Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Interview with children's education author, Tina M. Cho
Let’s see how that started. What made you make the transition from teaching into writing for children?
We had moved to CA, and because of the current economic status, most schools were not hiring elementary teachers. I decided to look into something else I had always wanted to do...writing for children. It's my dream to have a picture book. I want to leave a legacy for my children.
You found your first critique group through SCBWI. How many meetings did you attend before you brought in your first manuscript for review?
Nancy Sanders, the group’s leader, invited me to her critique group, CHAIRS, and told me I could bring a story. That first meeting, I brought a manuscript.
I understand it got good reviews from the critique group. What was that piece about? What happened to that story?
My first piece was a Christian fiction story for Pockets Magazine, about a 6th grade girl with a terrible attitude, who had to travel with her family on Thanksgiving. I rewrote it according to the critique group's suggestions, and then submitted it to the magazine. It was rejected.
How did you get involved with writing for the education market?
Some ladies in our CHAIRS group wrote for a Christian school's reading curriculum, and they invited me to join. I got connected with the editor and started writing about 2 stories a month for them. They gave Christian themes and a word list for their leveled reading stories. In fact, one of these stories was my very first story to be accepted. I still write for them and have written 38 stories now. This was my first work-for-hire assignment.
Having a teaching background helps me, as I am familiar with many educational publishers. I also like writing for teachers. So I came across an ad writing activities for education.com, and wrote 41 activities for them. I also submitted a lesson plan which was accepted by the educational publisher, Gryphon House, for their anthology of lesson plans called Learn Every Day about Our Green Earth.
How do you find your leads for writing for the education market?
I find most of my leads online. I read Writer's Weekly, Writing for Dollars, Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Marketplace Blog, and another lady I'm in a critique group with, Ev Christensen, has a wonderful list of educational publishers http://www.evelynchristensen.com/markets.html
Tell me how this 16 book set for Lakeshore Learning.How did it begin?
Since I was still hunting for a teaching job, I also read the Los Angeles Times Career Builder online. I came across an ad by Lakeshore wanting an educational writer, someone with a teaching background! Of course, I had heard about Lakeshore, they are the "Cadillac of educational resources" in the teaching world. My co-teachers and I used to drool over their catalogs, wanting all their stuff. But as teachers, we were too poor to buy most of the products.
What were the guidelines from Lakeshore?
I submitted my teaching and writing resumes and the project manager emailed me with a writing test. I had to write 3 short samples on three different grade levels with questions and answers, according to their directions. For the project that was assigned to me, the product developer already had in mind which phonic rules would be emphasized for each book. My guidelines were the phonics rule, word count, grade level, and supporting nonfiction facts with a bibliography. I was free to come up with the topic for each book. I also had to give illustration guidelines, for exactly what I had in mind.
Do you work as a team with others?
I attended a meeting for this project, walking into a room of about 10 other people. I could have died! Editors, product developers, other writers... I worked closely with the developer and editor assigned to me.
How do you feel about the credit being under a group name?
Of course, I'd rather have my name on all the books. But I've heard other publishers do this, and even ghost-writers don't get their names on books. I just hope editors who are looking at my resume understand.
I know you are a big fan of Nancy Sander’s Book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. What was the best advice that you learned in reading that book and working with Nancy?
It's hard to pin it to one point. Nancy has taught me EVERYTHING about writing! I guess the biggest advice I take from her book is to just query, query, and query some more. Never give up.
For those who want to break into working in the educational book market, what advice would you give them?
Check out educational books at the library or schools. Many of these are nonfiction sets specifically for school libraries. Ask for educational publishers' catalogs. Study the kinds of books they publish. If you feel you could write one, send a query of ideas to them.
If you like to learn more about Tina and her writing, go to her blog at http://tinamcho.wordpress.com. She also Has some great educational tips for parents and teachers which include activities and book reviews.