Although the nonfiction genres are often popular amongst freelance writers, many don’t consider educational writing as a possibility for generating income. Educational writing takes a special set of skills and some well-honed writing techniques, but it can be a lucrative and satisfying field for a freelancer.
Let’s take a look at the world of educational writing, 21st century style.
Basic skills and knowledge
Having a good understanding of educational approaches and the basic schooling system in your country is an essential for educational writing. This knowledge will mean you can “talk the talk” and know what is currently topical in schools and other educational settings. For example, hot topics such as anti-bullying strategies, meeting diverse learning needs, and integrated learning across curriculum areas are all areas where there has been a significant and growing demand for resources. Changes in curriculum or frameworks provide opportunities for freelance writers as there will generally be a period of time where teachers and lecturers are seeking out new resources that are closely aligned to the curriculum requirements.
It is not always essential to have a teaching background to work as an educational writer, although many who do well in this sector do have teacher training. A good knowledge of practices, curriculum requirements, outcomes and forthcoming trends will help you stay current and able to adapt to changing demands.
Online research is critical in maintaining your knowledge, and it can be useful to establish a core set of reputable websites that can help reduce your research time.
Joining online forums and groups can also be helpful as this gives you access to a wide range of professionals across the world who are working in various educational sectors.
LinkedIn.com has a good set of educational groups you can join, although it is wise to use some discretion as some can simply lead to a very full in box and very little useful information, while others are highly informative and educational in their own right.
Print vs. digital skills
Apart from the ability to conduct high level online research, it is also important to stay ahead of the game when it comes to the digital platform. Digital publishing is where the educational writing sector is experiencing enormous change and growth as publishers, writers and schools alike do battle with the differing requirements and implications of print
versus digital publishing. Some publishers are sticking to the tried and true print model, some are publishing a blend of online and print resources, and still others are plunging feet first into the digital realm with interactive ebooks, apps, websites and game based learning experiences. My own experience with “going digital” has been a positive one, although it is an area where costs can blow out for minimal returns if you are not cautious.
I recently wrote a book, “Exploring Nim’s Island with Primary Students” which is aimed at a primary teaching audience. It draws on the cross curriculum approach and uses authentic learning experiences to meet outcomes in Science, English and Math for middle and upper primary students. As this was not a title that was likely to be picked up by a traditional print publisher I decided to go it alone.
I worked with a science specialist colleague to develop a downloadable PDF book which included teacher lesson guides, student activity pages and a comprehensive science experiment based around marine ecosystem research and the concept of ocean acidification.
The use of a PDF format allowed us to offer a significantly lower price for the book compared with a print resource, and utilize the selling point of the resource being almost
instantly available once the purchase had been made.
As a writer, the attraction of digital was that I could produce my own content in an area of interest, tailor a resource to meet a specific demand amongst teachers for authentic cross curriculum products and minimize my own risks and cost outlay compared to a traditional print book.
Networking for opportunities
The old saying of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is certainly true in the educational publishing sector. Conferences, online groups, forums, blogs, association meetings and trade shows all offer opportunities to network in positive and effective ways.
Networking is about far more than simply pressing a business card into someone’s hand and waiting for the phone to ring though. Do your research and plan your strategy before you attend an event, and make sure you have some overall goals in mind when you begin interacting with someone. Avoid the temptation to turn every interaction into a chance to “talk
shop” as this can become annoying and frustrating for publishers, agents and book sellers and is more likely to be a mark against your name than an advantage.
Sometimes it is more useful to build a wide network of colleagues and contacts over time, and then foster these relationships carefully and purposefully in the longer term. Some people tend to collect online contacts the way an in box collects spam mail, as a quick bit of Linked In research will confirm.
There are many folk who seem to inhabit the online world more often than the real one, and I have little doubt that, although there is some emotional benefit in perceiving yourself as having 500 plus “friends” in your life, it is doubtful they will all yield results in terms of sales or business opportunities.
Diversifying your skills
It is unlikely you will make vast sums of money working in a single area of educational writing and publishing (unless of course you are also acknowledged as a renowned expert on
a particular topic and can link writing with other activities such as speaking at conferences).
Diversifying and expanding your work into a number of sub areas is therefore critical, and gives you the added advantage of being able to manage your work flow more easily as some projects tend to be much longer term than others.
Some typical educational publishing areas to consider include:
- Educational magazines (print or online)
- Website content development
- Articles to support teachers, parents and students on various aspects of education
- Training manuals and student learning guides to meet the requirements of vocational training packages
- Copyable or printable student workbooks
- Teacher resource books
- Professional texts and smaller “easy to read” information books for teachers
- Readers for various grade levels
Try to plan your work well in advance so that longer term projects can overlap with shorter term ones such as articles and website content development. Make sure you allow enough time for your own promotion of your work, as most publishers these days expect that an author will make a contribution towards helping get a publication out into the marketplace.
Although educational writing might not be as glamorous or exciting as some other writing genres, it can certainly offer reliable income for a freelancer. You will have the chance to work on a diverse range of projects across many age groups and educational areas. And if you are still committed to that dusty fiction manuscript in the bottom drawer, you could always turn it into the basis for an educational article on “how to write creatively” while you wait for it to be noticed by a large multi-national fiction publisher!
About the author:
Anne Vize is a specialist author and small publisher who writes for the education, writing and aged care sectors. Her education e books can be found at the Authors Unlimited store of the Australian Society of Authors (https://authors-unlimited.org/author/anne-vize). Her latest titles include a guide to writing in the digital age Your Writing Futures—writing for the digital natives generation (Banksia Publishing) and Reading in the Moment written to help older people who have dementia enjoy the pleasure of reading (Speechmark).
Also by Anne Vize:
1. Taking Your Freelance Writing on the Road (article)