(This is the first post in a Three-Part series on this topic)
This week’s question is:
What is your advice to an educator who wants to write a book and get it published?
The late critic Christopher Hitchens cynically said, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” I believe in the first part, but not the second. Teachers, in particular, have an incalculable wealth of stories and experience that I believe many could benefit from hearing.
This three-part series will explore how educators can go about getting their book written and published with many experienced guests. I hope readers will also contribute their own thoughts.
Today’s contributors are Marjorie McAneny, Alan Sitomer, PJ Caposey and Steven Anderson. You can also listen to a lively ten-minute conversation I had with Marjorie, Alan and PJ on my BAM! Radio Show.
First, I’d like to share a few suggestions that are informed by my experiences in writing seven books on topics like student motivation, classroom management, teaching English Language Learners and parent engagement:
Write, write, write! Get plenty of experience -- and gain an audience -- by writing your own blog, guest posts for others, and contributions to popular education outlets. For example, places like Middleweb and Edutopia actively encourage educators to contact them with ideas for articles; ASCD Educational Leadership has a popular “Tell Me About A Time” feature inviting short responses to specific questions; and leaving comments on this blog’s “question-of-the-week” is always an option. In addition, during two weeks each summer I invite readers who want to contribute a 300 word post here to email me with their interests and experience. I then invite them to respond to a specific upcoming question.
The Center For Teaching Quality and its Collaboratory also offers support and forums for teachers who want to engage with other educators to improve education, including through writing about innovative ideas.
For further resources and suggestions, you might want to explore:
Now, to today’s guests...
Response From Marjorie McAneny
Marjorie McAneny has fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry, where she has focused on rights, licensing, and editorial for the technology, business, and education markets. For the past eight years she has specialized in books, digital media, and online professional development content for education leaders as a senior acquisitions editor at Jossey-Bass/Wiley:
Although there are many terrific books and blog posts written about how to publish a book, most of them discuss how hard it can be for a new author to get noticed by a traditional publisher, and how difficult it can be for any one book to make a splash among the sea of new titles published every year. While this is all true, people succeed in publishing every day. Here are four steps you can take right now to make yourself an attractive potential author to a publisher:
1. Find your unique message. You may have an approach to classroom management or school leadership that has worked well for you. But if most of your approach is based on what you learned from other authors, then your book won’t be making a significant contribution to the field. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be influenced by others; many successful writers have adapted or updated the work of previous authors in meaningful ways. But you’ll want to be sure that the essence of what you have to say offers a fresh new perspective.
2. Connect with your audience now--before you write a book. In today’s competitive publishing climate, an author’s platform is key. “Platform” refers to an author’s visibility within his or her target audience; it’s basically a following. Most publishers will expect an author to have some kind of following before they can offer a book contract.
A platform in educational publishing can take a number of different shapes. Some authors are active consultants, traveling around the country training educators regularly. (Many bestselling authors’ writing careers were launched on the speaking circuit.) Others receive frequent invitations from education-focused or general interest media to write about their subject areas. Some are social media stars, with thousands of followers on Twitter or Facebook for their education-related commentary.
Here are a few ways to begin building a following:
- Start a blog. Your blog could include tips for educators, opinion pieces related to your subject matter, reviews of other education books, and so on. Invite friends and colleagues to read and subscribe, and ask them to recommend it on social media.
- Submit articles and op-eds to education-related publications and websites.
- Submit proposals to present at regional conferences in your field. (Your presentation would ideally be on the same topic as your proposed book.)
3. Know which publishers and editors to target. Once you’re ready to pitch your book idea to a publisher, look at the three to four books most comparable to yours and note which company published them. If the author thanked an editor in the Acknowledgments section, you’ll know exactly who acquires books on the topic and you can tailor your email pitch to that person.
4. Submit a tight, effective proposal. Most publishing companies have proposal guidelines posted on their websites. Usually such guidelines are a series of questions like “Why is there a need for this book at this time?” “Who is the target audience for this book?” “What will this book do for its intended audience?” and “What makes you uniquely qualified to write on this topic?” Try to answer each question as concisely as possible. If you can succinctly explain why there’s a need for your book, it will show you have a clear vision for the project.
