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Teachers As Writers: Have You Been Thinking About Publishing Your Best Lessons?

Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education Worlds Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Max Fischer shares his experience as an author of classroom activities and lesson plans. Since 1991, Fischer has published nine books. Included: Want to publish your teacher-created materials? Join the discussion!

Max W. Fischer

Dear Mr. Fischer:
Our review team loved your submission. We would be very interested in publishing your work . . .

With a combination of euphoria and incredulity, I read those lines in a letter from a publisher on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October 1991. After more than 20 rejections, someone in the world of education publishing saw the value in my social studies simulations! That acceptance letter was an Everest-like experience, which marked the start of my summer job as an education writer. I published my first book, _______, in _____.

Nine Books by Max Fischer

* American History Simulations
* World History Simulations
* Geography Simulations
* Ancient History Simulations
* Medieval Simulations
* The Mysteries of Antiquity: Lessons to Engage Middle School Students in Ancient/Medieval History
* The Math of Ancient History: Integrating Mathematical Problem Solving Strategies with History
* Health & Safety Curriculum, Intermediate
* Health & Safety Curriculum, Primary


During the past 11 years I have worked with various publishers on nine books. Along the way, Ive learned a few things that could profit teachers who might view themselves as potential writers:

Begin with what you believe is a great idea/story from which others could benefit. In my opinion, the most important maxim that applies to writing is that one needs to write about that which one knows. Some teachers might recognize when they have an idea or story worthy of presenting in written form, and they take the initiative readily. Many others, like me, need a catalyst to prod them along. After using simulations in my classroom for a number of years, some parents commented to me on how powerful those activities had been to their childrens learning. That confirmation was the spark that ignited my desire to write my first simulation book.

Believe in your idea. If you dont, who will?

Search out a publisher specific to your intended market. The first place to seek guidance is in the reference section of the public library where you will find a copy of The Writers Market. This compilation of publishers and their requirements gives prospective authors the complete rundown on hundreds of publishers. Of course, I zeroed in on educational publishers, specifically those that dealt with resources for social studies teachers. Visiting local teacher supply stores and asking for names and addresses of companies that might have interest in ones ideas is another good tact to take. Today one can also garner the names of potential publishers through an Internet search. There are hundreds of publishers out there. The more diligent you are in locating the ones who deal with your specific genre of material, the higher the chances are that you will be successful in getting published.

Write a brief (no more than one page) query letter. The Writers Market explicitly tells you what a publisher wants to see from your proposed manuscript. Invariably, they dont want the entire manuscript to begin with. In most cases, they only want a query letter. The query letter is just as important as your manuscript, maybe more so. A good query letter helps sell the manuscript by providing a sound foundation for the purpose of your work, its marketability, and a general description of your ideas. You must whet the acquisitions editors appetite in order to proceed beyond the publishers gate keeper.

Expect rejection. As mentioned earlier, my first acceptance arrived after 20 rejections. Actually, my first accepted manuscript came after only four months of pursuing publication. In retrospect, four months was an absolute lark! Replies from publishers begin in about two months, and some may not favor you with a reply for almost a year. While one publisher bought into my plans for subsequent books on social studies simulations, that same publisher had no interest when I floated the concept of health simulations. I had to search for more than a year and a half -- enduring dozens of letters that included the line, While your proposal looks interesting, it does not meet our current production needs -- before I hooked up with a firm that thought very highly about the need for simulations related to health education.

Never, ever give up. (This is the all important corollary to the aforementioned Believe in your idea.) I remember watching a television news magazine profile of Jean Auel, best-selling author of The Clan of the Cave Bear and five other books in the Earth Childrens series. She talked about receiving more than five-dozen rejection notices on her first manuscript. (She has since sold more than 35,000,000 copies of her work.) To me, Auel exemplifies the tenacity required to succeed as an author. In my most recent book, which presents a novel amalgamation of ancient history and mathematical problem solving techniques, I attempted to mimic Auels doggedness. After taking it on the chin from publisher after publisher for five years (Creative idea, questionable marketability), I finally decided to publish the book in a new way. My book, The Math of Ancient History: Integrating Mathematical Problem Solving Strategies with History, is published by Teachers Choice Press, which was created through a partnership of Education World and iUniverse. The twist in this publishing relationship is that I actually had to type the text of my book into an online template -- and I have to do some of the marketing. In turn, for a small fee, School Success Press makes the book available online through numerous on-line book retailers. The book is published on demand. I earn a royalty for each copy of the book that is sold. After five years, this is a trade-off Im willing to make in order to provide for teachers a more genuine means of integrating history with mathematics.

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The money teachers might earn by publishing their personal classroom materials normally will not allow them to leave their day jobs. Most publishers of resource materials pay a flat, per-page rate. However, the occasional awareness that other teachers are using my material successfully to motivate their students is as priceless as when I receive e-mails or letters from former students who want to let me know how much they appreciated my efforts with them.

In addition, my second career has dovetailed nicely with my teaching; my students over the past decade have benefited immeasurably from the works created in my summer job.

A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.

Article by Max Fischer
Education World®
Copyright © 2002 Education World

Updated 05/26/2004