Writer's toolkit

9th March 2001 at 00:00
So you want to be a textbook writer? Diana Hinds offers a step-by-step guide and, overleaf, introduces leading educational publishers.

Teachers who want to branch out from the classroom could do worse than try writing a school textbook. While it may lack the glamour of, say, writing a novel or a film script, as the author of a successful textbook you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have contributed to the knowledge and understanding of thousands of students. In your own classroom, developing and clarifying your ideas into book form may make your teaching easier, allowing you to ditch pages of notes and handouts. And seeing your name on the front of the book will enhance your authority in the eyes of your students. Then, of course, there is the financial reward - rarely huge, but a useful supplement to a teacher's income.

As Anthony Haynes, editor at Continuum International Publishing Group, points out in his forthcoming book, Writing Successful Textbooks (Aamp;C Black), there is no great secret about what makes a good textbook. Most teachers would agree that good textbooks should be authoritative, comprehensive, pitched at the right level, clear, organised and up to date. And most educational publishers would agree that teachers are the best people to write them - because of their classroom experience and understanding of how children learn.

But producing a winning title can be surprisingly difficult, especially for a first-time author, and it is as well to know something of the publishing business before you start. National curriculum and examination demands are doing nothing for new writers' opportunities, and the pace of curriculum change means some publishers tend to rely on authors they already know to produce books quickly, rather than trying out new ones. But Andrew Thraves, institutional publishing director at Letts Education, believes the educational publishing industry does itself a disservice by using too many of the same authors, and he is keen that more first-time writers should have a go. "Publishers, at the end of the day, always want to find new talent, because that is the lifeblood of the industry," he says.

* Writing a book proposal. It is seldom a good idea to slog your way through an entire manuscript before making an approach to a publisher. Most educational publishers would rather see a well-researched and thorough proposal that shows why your book is needed and why you are the best person to write it.

Market research may sound alien to a teacher, but don't be put off. It means studying publishers' catalogues to assess the competition, looking at publishers' websites, talking to colleagues about books they are using and checking out displays at exhibitions and conferences.

"If you can show publishers that you have looked at the market and what is around, they will take the view that you know what you're talking about," says Andrew Thraves.

Your proposal should give a detailed analysis of the product and its intended market, and maybe a contents list and sample material to show your style. You should also try to establish a unique selling point - what it is about your book that gives it distinctiveness and added value (for instance, plans for regularly updated case studies on a related website). Use your research to help you determine which publishers are most likely to be interested in your proposal, rather than simply sending it to all of them. Then, even if this doesn't come naturally to you, sell yourself as much as you can.

* Working with your publisher.

A publisher who likes your ideas may well want to send out sample pages for trial in schools before giving you a contract. Tim Gregson-Williams, deputy managing director at Hodder amp; Stoughton Educational, emphasises the importance of an author "being ready to collaborate with the editor, and to accept critical input without taking offence".

Approaching a book in a professional way also means meeting deadlines. And finding enough time to write can be one of the biggest obstacles; don't underestimate how long it will take you.

Because of time pressures, and the increasing need to get books out fast, Fiona Clarke, managing director at Oxford University Press, says it is becoming more common for teams of teachers and educationists to work together on a book, with possibly an experienced writer coming in at the end to tie it all together.

* Writing the book. "Most teachers can write," says Andrew Thraves. What matters is the ability to write at the appropriate level for your target audience. Accessibility, directness of approach and a knack for simplicity are key ingredients, says Tim Gregson-Williams, as well as a flair for writing that will engage the reader's interest.

First-time authors sometimes succumb to the temptation to use unnecessarily complex language in their attempts to impress. But as Anthony Haynes puts it: "The most intellectually confident people are those most prepared to write simply." His book contains useful hints on style and structure.

Geoff Barton, an English teacher and author of English textbooks since 1989, advises teachers to stick to what they know works in the classroom. In terms of style, he adds: "The writing must be crystal clear and not patronising. There can be a danger of writing in a kind of Blue Peter-speak."

* Keeping up with ict. Most educational publishers believe electronic publishing poses little threat to the future of the textbook - although many of them are already producing electronic material alongside their books. At present, says Anthony Haynes, the book is still the main product, supplemented by internet updates and web links. In the future, he predicts, "it will become de rigueur to support textbooks with websites".

Meanwhile, prospective authors should be reasonably conversant with web technology, and be aware of how well placed a publisher is to exploit the potential of electronic text. "Increasingly, teacher-authors are going to have to think not just in terms of the printed page, but of the whole package," says Fiona Clarke. This does not mean being a technological wizard - there will be others to do that for you. But be prepared, at the very least, to be updating and adding to your book on the web as you wait for the next edition to come around.