Yes, it can be difficult to get published. (One of the best pieces I’ve seen on the reality of today’s publishing climate is a blog post from Steven Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, titled “The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing”--and as the name suggests, it’s sobering.) But although the process can be daunting, every successful writer published today was once a first-time author. There’s always room for a new book that offers a truly unique perspective and helps those in the field.
Response From Alan Sitomer
Alan Lawrence Sitomer is a California Teacher of the Year award winner, the founder of The Writer’s Success Academy and the author of 16 different books for such publishers as Disney, Scholastic, Penguin-Putnam and Triumph Learning. Learn more - and get free stuff - at AlanSitomer.com:
So you’re an educator with a great idea for a book? Perhaps it’s a work of fiction and in your heart you know that John Green better watch his back because here you come. Or maybe it’s a work of non-fiction because you have insight to offer, knowledge to share, or wisdom to illuminate that can benefit those with less experience on the path. From pedagogical texts that fit very definite needs (like how to get every 8th grade boy on the planet to never break wind in class again) to riveting profiles of remarkable people (such as your great grandfather who actually cured the common cold but lost the antidote he’d written on a cocktail napkin when he got into a bar fight with an inebriated mime).
The big point is that it does not matter what you want to write; what matters is that you do write. Absolutely, you must GO FOR IT!
I don’t say that lightly, either. If you think about it, educators spend a large part of their professional lives encouraging young people to “go for their dreams”. It’s one of the most beautiful aspects of our work. But to hold your own unrealized dreams and not go for them while spending your days empowering and encouraging other people to go for theirs? A little ironic/hypocritical/frustrating, no?
Essentially, we all only get one spin around this world so if in your heart it’s your dream to write a book, follow your star. And I say this from personal experience because I penned my first book while working as fulltime classroom teacher - as well as the subsequent 10 books - and it still amazes me where my efforts have taken me.
Exercise: close your eyes, listen to your inner voice and if it says, “Screw it, let’s do this!” step out on that limb. It’s where life’s fruit is anyway.
Fast forward: you’ve written your book. You’ve crossed your t’s, dotted your i’s and converted all ur txt in2 the Queen’s English so that it follows proper conventions and protocol. What are your options?
Basically, you can seek a “traditional publisher” or you can self-publish. Each has its benefits, each has its limitations, both are routes filled with a bonanza of exciting opportunities yet neither represents the “right” decision.
In other words, the only “right” decision is the one you ultimately make. Or have made for you. What do I mean by that? Usually, this means that a writer, text in hand, has solicited agents and/or publishing houses and come up empty.
The cold, cruel hand of rejection. Fear not. To be a writer means you will be rejected.
Stephen King, George Orwell, J.K. Rowling and even Yours Truly have all been rejected scores and scores of times. It’s not personal, it’s not objective and it’s not defining. Yet, you very well might find yourself in the boat of having received a cascade of NO THANK YOU notes leaving you with no other course but to self-publish.
Well, the good news is that it’s a brand new day and the options for seizing your own career by the horns are there for the taking in a manner that was never before possible. Self-publishing is vibrant, legitimate and available. The democratization of creation is afoot!
Basically, there is no better friend than a web search at this point. Write your book - there is no way to publish a manuscript without first having written it (though many people seem to forget this is the most critical aspect of the path) - and then search, search, search.
Do you want an agent? If so, you’ll have to land one. How you do that is easily learned through a web search.
Do you want to solicit a publisher directly? Do the publishers you seek to target even accept unsolicited manuscripts from unrepresented writers?
How you do that is easily learned through a web search.
Is self-publishing a “best fit” for your book? How does one self-publish? What are the steps, where can you get help, how much will it cost, how much might you make, how much work will you have to do?
How you get the answers to all these questions and more is easily learned through a web search. Writers of all stripes have contributed gobs of information that is freely available online. Experienced authors, novice authors, bestselling authors who have knocked it out of the park and disappointed authors who haven’t sold anywhere near the volume of books they’d originally hoped to sell have all shared their insights on the web.
Do a search. Become well informed. Attain knowledge. Hey, you’re an educator - believe in the power of learning.
