Meet an ALCS member: Karen Anderson

We hear from educational writer, Karen Anderson, who is also dipping her toe in writing for other genres.

Who are you?

Hi, I’m Karen Anderson.

What do you write?

I write non-fiction books for education, for students and teachers. It all started when I was a newly qualified teacher, and my then Head of Department suggested I join him at an exam board meeting for a new qualification because he thought I’d find it interesting. While there, the subject of textbooks was discussed, and I put myself forward as wanting to be involved. Sixteen books and numerous speaking engagements around the country later, I am still working with that same exam board! It shows the power of a good mentor when you’re starting out, and the importance of grasping every opportunity which comes your way with both hands.

Do you have a ‘day’ job?

I trained as a teacher in 2003 – 04, following a degree in Computing, and was completely bitten by the education bug. I have had the pleasure of working with students and staff at different schools and colleges in the north as I have advanced in my career, and I’m just about to start as a Vice Principal at Scarborough Sixth Form College. As you can imagine, trying to fit writing in is difficult, with long days and taking work home being the norm; this can eat into my writing time, and any leisure time I can squeeze in too. I need to be as disciplined with my time at home as I am at college, and thankfully I have a very understanding partner, Simon, who appreciates how both teaching and writing are part of me and I’m not me without either of them. As Charlotte Brontë said, “I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.”

How useful do you find social media and/or blogging?

I feel like I’m standing alone on an island when I say I do not use social media at all. Having been a Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) ambassador for e-safety in my early teaching career, there is nothing that more loudly shouts “target” to trolls and hackers so I never really became involved when it was emerging as a popular technology. I find that I don’t need it for what I currently do. I can see it is a valuable tool for communicating with friends and for business, but can also be a drain on time and is a world that isn’t real. In the future, I might have a social media footprint, but for now, I’ll stick to making them in the sand!

How long have you been an ALCS member and how did you hear about us?

I became a member in 2010. I had a lovely email from a member of the ALCS Author Research Team who said, “we believe we are holding money due to you”, and explained how ALCS works. I couldn’t believe that all I needed to do was register my books. I was waiting for the catch, so I contacted them and I asked if I would really get money for “doing nothing” and they said: “You have done something, you have written books!” I’ve also been contacted to help track down other authors for whom ALCS are holding royalties, and it’s a pleasure to help and be part of the writing community ensuring hard work is rewarded.

I asked if I would really get money for “doing nothing” and they said: “You have done something, you have written books!”

For what sort of uses of your work do you receive royalties from ALCS?

The majority of my royalties are from photocopying in schools and colleges. The textbooks which are mostly activity worksheets and exam-style questions, are the ones which are copied most frequently, as teachers may want sets for their whole class. However, the textbooks which are mainly learning content are also repeatedly copied. It’s rewarding to know that something I have created could be helping more students, not just those in my own college, but also around the country.

What is your most surprising source of ALCS income?

There is a textbook I wrote for an obscure little qualification that I didn’t think was still running, but the royalties still trickle in from it, so someone somewhere is still finding it useful!

How important are your ALCS payments to you as a writer?

ALCS is a fantastic organisation and, although my personal payments haven’t been huge (due to the niche market), they always gives me a sense that my writing is valued. A lot of my books were contracted on fee payments rather than royalties, which is quite normal in this field when books can go out of date quickly as qualifications change. So once they were written and I’d been paid a lump sum, they faded out of my life. Every six months, when I see their names again on my ALCS statement, it’s like seeing long-lost friends.

Every sixth months, when I see their names again on my ALCS statement, it’s like seeing long-lost friends.

Are you aware of any potential threats to your ALCS income?

It does seem that the concept of ‘ownership’ is in danger of being eroded, and, for anyone who dreams of living off their writing, being valued financially as the creator is incredibly important. Free content on the internet seems to have shifted in the last ten years from a rarity to the expectation, and one of the results is that as the quantity rises, the quality falls. I am forever telling students that Wikipedia cannot be the only source they cite, and a search on Google is not citable as research. For writers, the existence of copyright law is vital: working creatively is as hard as manual labour, and producing brand new content which they birth into existence is difficult, time-consuming and requires talent and skill. It should not be taken for granted.

However, there are also the opportunities for your work to be seen by an enormous audience over the internet, without any recompense to you, but in a way which could attract new readers, build your reputation and create new avenues to explore. In the technology world, writing code for freeware and shareware publication has existed for decades, and that is a community which aims to create content for free, with some limitations, which otherwise would not see the light of day due to the monopolisation of large companies in that industry.

It depends on your reason for creating each piece and what you hope for in return; however the protection of ownership of creative works should be sacrosanct in law. The choice should be down to the creator, and them alone.

What does the future hold for you as a writer?

In terms of non-fiction education books, I am at the mulling-over stage of an easy-to-read book for middle and senior leaders in education. I have also recently finished a novel which I plan to start editing over the summer, and I try to write at least one short story a month to help keep me developing my skills and experimenting. I’ve recently dipped my toe in the water for writing Pathfinder RPG (role playing game) scenarios and there’s the skeleton of a musical in a notebook that I keep chipping away at. Oh, and we’re moving to Scarborough and I’m starting a new job. So, you know, the usual calm, not-much-happening kinda life!

Karen Anderson has been working in education for 13 years and will be taking up a post of Vice Principal at Scarborough Sixth Form College in August 2017. She is the author of two books aimed at teachers and the co-author of 16 textbooks for students and teachers.  Karen also works with exam boards and trains teachers around the UK. She can be contacted at