Many companies publish books for use in college classes. However, as a freelance supplements writer, you are interested primarily in the large commercial companies that publish textbooks for lower-division college courses, the ones taught to freshmen and sophomores. The size of these markets supports creating a large number of supplements for students and instructors. (There is also some work creating supplements for popular upper-division textbooks.)
The main trend in the college textbook publishing industry in recent years has been consolidation. Basically, the larger companies have been acquiring the smaller companies. Often they keep the acquired imprints intact, although sometimes they absorb the textbooks of the acquired firm into their existing imprints. Most of the major publishers, including Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill and Pearson Higher Education, have been doing this.
Another potential trend is privatization: The textbook publishing arm of a public traded company can be sold to a group of investors who then run the company privately. A prime example is the creation of Cengage in 2007; it bought the college textbook assets of Thomson Corporation, including Brooks-Cole and Wadsworth, among others.

As a textbook supplements writer, you need to pay attention to changes in ownership. Such changes can create new work opportunities, or potentially create problems with existing work relationships.

Major shifts in companies can mean editors get reassigned to different disciplines or leave the company altogether, requiring you to market yourself to new people. Of course, you also have the opportunity to make new connections and also keep your old ones. This is a key reason why you need to maintain good relationships with editors: They can hire you when they move to new positions, and they can recommend you to their replacements.

Here’s a list of the eight major college textbook publishers:

Bedford, Freeman, and Worth

Cengage (formerly Thomson Learning, privately owned)

Jones and Bartlett Publishers

McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Oxford University Press

Pearson Publishing

John Wiley and Sons

W. W. Norton Company

Find more valuable tips on earning a good living writing for college textbook publishers on John Soares’ Writing College Textbook Supplements blog (

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