Creating, Designing and Writing a Teaching Book

Reading time: 6


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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If you were writing – or at least wanting to write – a book, where would you start?

What I would like to share here, is an insight how I have set about constructing and publishing my very own book (idea).

The Last Book:

I consider my story into the world of educational publication a unique story. Most authors spend years sending their manuscripts off to wannabe-publishers and received countless rejections; some books never reaching print. Yet, in April 2013 as a direct result of blogging, I was asked by Bloomsbury Publishing to write a book. I was chuffed and grabbed the opportunity with both hands and published 100 Ideas for Outstanding Lessons, for Secondary Teachers. This appears more common-practice now that more and more people are blogging their views online. Is this a small win for writers, or a massive coup for publishers who may scour popular blogs and websites? Just a thought …

Despite the current landscape of Ofsted and grading individual lessons, it wasn’t the title I would have liked to have been given, nor a book concept I consider to be ‘all mine.’ However, when you are new to something, just like when we are a new teacher in the classroom, we make the most of what you’ve got and we learn from our experiences. Nevertheless, I set about writing this book and sharing some of my own ideas that work in the classroom. I blogged about my book journey here. This blog takes the reader through the author’s journey from conception, construction through to submission and publication (book launch) day.

What I am aware of, and I have been privy to the book statistics and buyer-research of the publishing world, is that 100 Ideas is one of the most popular books in education over the past 5 years! As a result, at Bloomsbury HQ, we celebrated the 10,000th sale of 100 Ideas in December 2014 and it was there and then, that the idea for a second book was made reality. I signed the contract the very next month and began reflecting of what I would like ‘my first book’ to become.

Creating a Book:

I signed the Te@cherToolkit: Helping You Survive Your First Five Years book contract in January 2014. It took me 3 months to design the concept and produce a detailed list of chapter headings and suggested content. The following 6 months were spent dictating and writing. It was slow and to be honest, I lacked motivation. The real pressure increased once I started my new job as a deputy headteacher. I found my own time at home decreased and therefore my opportunities to write in the evening diminished. I was therefore resigned to write in the school holidays and, coupled with exhaustion and wanting to relax, I found my school holidays to be a false dichotomy.

Vitruvian Book
Tweaking the front cover.


All in all, from October half-term 2014 up until the school summer holidays of August 2015, I have probably spent about half of my time writing this book. This calculates as:

  • January 2014 – March 2014: First 3 months forming the book concept.
  • April 2014 – August 2014: Forming the book structure; concept, sections and sub-chapters.
  • The odd day writing here and there; using August to write the bare bones of the entire book in a rough draft.
  • October 2014 half-term: 3 days writing non-stop.
  • December 2014: one week re-writing section 1.
  • February 2015 half-term: 3 days re-writing sections 2 and 3.
  • Easter 2015: one week re-writing sections 4 and 5.
  • August 2015: three weeks to re-write edits to sections 1-5; write the introduction and conclusion; proof-read everything and agree the final illustrations.

I should’ve finished this book six months ago, but life gets in the way as does one’s work; taking on a new job as a deputy headteacher has come with an increased workload in many new aspects of education and working in a large secondary school comes with its own challenges and is the impetus behind many of my blog posts and the focus/content of my new book.

Designing a Book:

In the beginning, the first conversation with my editor was to discuss the book concept. This is essentially what you can now find on the back of the book cover. My initial brief was to put down on two sides of paper, what the book was about. Once this was established, we then set about discussing what the book should entail; essentially this book would become a larger volume of 100 Ideas, but specifically targeted towards the new teacher, coupled with pragmatic advice as well as advice.

During the initial 3 months I set about constructing the themes/chapters I would like to discuss within the book. This then required further re-tweaking into the 5 sections that now exist in the book. Initially, I blogged about The Visual Anatomy of a Great Teacher and after countless reads online, the concept of what makes a great teacher evolved into using the images from the blog – the Vitruvian Man – into a small research project for myself. I set about reading about Marcus Vitruvius Pollio and as a design technology, was fascinated by his publication De architectura and its concepts. After much pondering, I reflected on the first 5 years of teaching and likened this journey to Vitruvian theory, despite fervently disagreeing that anything ‘perfect’ exists. Without going into full details here, this is how the concept of the book came to be and set the foundations for how the book would be designed and formatted into its various sections and sub-chapters.

The book database initially looked like this;

Writing a Book:

Writing a book is truly a labour of love; and it is not something I wish to complain about. I count myself very fortunate indeed to be in a position to be able to write a book and have it published; particularly in my own profession. But it is a slog. I have learnt to accept when writers block is upon me – particularly during moments when I have the time to write in the school holidays – and also when to embrace ‘eureka’ moments and write, write, write; no matter what time of the day. My top strategy has been to voice-record thoughts on the drive home from work, with a dictaphone scribing content into a gobbledygook email for me to tweak once I arrive home. This was then saved for a rainy day when the time was needed.

Here is how the new book database looked on Dropbox (in print);

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After much avoidance, my editor made a seismic shift by taking my database and moving the entire book and its content over to Dropbox. This was a ‘eureka’ moment for me, because it reduced my workload significantly. Suddenly, I had no more need to colour code my own database; worry about which document I was using, which email or even which version I was working on! I use Google and Dropbox in my personal and professional life, but had never, ever considered using it for the book. In an instant, there was one version, updated there and then online. It was a turning point. in April 2015.

The Final Run:

Despite it being the summer holidays, book edits were intense and I had to work according to a tight schedule throughout August 2015. If I fell behind, my workload increased and the opportunity for ‘a break’ diminished.

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Final Cut:

After book delivery, there was a few days in-between where very little happened. There was time to sit back and feel pleased with all the effort invested over the past 18 months, particularly in the school holidays. If an email popped through, and it did, decisions often had to be quick and decisive! At the end 3rd week of the summer holidays (August 2015), I headed into Bloomsbury HQ for final proof-reading. In total, this task took 5+ hours. We skim-read, every single page!

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On Friday 7th August, we had finally proofread over 200+ pages! We were exhausted ..

Vitruvian Book
Job done! We were exhausted …


Much to my discomfort, there then was a pre-planned photoshoot where my mug-shot was to appear on the inside of the book cover. Here are some of the stills in all their glory; you can see there would be a great deal of photo-editing required! After three attempts to please the author, none of the images in their current form made the final cut. You will have to read the book to see which photo made the cover.

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To Print:

After a final few (silent) days in mid-August, my editor @HollyBloomsbury tweeted me the following photograph marking the moment the book had gone to print on Friday 13th August at 8.30pm (click to see the tweet). There was no going back! On the following day, I was given less than 2 hours to make a decision on final edits for the book cover , and to choose an ‘author photograph!’

Vitruvian Teaching book

Book Launch:

There will be 1,000 limited editions printed in hardback. I’ve been asked to sign them all, so I may as well enjoy being an author for a moment. There will be also be a book launch party in late September. More to follow …

I am a firm believer, that if I can write about despite living with some of my literacy demons as an adult/teacher, then so can you. Writing a book and blogging online is by far the best way to address literacy.

If you fancy buying a copy, the release date is Thursday 24th September 2015; you can pre-order in two key places:

  1. Bloomsbury if you want a copy directly from the publishers – and first!
  2. or Amazon if you would like to keep purchases easy, but rely on a 3rd party for delivery. They essentially purchase books from the publisher.

@TeacherToolkit Book Vitruvian Teacher Man Resilience Version 2

Thanks for reading this and if you do purchase the book, I hope it a) inspires you to become/remain a teacher and b) write your own book.


@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man

23rd September 2015:

I finally have a copy in my hands!  


One thought on “Creating, Designing and Writing a Teaching Book

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your journey! Being an FE Lecturer and father of two, I can relate to many of the key points you made about fighting against exhaustion and time! I have had so many 3am sleeps in the past 10 months or so, not to mention the 4am wake ups by one of the kids! Much like yourself, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    I have found a new and unexpected hobby through writing and continue to learn more by the day! I have been on various book writing courses and am weighing up the best options on publishing. I am seeking advice from Teaching professionals on finalising the project. I am really inspired by your impact on social media and use of technology and have been preparing blogs to go alongside promotion for my book.

    I would love to keep in contact and will keep an eye on your tweets etc.

    Best of luck in your projects. Keep inspiring!

    Fabian Darku

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