How to get started writing and publishing a teaching book
Do you want to publish an education book or publish a book for teachers? Need tips for writing and publishing education books? On this page, you’ll find information about how I got started writing and publishing books for teachers, and learn how you can write teacher books, too.
Who Am I to Give Advice?
I’m far from an expert on the subject of publishing books, but I’ve done it successfully three times and I’m honest about the process, so I tend to get a LOT of emails asking for advice. There are many ways to get your book published and make money selling books for teachers, and I’m happy to share what’s worked for me. I can’t guarantee that I’ve done things the “right way,” but I’m enjoying writing books and I’ve been making steady money doing so since 2008. Hopefully when you read my advice, you’ll find some ideas that resonate and will work for you, too.
Video: Advice for Publishing a Book for Educators
Dr. Will Deyamport III interviewed me about educational publishing. In the video below, you’ll hear me speak about:
- How I got the ideas for my books and started publishing
- Balancing full-time teaching with book writing
- What motivates me to write and how I use writing to improve education
- The decision between traditional and self-publishing
- eBook vs. print copy sales
- How to leverage book sales and consulting opportunities
- How my writing and creative process works
- My advice for those who want to write and publish a book
- The importance of promoting your book on social media
Who Said Anything About Publishing? Get Writing!
First things first: most people who worry about how to publish and sell their book haven’t even written the book yet. In fact, I’d say 95% of the people who email me asking for help are still stuck in the “I have a great idea for a book” phrase. My advice is always the same: write the book before you worry about anything else. There are an untold number of half-finished manuscripts languishing in desk drawers. Until you’ve got a book that is well-written (and well-edited), everything else is a moot point.
If you go the traditional publishing route, chances are good that a publisher is going to want to see a complete manuscript before deciding whether or not to publish it. Sure, established authors can just submit proposals, but if you’re an unknown, the publisher will probably not pay you much attention without a finished manuscript. At the very least, they’re going to want the table of contents and some sample chapters.
Having a few chapters done is not enough. How will you know what direction your book will ultimately take? Maybe the first few chapters will end up being redundant, or need to be placed in a different order. And it’s very likely that they won’t be your best work if you haven’t seen how they fit within the larger context of what you’re trying to say. You will probably want to change the title, subtitle, description, etc. before the book is done. So why try to market something that is incomplete and going to change?
If you decide to self-publish, it’s even more important to have a finished product because self-publishing is a much quicker process. You can have a stack of copies in your possession within days of sending the book to the printer, and Amazon will often list it within a week or two. All the self-publishing routes (Lulu, Smashwords, etc.) have similar requirements for formatting, etc., so you really don’t need to select your self-publishing option until the book is basically done.
So, in case I haven’t been clear: Stay focused on writing your book. That’s the hardest part, and once you’ve got that done, there will be tons of options open to you. The publishing industry is evolving so quickly that it’s becoming easier to publish a book with every year that passes, so there is absolutely no reason to stress out about how to publish a book that you haven’t even written yet.
How Do You Know What to Write?
I think everyone has a book inside them. And every teacher I know has a teaching idea or perspective that deserves to be shared with the world. Don’t doubt yourself! Write what’s on your heart. Write what has to be written. Write the things that you will lay in bed at night thinking about if you don’t get them out on the page. Don’t worry about how it will be received yet; that part comes during for the editing process. Right now? Write.
Editing Your Manuscript
You will need to have your book professionally edited before you submit it to a publisher or try to self-publish it. Remember, you want your very best work to be shown to the world. It’s also helpful to have the perspective of an outside party who’s not personally invested in your book. It’s better to get brutal honesty from your editor than from Amazon reviewers after the book is published. (Ouch.)
Okay, Fine, Now Let’s Talk About Publishing
There are a lot of paths you can take to get your book into the hands of readers. The only one I would NOT recommend is using a vanity press, which is a company you pay to publish your book. That’s just not necessary in 2014.
One good option is to submit your book to some publishing houses in hopes of getting published. I’ve never gone that route as I wanted to have complete editorial control over my books and also did not want to share royalties with a publishing company. I hear that trying to get your book accepted in traditional publishing can be a lengthy, frustrating process, although it’s not nearly as painful for education books and I know quite a few teachers who have had their books published that way. There are a number of reputable education publishers who accept titles from new authors (including classroom teachers), so if you do your research, you may find something that works for you. You might want to check out Scholastic, Evan-Moor, Jossey-Bass, ASCD, Kagan, Eye on Education, etc. Although I do have connections with people at each of these publishing houses, I cannot recommend your book to any of them. I’m sorry!
Be sure to ask lots of questions about the royalty rate you will receive. There are some publishers (none that are listed above) that will pay teachers a very small flat rate for their book and then the company owns the content and never pays out another dime. You’d do far better selling your book as a PDF on TeachersPayTeachers or TeachersNotebook than taking a flat rate from a big publishing house. Don’t do it! You deserve to earn profits from your book every time it sells–and books in the education genre should continue to sell well for many years.
Another path is to start your own publishing company. This is what I chose to do. I started my own business for both publishing and consulting services and called it Due Season Press and Educational Services. I established a PO Box and DBA, bought a block of ISBNs, and set up an account with Lightning Source (which does Print-On-Demand printing and handles all book distribution.) This was a relatively simple process that gives me full control over my books and cuts out the middle man: only Lightning Source and either Amazon or PayPal take a cut from my book sales. The other advantage is that I can do educational consulting and professional development services based on my books, all under one company that I own personally.
A third option–and probably the easiest, most common one–is to self-publish using Smashwords, Lulu, or another self-publishing service. Like starting your own publishing company, self-publishing also cuts out the middle man and maximizes your control and royalties. I don’t know a lot about the companies that offer these services, although I know many authors who have used Lulu and Smashwords, and most are pretty satisfied.
If you’re thinking about self-publishing, I highly recommend the book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard. Catherine kindly sent me a review copy of the Kindle version and I was thrilled to see that she spells out exactly what to do if you want to self-publish your book (or more accurately, self-print: when you read the book, you’ll understand the difference). Her blog Catherine, Caffeinated is also extremely helpful and has all kinds of great tips for anyone wanting to self-publish a book. Both the book and the blog provide a lot of information about promoting and marketing your books.
What About eBooks?
Formatting your book for mobile readers is not optional. You need to do it, and it’s a terrific way to make more money from your books because the delivery cost is so much lower than with print copies. By the end of 2009, I was selling more eBooks than hard copies, and each year since then, the ratio of eBook sales to hard copy sales has increased dramatically.
I use a company called eBook Architects to format my books for Kindle (MOBI) and ePUB, although you can do it yourself (and the book Self-Printed that I recommend above will walk you through you through the steps.) I like eBook Architects because I know that the formatting has been correctly completed for every eReader device and there is a lifetime guarantee on their work, so if the formatting requirements change, they’ll fix the books.
Getting the Word Out About Your Books
Most writers (myself included) HATE having to promote and market their books. However, it’s a little known fact outside the publishing world that even if you have a big publishing house behind you, most of the promotion burden still falls on the author. Publishers rely heavily on authors to blog about their books, share them on social media, promote their book tours, etc. It’s a simple fact: no one cares about your book more than you, so you’ll need to be the one to help spread the word.
I’m assuming as you read this that your book is neither written nor published yet, which is actually good in terms of promotion. That gives you time to build up a platform for yourself and connect with others through a website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. That’s the subject of another article (I touch on it briefly on the Becoming and Educational Consultant page) but the number one thing to remember is this: share high quality content and do it because you enjoy doing so.
If you don’t give away good content on your website/blog, no one will be interested in reading your book. Potential readers need to know what you’re all about and how you write in order to be assured that the book will be valuable to them. Find a way to blog that is enjoyable to you: if it’s not, then you’ll feel like your book is a burden and you’ll get frustrated with the fact that no one is reading it.
Where Should I Sell My Books?
99% of my book sales are made online, either through my website or through Amazon. School systems and universities also buy my books, but they find me online, contact me online, and complete the transaction online. Book stores and teacher supply stores never factor into the equation.
There are literally millions of new books being published, and brick and mortar bookstores simply can’t stock them all. And in 2012, you really don’t NEED a book store to carry your book. Because they have the widest selection of titles and their prices are rock bottom, Amazon has the lion’s share of book sales (and it’s increasing every year). Use that to your advantage.
You may find that it’s worthwhile to visit teacher supply stores in your area to try to get them to stock your book, but it wasn’t worth it for me. I was told that my local store orders all its products a year in advance and I’d have to come back in 9 months to even make my pitch. I’m not interested in working within old-school systems like that and didn’t pursue it. That was in 2009, though, and perhaps things have changed. They also might be different in your area.
There are a few in-person opportunities that HAVE been fruitful for me. If you do consulting or professional development, that’s a great opportunity to promote your books and make sales. Education conferences can also serve as networking places and lead to sales. Try pitching to your school district and see if they’re interested in buying copies, as well.
When Do I Get Rich?
Probably never. But the great thing about writing education books is that they have a long shelf life. The hottest novel only makes the New York Times bestseller list for a short time and then it’s forgotten. But a good education reference book can continue to sell very well for a decade or more. I first published The Cornerstone in 2008 and every year it sells more copies than the year before. In fact, this is true of all three of my books: the more people who stumble across my website, the more book sales I get. And with 75% of teachers quitting within the first 5 years, there’s a whole new crop of potential readers coming up all the time. I don’t mean to sound glib about teacher retention, but there’s certainly no shortage of new teachers who are looking for ideas, and as a writer/publisher, this works strongly to your advantage.
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