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Monday, January 21, 2008

Who writes all those leveled readers?

The company I work for publishes textbooks and supplementals with lots and lots of leveled readers. I can walk into a room and be surrounded by a few hundred little books that someone had to write. I don't hear huge discussions on freelancers, only the occasional "I need a proofreader. Someone good. Someone fast. Please! Does anyone have any proofreaders I can contact?" wafting by my cube. (Okay, that's only happened once, but yes, as a matter of fact I did have some proofreading contacts.)

I work in a completely different department than those who produce those little books. So I pop my head over the cube and ask, "Where does the manuscript come from?"

"From the vendor," comes the reply.

I walk around the cube wall, eyebrows raised. "Vendor?"

"Sure," the voice continues. "We don't write anything here. It's all vendors like..." The voice went on to name a few, including spellings and pronunciations. Very helpful, that voice. It's amazing what you can find out if you just ask.

So, in the interest of learning more. I will send you to a couple of articles I read recently on working for hire. The Work-for-hire question at The Writing for Children Resource Site discusses the pros and cons of write-for-hire work. And Jenna Glatzer talks about writing for hire in Book Packaging: Under-explored Terrain For Freelancers. She mentions some book packagers as a jumping off point, as well. I believe those 'vendors' in my story might also be known as book packagers.

And to start us down that road, check out Tighe (pronounced Tie) Publishing Services, Inc. (TPS), a full-service educational development house.

Have you worked with an educational development house? If so, can you tell us about your experience?



Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

I write leveled readers. I've also done a lot of fact-checking/proofreading of documents, so if you're looking for writers/editors, I hope you'll let me know.

Catherine Ipcizade
catherine ipc iz ade at yahoo dot com

mara said...

I've worked for packagers (also known as developers, or from the point of view of the publisher, "vendors"). There are two main downsides to adding this extra layer. One is that working for packagers generally pays less than working directly for publishers, because the packager is a middleman and takes a cut. The other is that since you, as the writer, are not working directly with the editor at the publishing house, it is harder to find out exactly what is wanted, and therefore you're likely to end up doing a lot more rewriting.

Still, it's an okay way to get started in educational publishing. Packagers are always looking for writers and may be more open to looking at resumes. (Publishers, in my experience, take on new writers almost exclusively by word of mouth.) Two packagers I can recommend are Gare Thompson and Trillium.

mara said...

Oh, one more thing about packagers. Typically, the "main" book written for students (called the SE or PE, for Student Edition or Pupil's Edition) is handled by the publisher, while ancillaries often get farmed out to packagers. So if you work for a packager, you're most likely to find yourself writing such things as TE wrap (the annotations that go in teachers' editions) or workbook exercises. Leveled readers are an exception, where you actually get to write fiction or nonfiction for kids.

laurasalas said...

I've written a few leveled readers--some directly for the publisher, others for packagers.

I'll echo what Mara said about packagers. Another downside to packagers is that it's harder to get author copies of your work. I've had books published that I don't have a single copy of. That's kind of frustrating.

I've worked with Trillium, as well, and enjoy working with them. Very professional! Ditto for Bender Richardson White in the UK.

A different packager I worked with was kind of a disaster. The project was not well-managed and this made more work (lots more work) for all the writers. I heard this from other writers who wrote for them, as well.

I think it's also good to start with a small project for a packager, and see how you like working for them, before you take on a multi-book deal or something like that!

Thanks for starting this blog, Laura. Lots of great tips!

Anonymous said...

I worked with Shakespeare Squared a few years ago.They hired me to co-write some grade-leveled activity books for grades k-6. I really enjoyed the work, but the client they were working for ultimately decided not to publish the books. Still, I enjoyed working for them and the pay was actually very good.

Laura Coulter said...


I'd be glad to post a link to your professional site in the Education Writers list. Let me know how you want to be listed. See the others as examples. Feel free to email me directly.


Laura Coulter said...


Do you mean Gale Thompson? Gale Thompson was sold last spring. I did some work for PRGAustin, one of the Gale Thompson companies, but they are now dissolved... sniff. The new company is doing business as Cengage Learning. I've mentioned them here early on and I'm about to mention them on the blog again. (Look for it!).


mara said...

I mean Gare Thompson Associates, which was still in business as of last summer. There are a lot of similar names in publishing, aren't there!