Have Any Teaching Experience? Break into Lucrative Academic Writing! By Linda R. Price

Have Any Teaching Experience? Break into Lucrative Academic Writing! By Linda R. Price

If you have teaching credentials, or years in the classroom, use these skills to write for academic publishers. Classic textbooks are revised periodically, and published year after year. In many cases, the professor does little writing, while farming out the actual writing to others. The big three textbook publishers – McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  – account for about 90 percent of textbook sales. Visit their websites for job listings.

Beginning in 2001, with the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress has challenged the states and local school boards to have all students perform at higher and higher levels of proficiency in order to obtain federal funding for the school district. This mandate has created more standardized tests for our students to take and guess who is writing those tests? You, the independent freelancer. A test that is given in California may be contracted out to others.  For example, I live in Florida, and have been contracted by a company in Illinois to write test items for the State of New York.

To write the test items, the writer must understand the Core Standards, or the individual state’s standards. Some companies offer a training course for the writers before assigning a specific band width and giving instructions on how to fill in the online template for the test items, their rationale, the source, the answer key, the Lexile measure, etc. This is serious stuff and a major business. Writing each test item takes several hours to complete. Getting it through the vetting and revision process may take even longer. The pay per item is around $100.

Many companies publish manuals to help students who are preparing for the CLEP or Advanced Placement Tests. SME ghostwrite these textbooks that only highlight the main points in each subject. ETS is the leading provider of these tests; the Big Three (see list above) the leading providers of the study manuals.

Certification manuals are published to help prospective teachers (and others) review their course work before sitting for the exam. K-6 teachers are expected to be versed in language arts, reading, science and technology, math, geography, social science, music, visual arts, physical education, health as well as general education principals and laws affecting the profession and their charges. Each of these areas requires a SME to write a brief review of the subject, and pose questions to help the individual evaluate his or her learning. A project fee can run several hundred dollars depending on how much actual writing is performed. Test items to accompany the manuals pay $3 approximately. In addition to the Big Three, major publishers are CliffsNotes,  Xamonline, Barron’sMometrix, and Kaplan.

Editing is another skill that teachers have developed from years of correcting student writing. The editor needs to be familiar with the three major style sheets in use today: the Modern Language Association, the Associated Press, and the Chicago Manual of Style. Different areas of the writing world use different stylesheets. Many researchers use the American Psychological Association’s (APA) style sheet while K-12 educators use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style sheet. Yet, when entering into the wider publishing arena, some publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style and newspapers stick with the Associated Press’ (AP) style sheet. Editing ranges from $0.048 per word for light copyediting or proofreading to $0.08 per word for substantial editing. Most websites requesting writers are also looking for editors.

To find freelance writing jobs in academics, search careers on the publishers’ websites, or peruse writing magazines. Look at the different online writing journals for freelance opportunities. I have found jobs on FlexJobs, LinkedInthe Freelance Writer’s Den, and Guru.

Good hunting!


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Linda R. Price has written for Xamonline, Metritech, Herlife Magazine, prime  and many in her career of over 10 years.  

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6 Responses to "Have Any Teaching Experience? Break into Lucrative Academic Writing! By Linda R. Price"

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  3. Nancy Oren  January 28, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Thank you, Judith, for laying things out the way they are. Like you, there’s no way I could work for Pearson or any comparable group. The situation was bad enough when I taught–before education devolved into test-taking. As a teacher, I took liberties to accommodate my students’ needs, taking time to encourage critical thinking. Unfortunately, when my students went on to their next teacher, they were given a hard time because they were “arrogant.” Actually, they were only curious and enthusiastic.

  4. Marsha Thole  January 28, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    Judith, your response could be the poster child for how education in this country has been dumb downed, and why the USA isn’t even in the top ten of countries with a good educational system. Thank you for exposing another aspect of how corporate America controls EVERYTHING, and why our high schools graduate dummies.

  5. Marsha Thole  January 28, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    I would liked to have seen some representative salary figures for this kind of writing.

  6. Judith Lloyd Yero  January 28, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    I’ve often thought about writing a similar article because I’ve done freelance educational writing for over 20 years after “retiring” from classroom teaching. Very few academic publishers actually create books in-house. In my experience, I’ve only worked directly for a publisher a couple of times. Most of the work comes through development houses, AKA book packagers. They take the outline that the publisher provides and hire freelance writers, editors, graphic artists, proofreaders, etc to actually put the book together. A couple of caveats…it takes time to establish yourself in this business. Beating deadlines and producing work that needs little or no editing will stand you in good stead with development houses, which are the “middle man” between publishers and freelance writers/editors. Consistently submitting impeccable work before the deadline lets project managers know that you can be counted on. Be aware that your contract typically includes one rewrite if they find it needs too much work. Giving them writing that never needs to be sent back is another major goal. But even with that, it took me several years to become established to the point where I was being given more work than I actually wanted.

    Another thing that crept up on me in recent years is the disconnect between what I’m asked to write and what, as a former teacher, I believe is in the best interest of children. For years, I’ve done nothing but write assessments and updates to textbooks based on Common Core Standards. Content is only revised to add specific words from the standards…not to make it fresher or more relevant to kids. I’ve seen how shallow the assessments are as well as the shallowness of Common Core standards, which focus on specific skills rather than deeper understand and analysis of the written work. So if you aren’t able to separate what you do for a living from your concern for children, you may feel that you’ve turned to the dark side. And to some extent, you have.

    20 years ago, writers were asked to write–create new content, such as stories and updated information in science, math, or social studies. Today, Pearson is widely despised in education because teachers are forced to shape their classrooms around their standardized bubble tests. Because big data requires single correct answers, forget about anything that can’t be answered by choosing a, b, c, or d–requiring only recall or recognition. Children have no time to actually work with the bits of information they are forced to memorize, so the only motivation for memorizing it is to get a good grade, which they are constantly told is the only path to “success.”

    I finally threw in the towel and refused to write assessments or to “revise” existing materials so that they align with standards, which is about 95% of the work available today. Yes, Pearson is the biggest name in educational publishing, but they are also the cheapest, which is probably why they make so much money. Development houses vie for contracts with Pearson because they are the biggest game in town…but they do it on the backs of freelancers who have to take less money if they want to continue working. And Pearson is also known for their “oh by the way” additions to what you have contracted for…with no increase in compensation.

    Academic writing has given me a good living for many years, but it is not without some serious ethical downsides.