Writing for the education market, says tutor George Ivanoff, has lead to a career filled with variety and ongoing learning. Ahead of his upcoming workshop, we talked to George about following briefs, meeting deadlines, and comparing boats to blue whales!
In your upcoming workshops, participants will learn how writing for the education market can be a great way into the children’s writing industry – can you tell us a little about your own experience in writing education titles?
I fell into educational writing through an author friend. I was putting all my efforts into trying to break into trade publishing, not even realising that education writing was an option. She was writing for a series of educational books and the publisher needed someone to write a non-fiction book about the scientific realities behind popular science fiction concepts. Knowing I was a HUGE sci-fi fan she recommended me. Once I had written my first education book, commissions for others followed. So, after the lackluster response to my first trade book, I spent ten years writing almost exclusively for the education market.
It’s been an amazing experience that’s allowed me to write on all sorts of topics, from Indonesian shadow puppetry to dinosaurs. I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, short school readers, chapter books and curriculum linked novelettes. The two things I love most about all this is...
1. Variety. The astonishing range of styles, topics and formats I’ve had the opportunity to write has been wonderful.
2. Learning. I’ve spend a large portion of my life in formal learning (I have a BA with honours in Soviet Studies, a Masters in Australian Studies, I spent three years at the National Theatre Drama School and I’ve done a bunch of different short courses), so it’s pretty obvious that I like learning and researching. Writing for the education market means LOTS of research. I love that! I love learning!
What are some of the differences between working with education publishers compared with trade publishers?
With trade publishers I usually initiate the creative process. I decide what I would like to write and I pitch it to them. And the finished product remains my property, the publisher having the rights to publish my words. I earn money from the product through royalties.
With trade publishers I never initiate the creative process. I’m told what is needed and I then come up with something to fulfill that need. And I don’t own the finished product. The publisher owns it and can do anything they want with it. Royalties are a rarity these days, with upfront payment being the standard model.
You will talk about getting a foot in the door at your workshop, but can you give us a bit of a sneak peek? Is most educational publishing done on a commission basis, or can you pitch ideas? Do you need to be a teacher, or have detailed knowledge of school curricula?
You don’t need to be a teacher (although many education writers do have a teaching background) or have prior knowledge of the school curriculum. I’ve never been a teacher but I’ve managed to make a career out of this sort of writing. Most publishing is done on a commission basis and the brief will usually include all of the curriculum links that you will need. Two of the main qualities you do need for this sort of writing are the ability to follow a brief and the ability to meet a deadline.
Your ‘You Chose’ books offer young readers an interactive reading experience, in which their choices affect how the story progresses – what a great way to engage reluctant readers! How do you engage readers in an educational text if the subject matter is a little less exciting?
With non-fiction I try to relate things as often as possible to what kids will find interesting. So if I’m writing about the size of a particular boat I might compare it to the size of a blue whale. If I’m writing about life on a space station, I’ll be sure to mention how eating, drinking and toileting in space differs to those same activities on Earth. When I’m writing fiction, I’ll be thinking back to when I was a kid and the sorts of things that interested me. And I’ll talk to my own kids about what interests them. And, of course, humour! Kids love funny stuff!
You have written over 100 books for children and young adults, as well as countless articles, and appear regularly at events around Victoria. I feel like we should end with a question about time management! What advice can you offer writers on how to make time to pursue their writing goals?
These days I’m a full-time writer, so I work 9 to 6 with breaks for school drop-off and pick-up. I usually have multiple projects on the go, so it’s a matter of prioritising. I work out the order of deadlines and start with whatever is due first, then work my way through the projects. I’m not all that wonderful at this. Sometimes it works out well. But often I find myself writing until 2am for several days in a row in order to meet deadlines. :-)
Before both my kids were at school, I had to work my writing in and around being a stay-at-home parent. That was a lot harder! So that meant squeezing the writing time in where ever I could. I did a lot of writing on weekends when my wife looked after the kids, or in the evenings after the kids were in bed. I also wrote during nap times, at the park while the kids were playing or as they were destroying the house around me.
About George Ivanoff
George Ivanoff is a Melbourne children’s author with more than 100 titles under his belt. Although best known for his ‘You Choose’ series and ‘RFDS Adventures’, he has written intensively for the education market. He’s won a few awards, including a YABBA, and has books on the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge booklists.
About Amy Adeney
Amy Adeney is a Writers Victoria intern. She is a primary teacher and founder of Busy Bookworms, a bookclub for preschoolers.