* Cambridge University Press is a charitable enterprise that publishes educational materials for the foundation years through to A-level.

At primary level, CUP is known for numeracy and literacy schemes. At secondary, Cambridge is strong in science, English and mathematics, and is the market leader in classics.

New authors should write to Rosemary Tennison, publishing director, with a brief outline and proposed contents list.

CUP, Cambridge CB2 2RU. www.cambridge.org

* Collins Educational is part of HarperCollins, and publishes children's books, dictionaries and reference books covering the full curriculum for primary, secondary and FE.

Particular strengths at primary are literacy, numeracy and science, and at secondary, English, maths, science and languages. Collins is also known for its social sciences and GNVQ publishing.

Future publishing is researched by Collins commissioning editors.

Collins Educational, 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 8JB.www.CollinsEducation.com

* Heinemann Educational, part of Reed Elsevier, is one of the largest UK educational publishers.

It is a leading primary publisher in literacy and numeracy. At secondary, Heinemann is strong in maths, science, English and modern languages, and has a commanding GNVQ list. The past year has seen a focus on the new AS and A2 courses.

Most publications are developed after extensive consultation with teachers, so unsolicited material is rarely published.

Teachers with ideas, or those wishing to be involved in trialling new material, should contact Christa Griffiths.

Heinemann Educational, Halley Court, Oxford OX2 8EJ.www.heinemann.co.uk Hodder amp; Stoughton Educational, part of the Hodder Headline group, is one of the UK's leading secondary school and college publishers, providing material across the curriculum.

Humanities publishing has long been a speciality, but the core subjects are also growing fast. Hodder is strong in A-level publishing, particularly in psychology.

The company is always pleased to discuss ideas, and likes new authors to give some thought to the market and competition.

Hodder amp; Stoughton, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH. www.hodderheadline.co.uk

* Longman is part of Pearson Education, one of the world's largest educational publishers, and produces materials for primary and secondary in all subject areas.

Literacy is one of Longman's specialities at primary level. Publications include two major reading programmes and, a recent success, Pelican Big Books.

At secondary level, Longman publishes popular courses and resources in all subject areas.

New authors should write to the publishing director, schools division, and should include a brief synopsis plus sample material.

Pearson Education, Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Essex CM20 2JE. www.longman.co.uk

* John Murray Publishers was founded in 1768 and remains independent. Its educational division specialises in secondary school publishing, and has won the TES prize for the best textbook more times than any other publisher.

The company is strong in history and science, and has fast-growing lists in geography, modern languages, mathematics and religious education.

New proposals are carefully evaluated and authors supported by in-house and external advisers.

John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BD. www.johnmurray.co.uk Nelson Thornes, a subsidiary of Wolters Klewer, the multinational information services company, was formed when Stanley Thornes and Thomas Nelson merged in January 2000.

It is a leading publisher of educational books, CD-Roms and online teaching materials, at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. It is also one of the first publishers to offer teachers a comprehensive set of web services.

Recent publications include, at primary level, Primary ICT, and a series of teachers' resource books on citizenship. At secondary level, Spotlight Science incorporates teacher's material on CD-Rom and more differentiated support. Getting IT Right is applicable to all secondary subjects.

Nelson Thornes, Delta Place, 27 Bath Road, Cheltenham GL53 7TH. www.nelsonthornes.com

* Oxford University Press, founded in 1478, has become one of the largest school publishers in the UK, producing primary and secondary-level books and materials across the curriculum.

The Oxford Reading Tree - used by more than 18,000 schools - is the UK's most popular primary reading scheme. Its characters now appear in The Magic Key, shown on BBC Schools' and Children's Television.

At secondary level, OUP publishes a wide range of books in English, modern languages, maths, science, and all major curriculum areas.

New authors should send a proposal outlining basic concept, proposed outline and sample materials where possible, to the primary or secondary editorial department, OXED, Oxford University Press.

OUP, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP. www.oup.comukoxed * The Educational Publishers Council is a division of the Publishers Association. It represents more than 80 publishers of educational books and teaching materials. It also provides statistical data and background materials on school books and publishing, including surveys of school book spending.



More than 100 publishers will be attending the Education Show at Birmingham's NEC from March 22-24.

This year, in addition to the popular seminar programme, the publishers' village will have its own stand where teachers can meet authors and publishers and find out about the latest education titles. Resources 2001, previewing the show, will be published with The TES on March 16.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today