Professional Development Opinion

Response: ‘Teachers Make Great Authors’

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 10, 2015 10 min read
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(This is the second post in a Three-Part series on this topic. You can see Part One here.)

This week’s question is:

What is your advice to an educator who wants to write a book and get it published?

Part One featured contributions from Marjorie McAneny, Alan Sitomer, PJ Caposey and Steven Anderson (I shared some suggestions, too). You can also listen to a lively ten-minute conversation I had with Marjorie, Alan and PJ on my BAM! Radio Show.

Today’s commentaries have been written by Allison Scott, Julia Thompson, and Vicki Davis.

Response From Allison Scott

Allison Scott is an Acquisitions Editor as ASCD, where she evaluates and acquires K-12 professional development books for publication. To find out more about submitting a book proposal to ASCD, or writing an article for ASCD’s magazine Educational Leadership or e-newsletter ASCD Express, please visit the ASCD website. Follow her on Twitter @thealliscott:

As an editor in educational publishing, I would like to share some advice for educators aspiring to be published authors from the perspective of those who evaluate and select manuscripts for publication. I’m often asked, “What should I write about?” When selecting your topic--whether it be for a book, article, or blog post--I would encourage you to consider the following:

  • Share your expertise. Where does your expertise lie? Is there a process or set of instructional strategies that you’ve honed over the years and that has led to measureable improvement of student outcomes? Have you had the opportunity to share your expertise with colleagues and other educators outside your school, to the benefit of their classrooms or schools? Expertise is crucial to establishing a book’s credibility.

  • Be aware of the market. Based on your expertise, you’ll likely be able to come up with a list of topics you feel qualified to write on, but which one should you choose? It’s important to find out what has already been published on these topics. If there are many books available, your book might get lost in the sea of choices.

  • Find a hook. How would your book be different from what is currently available? A good hook will offer a new, compelling angle that differentiates your work from other books. A strong hook is what separates a must-have book from a nice-to-have book. Consider the major trends in education and the pain points educators are facing and then determine how your expertise can help them find solutions.

  • Know your audience. Who are you writing this book for? Are they administrators or teachers? At what grade level? What content area? What are their needs? Read education blogs, follow the news, go to conferences, talk to your colleagues, get involved in social media, and figure out what matters to your audience and how you can help them.

  • Define your purpose. What will your reader know and be able to do once they have read your book? This is what provides value to your reader, so it’s important to be clear about what your audience will get out of your book.

Before you jump headlong in to writing your manuscript, I would suggest researching potential publishers. You want to find the right home for your book, but how do you know which publisher would be a good fit? Look at your bookshelf. What are your favorite books on education? What books have been most useful to you? What about these books make them your favorites? Is it the conversational tone? The real-world stories from classrooms? The strong research base? The step-by-step approach? Which books are most like the one you want to write and who published them?

Start putting together a list of potential publishers. Check out the publishers’ websites and see what they are looking for. Some publishers focus on how-to books for practicing educators, others publish more inspirational thought pieces, still others focus on a subsection of education (e.g., Special Education). If a publisher puts out books for your audience and on your topic, they might be right for your book. Check out their book proposal submission guidelines--they often have a “Write for X” section--and review the requirements. This will help you figure out what materials to put together in order to have your idea considered.

If you’ve thought through the questions presented here, you’ll be well on your way to developing a solid book proposal and improve your chances that it will be accepted by the publisher of your choice.

Response From Julia Thompson

Julia Thompson is a teacher, consultant, and best-selling author of several books for teachers including The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide. Thompson maintains a Web site for educators, a blog, and offers advice on Twitter at @TeacherAdvice:

When you write a book, most potential authors don’t realize that the real work begins once you have completed the manuscript. After an acquisition editor has accepted your submission, you will join a team of publishing professionals who have two goals: to make sure that your book is well-written and that it is marketable. I take the advice of the people who work on my books very seriously. While I may know something about education, they are knowledgeable about producing and selling books. I don’t just respect them; I am in awe of their expertise.

My advice for potential authors? Learn to work well with your publishing team. Here are three ideas for making that happen.

