Writing for Educational Publishers – Inside Secrets
Have you ever thought about writing educational products? Here are plenty of proven tips and ideas to get you started!
by Sue Gruber, M.A.
Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers www.bgrubercourses.com
Regular contributor to the Gazette
July 1, 2009
What better time than the middle of summer to try something new? Have you ever thought about writing educational products? Here is an updated version of one of our early Gazette articles that’s filled with plenty of proven tips and ideas to get you started!
Do you find that you create lots of original ideas that you use in your classroom? Have other teachers asked to use ideas you’ve created? If you are a teacher who generates a lot of original ideas, we’d like to help you better understand how you can turn those ideas into submissions for publication. This article is not about self-publishing. This is about writing as a business for profit. In this article, our focus is on creating original products to sell to educational publishers.
We are not experts on freelance writing or publishing. We are simply sharing ideas that worked for us. We have successfully developed and sold over one hundred fifty products to publishers in the past two decades. Over time, we’ve learned some “secrets of success” that work for us. Currently, we have curriculum products and teacher resource books being sold by several publishers. Our most recent product is the Instant Desktop Organizer that we sold to Scholastic.
If you have ever considered selling your original ideas to publishers, this information should help. Freelance writing is not for sensitive souls or the faint-of-heart. You must establish emotional distance from the process or it can be incredibly painful. Rejection is not easy to accept. When it comes to writing, one thing is almost a guarantee—you will receive rejections. Barbara received over fifty rejections before finally making her first sale. The more proposals you submit, the greater your chances are of having one click! We found success in freelance writing without “inside connections” in the publishing industry. Beyond profits, it is satisfying knowing your ideas help teachers teach and help children learn.
What is the essence of writing and product development?
Writing is a market-driven business. The writer, or product developer, must understand who their customers are, what they need, and what they will buy. The product developer must understand how the product will be used by the customer. They need to ascertain that the product is something the customer wants, needs and is willing to pay for. Product development starts with the end user. Customers needs drive the market.
What do publishers do?
It is the publisher’s job to produce, advertise, market, and sell products. In other words, publishers front the money for producing, advertising and marketing the product. Writing for publishers is about creating products that publishers can sell profitably. Publishers sell their products in a variety of ways. They may mail out direct mail catalogs and have websites through which they sell directly to customers. They may also sell products wholesale to distributors who resell products in stores and catalogs. Writers do not pay publishers to publish their work.
How can you figure out what kinds of products are selling best?
Go into a book store and study the bookshelves. If the store has five shelves dedicated to cook books and one shelf dedicated to parenting books, you can safely assume they are selling five times as many cookbooks as parenting books. In other words, the books that are getting the most “real estate” on the shelves are the products that sell well. Go into a school supply store and look at the space they have allocated to reading, math, and science. Let’s assume they are managing their inventory well and they know what is and is not selling. If most of their K-3 materials are about reading that must be the subject they sell most to K-3 teachers.
Look through publishers’ catalogs. If a publisher has allocated most the catalog space to products about science, it is safe to assume that they specialize in science materials and they sell best for that publisher.
The reason you want to understand the types of products that sell best is that publishers are going to be looking for proposals for these kinds of products. You want to target your submissions to publishers whose customers will also buy your product.
What should you do if you already have a product idea?
Start a file folder and label it with your product idea. If you have three product ideas, start separate folders for each idea. Whenever you have an ideas, questions, or random thoughts about your products, jot them down and stash the papers in the appropriate file folders.
Start out by analyzing your idea. Ask yourself:
Who needs this?
Can I build a product out of this, or is it a quick tip or vague concept?
Why would they buy it?
How would it be used?
Do teachers everywhere need it or just teachers in your area?
Is your product trendy or will it stand the test of time?
Is your product activity cards, a game, reproducible worksheets, or a book?
How is it similar to existing products on the market?
Does it compete directly with products publishers have or does it complement or extend their product lines?
How is your product fresh, new and different from existing products?
Will your product help teachers teach skills and/or manage their classrooms?
Does your product have “legs” so it can be part of a group of products?
If you don’t have a product idea, how can you come up with one?
Start a file folder labeled “Ideas!” When you think of something you wish you had, or think of a different way to do something jot it down and file it in your ideas folder. The key is to come up with a fresh idea, or fresh approach, that will help teachers teach skills and/or manage their classrooms. You need to find a need and come up with a way to fill it with an innovative product. You can market your original ideas or new ways to present existing concepts. But, you can’t market someone else’s copyrighted or licensed works.
If you know what you want to develop, what do you do next?
Let’s say you have a goldmine of fresh, original ideas for kindergarten teachers. Therefore, you want to write a resource book for kindergarten teachers. Go to several school supply stores and survey the market. Look at the books that are already available. These books will compete with the product you want to write. How many pages are they? Who published the books? It’s a good idea to submit a product for kindergarten teachers to publishers who already are selling to kindergarten teachers. They have customers who are kindergarten teachers; therefore, they will want more products to sell to those existing customers. Copy mailing addresses from products or go to publishers’ websites to get contact information.
Sue Gruber taught the upper grades for years. In a moment of wild abandon, she decided to take the plunge and teach the grade she feared most—kindergarten! Sue just wrapped up her eleventh year in kindergarten and loves it. Who knows, the next grade level change might be to sixth grade!
Sue Gruber and Barbara Gruber, a mother-daughter writing team, have created dozens of products for Frank Schaffer Publications, Scholastic, The Education Center and other publishers. Barbara is a former teacher who was employed by Frank Schaffer Publications from l980 to l996. She developed and presented curriculum seminars nationwide for K-6 teachers.
Sue and Barbara launched Barbara Gruber Online Courses for Teachers in 2002. They personally write each course with today’s students and busy teachers in mind. Teachers can do coursework completely on their own, or, if they wish, interact on line with others. They can earn one, two or three semester units from University of the Pacific. Barbara and Sue provide practical strategies and ideas that can be put into action immediately without creating more work for teachers. Barbara and Sue have created exactly what teachers are looking for—teacher-friendly courses at affordable prices. You can find out about their courses at www.bgrubercourses.com
Sue teaches full time, manages Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers and loves writing for the Teachers.Net Gazette. She lives in Sonoma County with her husband and son. Barbara consults for Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers; however, she has “retired” from the business. Retirement for Barbara means she’s busier than ever in Healdsburg, California on a 25-acre working farm called Healdsburg Country Gardens. She and her husband are grape growers for local wineries, have three guest houses for visitors and host wine country weddings.