Friday, May 13, 2016

Opportunities in Writing for the Educational Market — by Christy Mihaly

Many of our readers who are writers have asked GROG to post more information about educational writing, or work for hire (WFH).  And no wonder: Getting paid to write? Knowing that your editor wants your manuscript and will get it published it on schedule? Not having to worry about promotion or marketing? What's not to like? 
In today's post, I'm passing along some choice tidbits from the world of Work for Hire: news of two upcoming events, and words of wisdom from a bevy of WFH veterans.

Opportunity Knocks! If you're interested in writing for the educational market, check out two excellent opportunities—a conference and a workshop—happening next month. I attended one of these in 2014, and the other last year, and I highly recommend both. Though they're quite different, both offer high quality instruction and a chance to make great connections. At both, I've met wonderful folks, learned tons about the market, and made contacts that led to book contracts.
In chronological order:

June 10-12: The 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference, now in its fourth year, is a three-day event offering a huge selection of workshops and panels on children's nonfiction.  It will be held this year at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. Topics range from new nonfiction formats and specialized niches to audiobooks and video markets. Workshops cover educational innovations, magazines, science standards, incorporating greater diversity, the publishing process, and how to find work. Co-chairs Sally Isaacs and Lionel Bender have recruited forty-plus faculty members, including established editors and agents, best-selling authors, book packagers, educators, librarians, and marketing gurus. There are opportunities for paid consultations on manuscripts and proposals; there's plenty of time to schmooze with other serious nonfiction writing professionals; and the atmosphere is exhilarating. Fellow GROGger Todd Burleson and I attended in 2014 and blogged about it here. 

June 19-23: The Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing for the Educational Market, is a five-day program taught by two seasoned educational writers, Jan Fields and Paula Morrow. Held at the idyllic facilities of the Highlights Foundation, it covers fiction and poetry as well as nonfiction. In this intimate setting, a select group of writers learns about the practicalities of working for hire (creating and sending out writing samples, juggling multiple assignments, evaluating contracts), the craft of educational writing (with writing exercises and individual critiques), and the details of WFH niches including writing leveled readers and test passages. This year, visits with special guest editors are scheduled. The invaluable personalized attention at this workshop includes an expert review of participants' resumes. And the price of admission includes optional morning yoga! Last summer, I gained a better understanding of the educational market, some great ideas for getting work, and a circle of excellent WFH friends and colleagues.

So if you can find room in your schedule and your budget, consider signing up, and prepare to learn from the masters.

Not convinced yet? Wait, I have more. I asked a group of WFH writers to answer two questions for GROG readers. Here are their generous replies:

 Q: What do you love about Work for Hire? 
The writers I surveyed agreed on several themes:
  • Variety: Many writers enjoy switching back and forth between WFH and "passion writing." And there's lots of variety within the WFH work. Observes writer Jen Swanson: "I get to write about really cool technical topics in STEM. I get to work with a bunch of different editors  who have their own formats and structures, which I think makes me a better writer."

  • Money: The money is less than we'd make collecting royalties on a best-seller, yes. But the pay is reliable and can be steady once we're receiving regular assignments. So if you want to make a living as a writer, WFH has great appeal.
  • Clarity: With WFH, the writer knows precisely what the editors want. "What I like is that it's clear-cut," says writer and mentor Laura Purdie Salas. As she describes it, with work for hire, "many of the decisions are already made, and my job is to solve the puzzle of doing the best writing I can do that meets the criteria already set."
  • Publication: With trade books, you write and submit, wait, get rejected, submit, wait, revise, wait (you get the picture). This process may eventually result in publication, but it often seems to take forever. Many of us can't stand the waiting and rejection. With WFH projects, when you submit a manuscript, you know that although you may need to revise, you'll see that book in print before your toddler hits high school.
  • Educating kids: People who write for the educational market love knowing that their work is read by students and appreciated by teachers and librarians.
  • Educating ourselves:  Many WFH writers cited the joy of learning about new subjects, including, as Joanne Gise Mattern says, topics "I would never investigate on my own." Author Lisa Amstutz adds, "I love research, especially when I come across interesting tidbits that I know kids will love."

