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How to Reach the Education Market: Determining K–12 Market Fit, Market Placement, and Market Appeal

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“We
publish a series on natural history. How can we get teachers to buy it for
their students?”

 

“I
publish children’s nonfiction about friendship and other aspects of
interpersonal relationships. How can I get my books into the classroom?”

 

“I
wrote a civics text for today’s teens. How can I get it into the hands of high
school freshmen and sophomores?”

 

“We
publish illustrated children’s fiction. How can we get our storybooks into
schools?”

 

Questions like these reflect the
fact that the education market is really many different markets. Titles that
fit the category include:

 

·      Early childhood and pre-K
materials designed to stimulate development and reading readiness.

·      K–6 and K–8 textbooks,
workbooks, and other ancillaries for elementary education. Often the market for
them is divided into K–4 (primary) and 5–8 (intermediate). In some
subject areas, each grade level represents a separate market segment.

·      K–8 literature for school
libraries and reading programs.

·      Grades 6–8 and 7–9
textbooks and ancillaries for middle-school education. Definitions of <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>middle school

vary widely from state to state, and so does the existence of junior high
schools.

·      Grades 6–9 literature for
school libraries and reading programs.

·      Grades 9–12 and 10–12
textbooks and ancillaries for high school education.

·      Grades 9–12 young adult (YA)
literature for school libraries and reading programs.

·      ESL, bilingual education, and
foreign language programs at all grade levels.

·      Books for parents who home-school
their children.

·      Materials for special-education
and gifted-education programs and schools for students with disabilities.

·      Materials for educational programs
in hospital and correctional settings.

·      Materials for college preparatory
schools and AP programs.

·      Materials for parochial,
missionary, denominational, and proprietary schools.

·      College textbooks for
undergraduate courses at two- or four-year public and private institutions of
higher learning.

·      Academic and scholarly books for
graduate programs and university libraries.

·      Professional–technical and
reference works for adult education libraries, professional development
programs, and corporate resource centers.

·      Materials for postsecondary,
for-profit career training, civil service training, and training for
certification or licensing (e.g., books on nursing, accounting, homeland
security).

·      Materials for vocational and trade
schools (e.g., books on agriculture, aircraft, culinary arts, IT).

·      Materials for professional schools
(e.g., business, medicine, law).

·      Materials for international
schools.

 

Given the diverse nature of the
education market, the first step for publishers interested in it is determining
the subcategories appropriate for their products.

 

The most accessible education
markets for trade-book publishers are probably school and college libraries. If
you publish to the children’s book market, for example, school libraries and
K–8 reading programs might use your products. If you publish trade
fiction or nonfiction for preteens, teens, or young adults, middle school and
high school libraries and reading programs might use them. Likewise, your
reference works or professional–technical books may be marketable to college
and adult education libraries.

 

However, unless you publish
textbooks or adapt your trade books to curriculum and instructional needs and
standards, your products are not likely to be widely adopted for use by school
districts, schools, or teachers.

 

How Adoption Happens

 

Textbooks at all educational
levels must meet specified requirements and standards to qualify for adoption.
There are national standards for each discipline or domain of learning (e.g.,
mathematics, social studies), based on the recommendations of relevant academic
associations (e.g., Mathematics Association of America, National Council for
the Social Studies). National associations publish academic standards and
curriculum content guidelines for their areas, as well as standards for
instruction, degree requirements, and teacher training. Products intended for
educational markets must address these standards.

 

The state standards are the most
important for publishers with K–12 products, and they tend to have common
themes. Twenty-three states have state-level (rather than district- or
local-level) textbook standards and formal procedures for the adoption of
textbooks and non-textbook materials for teaching and learning (see <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/57/75/5775.htm
).
State standards for textbook adoption are readily available to the public, as
are adoption schedules and contact information for textbook adoption
administrators (see, for instance, the textbook adoption sites for Louisiana, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.doe.state.la.us/lde/ssaa/577.html;
North Carolina, www.ncpublicschools.org/textbook;
Tennessee, www.state.tn.us/education/ci/citextbooks.htm;
and Texas, www.tea.state.tx.us/textbooks/adoptprocess).

 

Although state adoption procedures
vary from state to state, they typically take the following course:

 

1. Boards of education or school
boards form adoption committees for each subject area for which textbooks are
being adopted. Committees may be established at the state, county, or district
level, depending on how centralized the state’s educational system is. Usually,
these committees include curriculum experts, classroom teachers, and
administrators across the various grade levels in which the subject is taught,
as well as laypeople.

 

2. Each adoption committee
determines what materials are needed and publishes its list along with the
state’s adoption standards. These standards cover curriculum and instruction,
specific textbook content, instructor and student supplements, manufacturing
quality, cost, delivery schedule, and other considerations that tend to make
textbooks expensive to produce and manufacture.

