaked in 3 milks” could sound kind of disgusting, I guess. But once your taste buds have experienced the beauty that is pastel de tres leches you never forget it.

There are loads of food blogs out there and don’t worry, this blog is in no danger of becoming one of them. But every now and again, you need to do something different. Since “language” is in the title of the blog, and teaching culture is an important aspect of teaching the language, I’m taking a one-dime detour to include some Latin American culinary culture (with a Canadian twist, just because we’re so obsessed with multiculturalism here.)

This post is dedicated to my adult education Spanish students this semester and to all the language teachers around the globe who are also wrapping up the end of a semester. Many of you, no doubt, will also be making some kind of dish to share with your students. (Feel free to leave a comment and share your dish with us!)

Pastel de Tres Leches

Background and Culture

The first time I heard about pastel de tres leches, it was from an Argentinian friend who raved about it. With eyes rolling back in his head and drool dripping from his mouth as he described it, he said it was famous in Argentina.

Central American friends vehemently deny that claim and assert that it originated much further north.

I’ve worked in Venezuela, Honduras, Cuba and Mexico and personally, I’ve never seen this pastel in any of those places! I’m sure it exists, but I’m not certain who has the real claim to its origin.

Step 1 – Plan ahead

Decadence comes with a price. In this case, the price is time. Ideally, your cake will need to rest for about 24 hours to soak in the goodness of the tres leches.

Step 2 – Prepare and bake the cake

Here is the recipe I use for the cake:

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) all-purpose flour

1 Tbs (15 ml) baking powder

1 Tbs (15 ml) cinnamon

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) sugar

1/2 cup (125 ml) milk

For the topping:

1 12-oz (335 g) can evaporated milk

1 14-oz (390 g) can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups (500 ml) milk

1 cup (250 ml) sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

Sift the flour with the baking powder.  In large bowl beat the egg whites until frothy.  Add the sugar gradually, beating to form stiff peaks.  Add the yolks one at a time.  Slowly add the flour and milk.

Pour the batter into a grease and floured 13x9x2-inch (33x23x5-cm) baking pan and bake in a preheated 350F (180C) oven until edges are golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

For the topping, combine the three milks with the other ingredients, stirring until smooth.  Pour the topping over the cake and let sit until all the mixture is absorbed (at least 3 hours, but a full day is better).  Serves 8 to 12.

Pastel de Tres Leches

The recipe calls for a 9 x 13 pan. This is a 9 x 9 pan… and I made a smaller cake with the extra batter.

Step 3 – Add a cranberry compote to make it “a la canadiense”

I was inspired by this recipe. I adapted it this way:

Cranberry Compote

This, for me, is what makes this recipe “a la canadiense”. I remember when I was about 11 years old, growing up in Halifax one cold Saturday in November we went cranberry picking near the beach outside off town. It was one of the coldest, dampest days I ever remember. Our fingers froze. Our buckets seemed to take forever to fill. I’d filled buckets with blueberries loads of times during the summer, but picking cranberries along the beach, with icy wind whipping around you in November is a different experience entirely.

I’m sure my mother and her friends thought it would be a wonderful experience for us kids to know where cranberries came from and to experience picking them ourselves. But even the mothers decided that once was enough and we never repeated the experience.

Now, whenever I buy a cranberries, I always make a mental note to thank whoever picked them. It’s a thankless job, really.

1 bag of frozen or fresh cranberries (about half a kilo or 1 lb.)

1 – 2 tsp of cinnamon

1/2 cup water

1 to 2 cups of sugar (depending how sweet you like it)

rind of 1 orange

1 Tbsp of cornstarch, diluted in about 1/4 cup of warm water

Cook the cranberries, sugar, cinnamon, water and orange rind in a saucepan until it reduces in to a nice compote. Add the cornstarch in water at the end to thicken it up a bit. This is what it looks like as you’re cooking it:

Cranberry compote

And this is the final version:

Cranberry compote - finished

Step 4 – Serve and enjoy

Serve the cake with the compote and enjoy.

Variations on this recipe include serving it with a meringue topping or whipped cream.


Share this post: Pastel de Tres Leches – a la canadiense

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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