One of the ways I keep afloat as a writer is by writing work-for-hire books for the educational market. This is a market I would not have known existed if I hadn’t heard two editors speak about it at an SCBWI conference back in 1999. Since then, I’ve written more than 100 books for this market. I’ve taught online classes and in-person classes on writing for this market over the years, and I thought I’d share occasional bits about it here on my blog. Today, I’m just going to explain what this market actually is, and what the difference is between this market and the trade market. The formatting might come out a little wonky here in WordPress–this is all excerpted from Lesson One of my textbook, Writing Children’s Nonfiction Books for the Educational Market.
The educational market is the group of books published mainly for school libraries to buy. Here’s a brief overview.
Ages: K-12 – Books for very young kids, preschool ages, are often written by reading specialists or written in-house by editors. And high school students often read adult nonfiction books. So, the vast majority of educational market books are written for the 1st-9th grade market, with 4th-8th grade being the sweet spot. Still, publishers do hire freelance writers for books for kindergarteners all the way up through high school students.
Reading Level: Standard books – These are books that have a reading level that matches the age of the audience. A book written about a state might be written at the 4th-grade level, and the main audience is 4th graders.
High/Low books – These books are written for kids who are not reading at grade level. They might be reading below grade level for many reasons: they are English language learners (ELL, formerly known as ESL), they might have learning disabilities, or they might just hate to read and don’t get enough practice at it. For instance, my skateboarding book for Steck-Vaughn is for 7th– or 8th-grade students but was written at strict 2nd-grade level. It has a design and cover and dimensions (known as the trim size) of a book for older kids, but the language is extremely simple. That’s because 7th graders wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book that LOOKED like it was written at a 2nd-grade reading level. Other high/lows are not as precise, like my outdoor recreation books for Capstone Books listed here. They are written at about the 5th-grade level and are considered appropriate for about 4th- through 9th-graders.
Topics: Standard curriculum topics – Social studies and science are very common topics. There are not as many math books published (other than textbooks, and that’s not what we’re talking about), and literature is not written much on assignment. So, the great majority of books are social studies and science. Books on landforms, periods of history, animals, scientific processes every level and topic within those two subjects is covered, it seems.
Other topics – Biographies are huge for all age ranges, even down to first and second grade. Careers are a popular topic, both for career planning and also just for awareness of different jobs as community helpers. I did a few books like this one for K-2 (kindergarten through second grade) for Picture Window Books that were considered career books, because they dealt with jobs, identifying different workers by the shoes they wore, or the gloves or the jackets they wore. Social skills themes are big, too, like self-esteem. Social issues and controversial topics, like euthanasia and divorce, are also heavily covered.
High-interest topics (high/lows) are often written strictly to get reluctant readers to read. Sometimes these titles seem like tabloid-style books, but the same rigorous research goes into them that goes into the more standard books. Publishers simply play up the fantastic aspects in order to lure kids into reading.
Tone: The tone of educational books has historically been very straightforward. They typically use active language, but are not overly dramatic. Clarity takes priority over fun writing. You can’t be ambiguous. Some educational publishers use (or at least incorporate in sidebars, etc.) some fun facts and punchier writing. Over the past 10 years, educational books have changed a lot. Publishers do still publish straightforward books, but they increasingly incorporate good design, fun illustrations, and a more contemporary voice. They are books that look fun or interesting to read, whether you have to write a report on a topic or not. Most educational market books are 3rd-person, but some lend themselves to a more personal, 2nd-person point of view. Some even use humor and fun formats to appeal to kids.
Format: More than 99% of books from educational publishers are PUBLISHED IN SERIES. Some publishers do a very few stand-alone titles (that’s what it’s called when it’s one book, not a series), but this is the rare exception. Series books are very similar in format and style, differing only in content/topic (lots more on this later).
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRADE AND EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHERS
So, what’s the difference between trade and educational publishers? Here is the main, #1, most important difference between the two kinds of publishers: For a trade publisher, a writer writes the manuscript she loves and tries to sell it. For an educational publisher, a writer identifies publishers he would like to write for and tries to get assignments to write books.
Let’s look at that more closely. For a trade publisher, a writer writes the manuscript she loves and tries to sell it. She chooses the age range, the angle of approach, the tone, etc. She then tries to sell the manuscript to a publisher who will in turn try to sell it to bookstores, libraries, and schools. For an educational publisher, a writer identifies publishers he would like to write for. He approaches those publishers with an introductory packet and convinces them he is a professional, competent writer. An educational publisher assigns the writer to write a certain book on a particular topic for a definite age range. The publisher provides series guidelines to the writer, and he writes the book according to what the publisher has asked for. He writes the book in a way that it will not stand out on its own but will fit perfectly into the series the publisher has conceived. The publisher sells the book mainly to schools, and also to public libraries. That’s the biggest difference right there. Here’s a chart to help you see the other differences.
|Trade Publisher||Educational Publisher|
|Write the book||first, and submit to publishers.||after an editor assigns you the book and provides guidelines and samples.|
|The book is sold||in bookstores, public libraries, online, and in school libraries.||in school libraries, online, and in public libraries.|
|The book||stands alone. Usually not part of a series||is part of the series. It must fit into the rest of the series.|
|Copyright is owned||by the writer. You sell certain rights to publish it, but you own the work itself.||by the publisher. The work belongs to the publisher, now and forever.|
|You are paid||with advance and royalties. Say you get 10% royalties (very generous nowadays) on a $20 book (so that’s $2 per book sold). You get a $5,000 advance. After the book sells 2,500 copies ($5,000 worth of royalties), THEN you begin to earn royalties. The more the book sells (or the less), the more (or less) you earn.||Generally with a flat fee that does not change, no matter how many copies the book does or does not sell. You may make anywhere from $500 to $4,000 per book, and you will generally get paid very promptly.|
|The books||may or may not relate to the school curriculum (though the trend is for even trade publishers to look for school tie-ins).||almost always tie in to the school curriculum.|
So now you know what the educational market is. Is this a kind of writing that sounds like something you might like? If it’s a market you want to pursue, you can check out my textbook here. There is also some great info online at Evelyn Christensen’s terrific website. Enjoy!