 

3. Publishers make competitive
“bids.” That is, they submit review samples of relevant products based on the
needs list. Some states require publishers to pay an entry fee (say $100) that
is used to fund the committee. Publishers also submit the state’s forms, on
which they explain in detail how their products meet each of the state’s
content standards. For example, a form might ask you to identify specific pages
and features in a book that demonstrate compliance with the state content
standard calling for “fair and accurate representation of cultural diversity.”

 

4. The adoption committee
evaluates the publishers’ samples and the information they provided on the
forms, ranks the samples, and in some states puts recommended books on display
so that parents, administrators, and teachers can view and comment on them,
sometimes through public hearings.

 

5. The committee recommends a list
of textbooks to the district board of education or state board of education for
final approval.

 

6. States, counties, districts,
and/or individual schools order from the list of approved textbooks.

 

Timing is everything with the
textbook-adoption process. States have adoption schedules that call for
approval of textbooks for a given subject every five to seven years. Products
for history, social studies, and health may be considered one year; products
for chemistry, English composition, and algebra the next; and so on. Evaluation
committees for a content area may be formed every other year. Reviews of new
products for a subject may take place only at three- to five-year intervals.
(Textbook-adoption schedules and contact information for textbook-adoption
administrators are readily available online via links on the state or district
textbook-adoption home pages.)

 

For example, in 2004–2005
the Commonwealth of Virginia evaluated textbooks for K–2 reading and
language arts, examining how candidates from each publisher correlated with
Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL). Publishers whose books were approved
won six-year contracts to supply Virginia with books for all students enrolled
at the given grade level. Reading and language-arts texts for grades 3–5
will be approved in 2005–2006. However, new books for K–2 reading
and language arts are not scheduled for review again in Virginia until 2011.

 

Understanding the timing of
adoption cycles—and the gaps between approval and sales and between sales
and revenue—is crucial for small publishers planning to make inroads on the
education market. This must be regarded as a large long-term investment.

 

As many as three or four years can
pass between approval and classroom placement, including the six to eight
months it takes for local schools to order state-adopted textbooks for their
students. Then there is the all-too-familiar time gap between shipment and
net-90-day payment at wholesale prices.

 

So why try? Well, you have chosen
to publish products for learners, and if you won a contract with the
Commonwealth of Virginia for your third-grade language-arts textbook, you would
have potential sales of 88,255 copies (based on the total number of
third-graders enrolled in Virginia in 2005–2006) in that state alone. If
every third-grader in Virginia used your book over the next six years, even at
deep discount, it would make a lot of money. And what if West Virginia,
Kentucky, and Ohio third-graders used your text as well?

 

You can see why there are big
players in the school markets—companies like Houghton Mifflin, Pearson
Education, McGraw-Hill, and the like—but there is a place for the small
education publisher too.

 

Best Bets for Smaller
Publishers

 

The secret of success for small
publishers in K–12 education markets is: Begin by publishing for local
and district school markets rather than competing in state markets.

 

In many states local school boards
are free to adopt educational products that are not on the state board of
education’s approval list, provided only that they meet content standards.
Also, some subjects—such as health, vocational education, character
education, art, or physical education—may not be even be included in the
textbook-approval process.

 

Make sure, nevertheless, that you
can correlate your products with national, academic, and state standards and
coordinate your efforts with state adoption cycles in the states in which you
choose to market initially. And you should also make sure you can offer
information to teachers or instructors on how they can use your product with
their students at their grade level in their classrooms with their curriculum.

 

Five steps will help you determine
market fit, market placement, and market appeal for your textbook or trade book
in education markets, and will enhance the chances of its adoption for
classroom use.

 

1. Find out which subject area
your book represents or fits best. This is not the same as the genre category;
it pertains to academic criteria and course descriptors, which you can
determine by reading state standards broken out by subject area, or by
examining college course catalogs. Then identify your book by subject area in
your promotional material.

 

2. For K–12 products, figure
out how your book meets relevant state standards and document this. Also figure
out how your book meets national standards for its subject area (search
“national standards” and “associations” with the name of the subject area).
Include this information in your promotional material. Also, bear standards in
mind later, as you revise products or develop new ones, so that you can appeal
to your customers more effectively.

 

3. Determine the grade level and
reading level of the writing in your book and the intellectual level of the
conceptual content by using readability tests. The most commonly used
readability tests are the Gunning Fog (also called SMOG), Flesch Reading Ease,
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, and Fry, but there are several others. Algorithms
or graphs for these tests are all online (search “readability”), and your word
processing program will calculate one or two of them for you automatically. If
readability is an issue for your product or its market, try a cloze procedure
(search “cloze”).

Taken together, readability tests
can give you a sense of how readable your content is and the ages or grade
levels for which it is most appropriate. You need to assess age or grade level
accurately to target your market and plan your marketing in relation to state
adoption cycles for the subject areas and grades, and to specify the grades and
chronological ages for which your book is most appropriate in your promotional
materials.

 

4. Find out what the curriculum is
for the your book’s grade level in its subject area. What is included in the
scope of study? What are students expected to learn, in what sequence? What are
the outcomes of study supposed to be, and how are teachers supposed to teach to
those outcomes? In light of these facts, determine how a teacher might find
your book useful.

 

5. Based on the research outlined
above, develop a teacher’s guide (or instructor’s manual or book club reader’s
guide or user’s guide) that explains specifically how teachers and students at
your book’s grade level with their curriculum in their subject area can use
your product to meet their objectives. Spell it out for them. School districts,
schools, teachers, and parents (and students) will order books that they can
see will help them do their job.

 

Four Stories

 

How might all this play out?
Let’s look back at the questions we started with.

 

“We
publish a series on natural history. How can we get teachers to buy it for
their students?”

 

The publisher found out that its
series fit the grade six science curriculum best. The books in the series met
common national and state standards for skill development in observation and
measurement, conceptual development concerning life cycles and environmental
adaptation, and effective objectives relating to principles of conservation. To
show all the correlations, the publisher printed short-run annotated teacher
editions of the books for targeted school districts in a few states that best
reflected the specific environments or natural history subjects in the series.
These state- or region-based teacher editions included practical suggestions
for using the series with the local curriculum, in conjunction with state-adopted
textbooks, and with respect to students’ actual environments.

 

“I
publish children’s nonfiction about friendship and other aspects of
interpersonal relationships. How can I get my books into the classroom?”

 

This publisher learned that her
books best fit K–4 social studies curricula and could be especially
attractive for secular character-education programs, conflict-resolution
programs, school guidance counselors, and charter or private schools
emphasizing moral or social development. She targeted school districts in a few
states with high-profile curriculum reforms in character education to test her
markets. She had her products reviewed and endorsed by a prominent educational
psychologist and sent samples to school counselors. She also co-marketed to
school districts and curriculum developers with a producer of games and
activities for K–6 character education. She plans to publish a line of
student workbooks and activity books to accompany her products.

 

“I
wrote a civics text for today’s teens. How can I get it into the hands of high
school freshmen and sophomores?”

 

The micropublisher with this goal
discovered that the reading level of his book was too high. Using
print-on-demand technology, he revised his text for the intended audience. In
his revision, he referred specifically to the
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>state social studies standards for civics, and he
added a section pertaining specifically to his state. Then he developed a
civics workshop with classroom activities, designed to coincide with
preparations for student class elections. He offered this workshop to civics
teachers in local high schools each fall. Participating teachers got free
examination copies of the text and promotional material showing how it would
help them meet curriculum standards, how they could use it in conjunction with
the state-adopted social studies text, and how its local applications would
benefit students. The publisher plans to expand his market by enlisting more
teachers, one by one, and then by adapting his civics text for other states in
his region.

 

“We
publish illustrated fiction for young children. How can we get our storybooks
into schools?”

 

The author-illustrator team that
produced these pre-K–2 products had placed them in bookstores and public
libraries using a wholesaler. Through a series of tests, they established
reading level, interest level, grade level, and age level. Also, they
classified the books in terms of categories of interest to educators (e.g.,
alphabet book, concept book, counting book, early chapter book, easy reader,
photo essay, picture book, read aloud, wordless book). Then, they identified
the specific prereading and literacy skills their books promoted and found out
how their books connected to the curriculum (e.g., in the areas of phonemic
awareness, rhyming, opposites, vocabulary, literary elements).

 

Recognizing that awards generate
prestige and endorsements that lead to widespread acceptance and sales for
illustrated children’s books, they applied for selected prizes. They got two of
their storybooks listed in the California Department of Education Reading List
(www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/readinglist.asp;
see also www.education-world.com/summer_reading).
Now they’re looking forward to getting books on other state education reading
lists as well.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka
publishes her own and others’ books on writing and publishing as Atlantic Path
Publishing, and conducts workshops on higher education publishing for authors
and editors. Her books in print include <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Writing and Developing Your College Textbook

(2003) and Writing and
Developing College Textbook Supplements
(2005). This article is
adapted from her forthcoming book <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Writing and Publishing for Education Markets
.
To learn more, visit www.atlanticpathpublishing.com.

 

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