1. Submit a manuscript as free of errors as possible. Take the time to read the guidelines your editor will provide and to teach yourself the grammar and usage conventions related to your field. Investigate style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org) so that your writing will be as crisp and as free from errors as possible. Double check your facts and sources. This will save time and the hassle of rewriting in the later stages of the publication.

2. Honor deadlines. In publishing, deadlines are a serious business. Because the domino effect of a missed deadline can delay the publication of your book as well as cause major headaches for you and your team, when you are given the dates for the various stages of the production process, meet those commitments.

3. Have an open mind when your team gives you advice about your manuscript. Your publishing team will keep you from making dumb mistakes. As someone who routinely prints a document only to find a glaring typo later, I have developed a deep appreciation for the team who keeps me from embarrassing myself in print. Your publisher wants your book to be excellent. When you are asked to edit or rewrite, consider this: while you may know something about education, your ideas may be more narrow or regional than you realize. The publishing team thinks globally and can offer suggestions to make it easier for you to apply your ideas to a wider audience.

Response From Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full time classroom teacher in Camilla, Georgia. Author of the Cool Cat Teacher Blog, Reinventing Writing and Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. You can hear her bi-weekly show “Every Classroom Matters” on the Bam Radio Network:

Throughout history, many school teachers have written books that have changed lives. From JK Rowling tweaking scenes with Harry and Hermione on her lunch break to Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, JRR Tolkien, Aldous Huxley, Stephen King and Dan Brown. Now a whole new wave of teacher-authors are writing about the classroom including Larry Ferlazzo, Pernille Ripp, Nicholas Provenzano and many more (including me).

From my first book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds (coauthored with a colleague who was then working in China) to Reinventing Writing and now to my third book which I will intentionally self publish: writing and publishing a book is tough. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Here are 6 steps to get you started and some reading to help you.

1. Develop Your Own Voice

Your blog, your tweets, even your Facebook page is a way to spark conversation about topics you love. Publishers tell me that they are looking for voices who are hubs of conversation. Don’t think you have to attract tens of thousands of followers or readers (although that will help) but instead, engage with those who are already reading and conversing about the topics you love. If you have enough of an audience, publishers will come to you but they’ll also be more likely to listen if you have to pitch them first.

Reading: Platform by Michael Hyatt and Share Your Work by Austin Kleon

2. Develop A Routine

I get up every morning at 5 am to have my quiet time.. Then at 5:45 am, I write. I do this every single morning and have since 2008 (the year my blog took off.) You become whatever you do every single day.

Reading: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

3. Learn About Writing

Learn from great writers about the craft of writing itself. Learn about the tools and methods for researching and organizing.

Reading: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn and Reinventing Writing by Vicki Davis (Yes, that’s my book!)

Listen to: The Creative Penn Podcast by Joanna Penn

4. Develop A System

While some people love Microsoft Word, I use Scrivener for my nonfiction and fiction writing. I also have a place in my Evernote notebook for holding research and special tags in Diigo. You need a workflow from research to writing that will work for you but it all comes down to wordcount. When I’m in the process of drafting a book, I set word goals for at least 5 days a week (between 1,000 to 2,000 depending upon whether it is a school day or not.)

Reading: Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant; 2K to 10K: Writing Better, Faster and More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron

5. Start and Persist

When you want something, write down the dream. Turn it into a goal by putting dates and deadlines on it. Then, look at it and say:

“Here I am dream. You may run from me but I’m walking behind you one step at a time and I will not stop putting one foot in front of the other until I hunt you down and you are mine and I am starting today.”

After you start, it is hard to persist. At the midpoint of each book just between the second and third edits, I have almost quit and deleted my book from my computer each and every time. It isn’t that you lose interest, it is that it is so hard to imagine the thing finished. You never really finish a book anyway. Once you know it is the best work you can do, you just have to ship it.

Reading: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield; Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry and Start by Jon Acuff

Are You A Writer?

Teachers make great authors. Let today be the day you start. You can do this.

Thanks to Allison, Julia and Vicki 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.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.