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Great Writing Niches: College Textbook Supplements

Carol Tice

By John Soares

Did you graduate from college?

Do you like to learn? Do you think college education is important?

Do you want to learn how to become a freelance writer?

Then you have what it takes to make a solid income writing supplements for college textbooks. I’ve been doing it since 1992, and by 1994 I was able to quit my job teaching poli-sci courses at the local community college to do it full time.

So What Exactly IS a Textbook Supplement?

A textbook supplement is anything that helps students learn and teachers teach (and test). Top examples:

  • Student study guides
  • Lecture outlines
  • Instructor’s manuals
  • Test questions
  • Laboratory manuals

But Don’t I Need College Teaching Experience?

College teaching experience is a definite plus, but I know several people who haven’t taught college who still get lots of assignments in this field. Most of the editors at textbook publishing companies care about the quality of the work you create, not how many years you’ve taught — or if you’ve taught.

Can I Only Work in the Same Discipline as My Degree?

You’ll likely start out in your discipline, but you can quickly branch out as long as you have enough knowledge to do the work in other disciplines.

For example, I have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s degree in political science. I’ve also taken a lot of courses various subjects, including history, geography, and the earth and life sciences. I started by doing poli-sci projects, but soon branched out to history and all of those other subjects I just listed.

Is It Enjoyable Work?

I love doing this. I love to learn new things and reinforce what I already know. I want to know how the world works. The better I understand it, the more I feel a part of it.

Here’s what I’ve done in recent months:

  • Wrote lecture outlines for one of the world’s top environmental science textbooks
  • Wrote test questions for several chapters of an intro to business textbook, including internet marketing
  • Wrote directions about how to split up compound art in earth science textbooks for use in lecture outlines
  • Wrote test questions for an American history textbook
  • Wrote an instructor’s manual and test questions for a course that teaches graduate students how to do research

Of course, just about any type of writing is going to seem like “work” sometimes.

Hmmm… So What Does It Pay?

I make a minimum of $50 an hour on my projects, and I make substantially more than that on some. I recently finished a one-year project for a private company that worked out to about $150 per hour and about $12,000 total, but that’s less common.

When you first start out you won’t be as experienced or as efficient, so you could initially make less.

How Crowded Is This Field?

Not very. Few people know about it and it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s essentially recession-proof. (Actually, more people go to college during economic downturns, which means more textbooks get sold and there’s more work for supplements writers.)

Any Drawbacks to Writing Textbook Supplements?

There’s one main drawback. More assignments are available in certain times of year — summer is one of them — with occasional slow spots. I’ve been doing this full-time since 1994, and I still occasionally have brief periods with no assignments. That’s actually cool with me. I write several blogs and I create information products, and I like to hike and travel, so I like the slow periods.

How Do I Find Out More About This Niche?

Ask away in the comment section below and I’ll answer you. I also explain everything you need to know in my ebook Writing College Textbook Supplements: Developing Test Questions, Quiz Questions, Instructor Manuals, Lecture Outlines, and Other Curriculum Components.

John Soares has been a full-time freelance writer for college textbook publishers since 1994. He also writes about time management and productivity on his ProductiveWriters blog.