Five Things Busy Teachers Need to Know About Writing a Book

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:

Unleashing Your Inner Author and Getting Published

  • ReneeMoore

    Thanks for the Nudge

    That book is getting closer (to the front of my mind); now if I can just get it up higher on my To Do list….

    • DavidCohen

      Please do

      Write that book!  I would definitely buy a few copies of anything by the amazing Renee Moore!

  • Diana Beasley

    Writing a Book

    Great advice, my friend, even if I err on the side of waxing poetic : )


  • ArielSacks

    Great points!

    Bill, I remember reading your interview earlier this year as I was writing my first book!   The list is just as pertinant now.  You are an inspiration–thank you!

    • DavidCohen

      Where is it?!

      Can I get a copy of your book yet?!? All these TLN authors are going to drain my book budget!

  • DavidCohen

    Thanks, Bill

    It was such a treat to spend some time with you in Raleigh last week! Your encouragement got me started on my own blogging (still going well into year 4 now), and yours is often the voice in my head answering me when I’m thinking, should I take a chance? Is this worth trying?

    Will keep you posted regarding “the big idea”!

    • AnneJolly

      A couple of other points . . .

      Great suggestions on writing a book!  I might add a couple of other points.  

      • Plan to start over a lot.
      • Prepare to look at what you wrote the day before and mutter, “What the heck was I thinking?”
      • Find a little applet that looks like you’re wadding up and throwing virtual paper. (With the advent of computers I don’t wad up and throw real paper at the walls anymore.) 
      • Lose any idea wisdom will flow in a ceasless stream from your brain to the keyboard.  It won’t. 
      • Plan to sit down and write when you’d rather do something else . . . anything else!
      • Know that in the end, you’ll be glad you did all that! 


  • WendiPillars


    Super suggestions, Bill. Hard-earned insights, no doubt! But you make them seem manageable. Plus, with your thoughts and those in the comments, it makes my own thinking, frustrations, and ideas seem almost “normal”! 

    It’s always a boost to read your writing, Bill. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned along the way!

  • Mary Anne Lock

    Thank you! I was always a

    Thank you! I was always a successfull writer in my schooling and educational carrier; however, lately it’s been painful. Perhaps it’s because I am trying to second guess what someone else wants to hear.

    I always enjoy your posts!

  • marsharatzel

    Good advice

    I think the hardest thing is thinking that anything you have to say is something that someone else really wants or needs to know.  Everything we do is so specific to our own personality and our kids….that’s where I’ve struggled to believe this is a do-able thing.

    I’m working on it.  And I think the end is almost in sight. 

  • billferriter

    Sorry for the late reply!

    Hey All Y’all: 

    SUPER sorry for taking so long to reply — especially with so many friendly faces in my comment stream!  I enjoy all of you times ten — so to have missed your replies when you posted them bums me out.  I’m still trying to work out a system for replying to comments here on the new Radical.  I don’t get the same kinds of notifications of new comments that I used to.  That makes it harder to reply.

    Second, know that ALL of you have inspired me over the years.  Your writing is terrific and your ideas are even better.  I feel that who I am has been shaped by who all of you have challenged me to be. 

    I can’t wait to read everything that all y’all decide to write!

    Rock on, 


  • The Dixie Diarist

    Special Ed Fine Arts and Literture Teacher

    Set aside time to write … as much as you possibly can!  I did!  You can do it once you get in the groove and those close to you know what you’re up to.  Get in the groove.  Be passionate about what you have to say.  Be brave.  Write so well it scares you.