But most importantly, if the spirit moves you, go for it. It’s hard to live with unrealized hopes in your heart that are well within your reach to materialize. We all only get one spin.
Guess what? This is yours.
Response From PJ Caposey
PJ Caposey is Superintendent of Meridian CUSD 223 in Illinois. PJ is an award-winning educator who has become a sought after speaker throughout the nation. Additionally, PJ has written two books in the past two years including Building a Culture of Support: Strategies for School Leaders:
Publishing a book was one of the more challenging and rewarding experiences of my professional career. The process helped me grow as a writer, a professional, and in many ways as a human being. I was fortunate to find a mentor through the process, but without that guidance the process could have been intimidating and cumbersome. My hope is that blogs such as this help to ease some of the fear surrounding the writing and publishing business and encourage the educator sitting at their computer with the next great idea that can influence my growth as a professional.
Before anyone starts putting pen-to-paper - which is now really finger-to-keyboard - I encourage minding the following advice:
* Prospectus 101
There are a few heavyweights in the education publishing world. To find out who they are - look at your bookshelf. There are truly not a ton of options. Each of the publishers have similar (different, but similar) prospectus protocols to follow. FOLLOW THEM! Following the protocols help you to organize your thoughts, but also will prevent you from taking too long of a journey down a route that will not get you published.
* Get comfortable with the word NO or DO OVER
Hearing no or that is not acceptable is not a condemnation of you as a professional or your idea in general. This just means that you may need to look to a different publisher, amend your idea, or better hone your craft. No means not now - it does not mean not ever.
* Positive over problems
This may just be a problem that I have in writing, but I have learned (through hearing no) that most people are not interested in my lamenting or dissection of a problem - they want a solution. People want you to help them grow - not a companion in discussing why what we are doing is not is working.
• Do not plan on getting rich
Maybe I am just not a great author, but I can concretely say that writing a book is the lowest per hour pay of any job I have had in my lifetime - inclusive of pizza delivery driver. That being said, it has opened innumerable doors for me as a professional and I do not regret one minute spent writing my books. However, unless you absolutely hit it out of the park - do not bank your retirement on the publishing of your first book.
* The next great education book may not be yours
A best-selling author once asked me how many books Stephen Covey published before 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I replied, “I have no idea.” He replied, it does not matter - it only takes one book to change the world and with each one you write your chances of doing so improves. So - hopefully your first book is the one - but it may well not be. Additionally, understand that working through this process with a publisher may tweak your message to become more marketable and you may feel this makes it less meaningful. These are battles you may fight and need to be prepared to understand the benefits of working with a publisher than going about this on your own.
Response From Steven Anderson
Steven Anderson is a former teacher and Director of Instructional Technology, a member of the ASCD Faculty, and a 2012 ASCD Emerging Leader. Anderson is author of The Digital Leader’s Toolkit: How Do I Use Technology to Be an Effective School Leader? (ASCD, 2014) and co-author of The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning (Corwin, 2014):
I have been very fortunate to have 1 book published and 2 others in the works. For me my experience as an author began with my blog.
I remember in my earlier years how much it pained me to write. In school writing was definitely a weakness for me and I struggled with many assignments that involved any type of writing at length. In college I did get better because I had lots of practice but it was still a struggle. It never felt natural to me.
As I transitioned into the classroom and other leadership roles writing text wasn’t something I had to do so I lost a great deal of what I learned. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I writing became something fun and enjoyable for me. My blog allows me to write about what I want and write how I want. It’s my expressive voice. Reading my first post back in 2009 to my most recent I feel that because I take time to write there I’ve gotten much better. And if it hadn’t been for my blog I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write books.
My advice for anyone wanting to write a book is to write, a lot. Start a blog and write about what is interesting to you. Use it as a place of practice. The best part is you are creating content for a text that you might later publish.
You will also want to think about a book that isn’t already out there. Do you have an idea that hasn’t been published yet? Can you improve on an idea out there? How can you write something different?
Lastly reach out to popular publishers in the education space like Corwin and ASCD. They have acquisition departments. They are always looking for new authors and new content.
Thanks to Marjorie, Alan, PJ, and Steven for their contributions!
Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll be sharing readers’ comments in Part Three.
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Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.
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Watch for Part Two in a few days...
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