Q: What are your top tips for writers new to Work for Hire?
I'll just let these experienced writers speak for themselves: 

Study catalogs and get to know other people who work in this niche. 

Laura Purdie Salas 
Put together a great WFH package. Make sure you mention what topics you'd like to write about in your cover letter.  Your writing samples should reflect the age and topics you wish to write about. Most importantly, they need to "sparkle and shine", meaning they should be your best, most energetic, descriptive writing. The writing samples are what will land you the job!Jennifer Swanson 
Identify potential markets and approach them as they request on their website.  Jane Heitman Healy 

 My best advice for breaking in is to carefully study your target market and tailor your writing samples to their style. Your samples should reflect the age level and genre of the writing you want to do (e.g.,nonfiction picture books, middle grade fiction, etc.) 
 My top tips would be to research and investigate new markets and network, network, network with other writers and editors! Word of mouth is an amazing tool to finding new jobs.
—Joanne Gise Mattern 

And on that note, about-to-be published writer Annette Whipple shared this inspirational tale about getting her WFH start at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference: 
As an unpublished writer, I was thankful to make a contact through the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference. I sent her my resume and writing samples. A couple months later she asked if I wanted to write a book about insects. I only knew the general topic, word count, due date, and payment. But I said "yes," and the editor explained the specific topic and more detailed requirements for the book. I researched and wrote it in less than two months. Insects as Producers will be out in August. 
Congratulations, Annette!

For Further Reading: 

Writing for the Education Market provides an excellent community forum and job board. 
Evelyn Christensen generously compiles and updates an online list of Educational Markets for Children's Writers. 
At Mentors for Rent, Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard offer many resources including a how-to book for writers, Writing for the Educational Market.

And here are past GROG pieces introducing the basics of the educational market, and sharing more WFH stories: 
  • Tina Cho's 2014 informative posts about writing for the educational market, parts one and two; plus her review of Nancy I. Sanders' instructional book, here, and her interview with Ev Christensen, here.
  • My 2015 interview with Jen Swanson about her book Brain Games.


  1. Great post, Christy, and very complete. I'm bookmarking it!

    1. Jane, thanks for your contributions! And best of luck with more WFH.

    2. thanks for your contributition

  2. Wow, such a thorough post on educational writing. Thanks, Christy!

    1. Thank you Tina, that means a lot coming from you!

  3. Excellent advice! And I agree that network, network, network is important--as well as being prepared to write about anything!

    1. Those are truly words to (and from) the wise.

  4. Writing for the educational market comes in many shapes and sizes. Sounds like the experience gained, along with confidence would build a writer's skills and publishing credits.

    Thank you, Chris, for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

  5. Wonderful! I already do some of this, but hadn't actually considered it this closely in terms of WFH and education being combined. Which is odd, as I write activities and information for preschoolers! Gonna check this out some more. Thanks!

    1. Great, Angie, and good luck with your further investigations.

  6. Hi Christy, I really enjoyed reading your post. Lots of great information. Hope you are doing well. Was happy to see your name pop up!
    your pal from Falling Leaves....

  7. Great post, Christy! I did a WFH years ago, and it was a great experience. The deadlines were tight, but that just forced me to work a little harder. ;)

    1. Thanks, Patty! I love deadlines myself -- they help clarify priorities. :)

  8. Magnificient wrap-up, Christy. I'm sure Groggers will give serious thought to slotting one or both of these events into their travel & budget some year.

    One the books I've published one of my favorites is my WFH project where I was the photo researcher & quotation finder.

    Appreciatons for this post!

    1. Thank you Jan. Ooh, being a quotation finder sounds really fun!