Back in February, my good friend John Norton interviewed me for Middleweb — one of the single best resources for middle school teachers that I’ve ever seen. In the interview, John asked me specifically about writing professionally. He said:
Lots of teachers we know have it in the back of their minds (and sometimes closer to the front) to write a book. You’ve done it, several times, with a full time teaching load, a new baby , a busy blog — the works. How does that happen? Give us the Top Five Things Busy Teachers Need to Know about Writing a Book.
Here’s what I wrote:
The Top Five Things Busy Teachers Need to Know about Writing a Book.
1) Know that publishers WANT your work.
One of the first barriers that teachers who want to be authors need to hurdle is recognizing that publishers REALLY DO want to hear what full-time classroom teachers have to say. We’ve been inadvertently taught over the course of our careers to believe that books are written by experts, not teachers. The fact of the matter is that most publishers understand that classroom teachers ARE the experts. If you’re willing to put the time into writing a book — especially a book that shares practical teaching strategies — publishers will line up to see what you have to offer.
2) Start blogging NOW.
When people look at my work, they often ask, “How do you find the time to blog AND write books?” What they don’t realize is that much of the content that ends up in my book STARTED as a post on my blog. In fact, if you read through the Ed Tech and PLC posts on my blog, you’d probably get a really good sense for what you’d see in any of my books. Granted, the work in my books is far more organized and polished than the work on my blog, but there are clear parallels between the two spaces.
For teachers interested in being authors, that’s an important lesson to learn: A blog can give you chances to polish your ideas. Just as importantly, you can get feedback on the kind of content that resonates with an audience. When a post takes off for me, I know that it’s probably worth incorporating into the work that I do beyond my blog. Finally, bloggers build their own audiences — which can help to convince a publisher to give you a book contract. When a publisher sees that I have 3,000 followers on my blog and another 7,000 followers in Twitter, they know that I’m doing something right.
3) Don’t expect to get rich quick.
The not so sexy side of educational publishing is that a book isn’t going to make you all that much money by itself. After grinding hard to write four books in three years, I probably pull in $8,000 per year in royalties off of book sales — and because sales of individual titles tail off after 3 or 4 years, I’m constantly working on the next book. That means you have to want to write for the sake of writing — you have to see writing as a way to reflect and to improve your own practice — instead of seeing writing as a ticket to financial security.
4). Stick to strategies, not stories.
Most teachers that I know who are interested in writing a book want to tell a story of some kind. Maybe it’s the story of how they were drawn to teaching to begin with or the story of helping students to overcome incredible challenges. Maybe it’s the story of how their school is changing lives and communities. And while those kinds of stories are beautiful and energizing to read, they’re also a dime a dozen.
More importantly, those stories don’t make up the kind of books that teachers — who are your most important market — are likely to buy. Instead, they want books centered around teaching/learning strategies. Sharing the ins-and-outs of what works with kids is WAY more important than waxing poetic about our profession. If you use some pertinent story-telling to illustrate your strategies, great.
5) Set aside time to write EVERY WEEK.
Sometimes teachers who are interested in being authors forget that writing — like golf or cooking or reading or running or parenting — is a skill that improves with practice. That means if you want to write — and more importantly, you want to write efficiently and effectively — you’ve got to do it often. Every Tuesday night, every Friday night, and every Sunday morning, I spend time behind the keyboard writing.
I might be posting on my own blog. I might be crafting a draft of a chapter for a book. I might be putting together an article for a magazine or adding comments on the blogs of other educators that I follow — but I’m writing. A lot. That investment of energy matters if you want to craft products that other people want to read.
Long story short: Writing a book is doable, y’all — as long as you are willing to believe in yourself, practice your craft, and make your ideas transparent to the world! Being published has given me the chance to raise my voice and reflect on my practice all at the same time.
Related Radical Reads: