Advice for Writers from the Top of the Slush Pile

By Kyra Ostendorf, publisher at Free Spirit Publishing

Advice for Writers from the Top of the Slush PilePicture a crowded exhibit hall at a national educators conference. There are so many resources to browse through. Do you have a favorite booth to visit—one where you are likely to see new books that will inspire and support you? What is it about those books, that publisher even, that appeals to you?

Now picture your reading pile or your professional library at work or at home. Is there a topic or theme that stands out? Something you’ve been reading and learning about that excites you?

My bookshelf includes groundbreaking titles on anti-bias education. It includes books with inspiring photographs of engaging classrooms and outdoor learning spaces. And it includes guidance on leadership and systems-thinking.

Many of the books on my shelves are ones I have invited authors to write, and some are ones I have edited. If you have been thinking about writing a book or have had colleagues suggest that your work should be shared more broadly, I encourage you to consider submitting a proposal.

Writing an educational resource book is a labor of love. It’s a lot of work, to be blunt. The following points are ones I share with prospective authors on a regular basis.

  1. You must have a perspective through your own experiences that builds on and adds to the collective body of resources on your topic. Read what’s already been written about your topic and be able to articulate how your proposed book fits in and is different from what’s already been written.
  2. Know your audience! There are many roles within our educational settings—who is your book for? Your writing style and tone should appeal to your audience.
  3. Present some of your content in a trial run at educational conferences. Publishers love it when authors present at conferences, and it will help you get feedback on the content while it is still in development.
  4. When you’re ready to submit a proposal, do your homework to identify potential publishers. It may be the one whose booth you visit each year at a conference. But it could be another one! The back cover, spine, and copyright page of every printed book include the name of the book’s publisher. Find books that are similar—but not the same—as the one you want to write. Those are the publishers you should look into further.
  5. Many educational publishers list submission requirements on our websites and invite unsolicited submissions. Be sure to include all the required information to ensure a timely review.

Once you have your topic, audience, and direction for your writing, it’s time to write! Things to consider:

  • Figure out where and when to write. Think about how you prefer to work and identify a place and time that will allow you to write without being interrupted. Some authors commit to writing a certain number of words every day before work; others find a quiet place for a long weekend and write several chapters.
  • Decide how to write. Most authors these days type directly into a Word file, but there are other options. Dictation software can be helpful in capturing your ideas, especially if the tone of the writing is conversational in style.
  • Walk away! It can be helpful to let a draft sit for a few days or a week, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Read it as if you are the person it was intended for. Does it flow? Are there jumps in thought that need to be bridged? Are there terms that need to be explained? Should more stories be added to help make a point?
  • Prepare for multiple reviews and reworkings. From first draft to finished book, there are multiple editors and reviewers providing feedback and direction. Publishing is a very collaborative process and one that most authors find rewarding. I know I have as an editor and now as a publisher.

There are many resources available for writing. My last piece of advice is not to spend too much time reading about how to write. Rather, start writing what you know—the words will flow and the next thing you know, a sentence becomes a paragraph, becomes a page, becomes a chapter, and you’ll have written a book!

Kyra OstendorfSince January 2019, Kyra Ostendorf has served as publisher at Free Spirit Publishing. She oversees the day-to-day operations of the company and supports its mission to meet kids’ social, emotional, and educational needs. Prior to joining Free Spirit, Kyra was vice president of education at Kaplan Early Learning Company, where she managed the editorial and production work for Connect4Learning®, a comprehensive prekindergarten curriculum. She was also the acquiring editor at Redleaf Press. Kyra has served on the board of the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC) and the Minnesota School-Age Care Alliance (MnSACA) and was a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) affiliate council’s executive committee. Kyra holds an M.Ed. in early childhood education from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. from Macalester College.

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