I asked this question to teachers before and they all said if the story is entertaining, they would be jumping on the book. Anything to get the kids to learn their stuff. Actually, teachers would like to see a series that follows the curriculum.
The agent said that the novel would never get published unless it was super funny and super engaging. I could already see the faces of millions of kids picking up the story with a big disgusted grunt, “And they expect us to read that?”
The reason is that the trade books do not teach a lesson. If the kids learn something, it’s just something they happen to get. That’s how most well-written books are. There’s something there, but it’s not like you are shoving it down their throat. Actually the word "educational" content was linked in her mind to the words "preaching" and "boring."
She could not even envision a series being fun and educational at the same time. That gave me a hint. If you are pitching a novel with some educational content, make sure not to mention it in your pitch.
However, she said, the educational market is a different thing.
So, that means that there are educational publishers who could publish an educational novel (like McGraw-Hill or Prentice Hall or Pearson or Saddleback or MacMillan) and there are the trade publishers (like Random House or Penguin) and it’s two different worlds.
The Phantom Tollbooth has definitely been published by Random House.
What about those other books? Like:
Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers by Penny Noyce. Tumblehome Press (October 1, 2010) Dangerous Hoops: A Forensic Marketing Action Adventure by Larry Crumbley and others. (LSU Press)
The Phantom Tollbooth (Bullseye Books; 1st Yearling edition, 1988), Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys (Random House LLC, 1965), The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (Chronicle Books, 1963) and A Surfeit of Similes (William Morrow & Co)
It seems that, apart from the Phantom Tollbooth which is widely famous, the other educational series are published by small presses or independent publishers.
That was another hint. Agents are looking for commercial novels.
Doing some more research, I found out that “The biggest publishers in the world today are education publishers.” Surprise, surprise. I found that did not make much sense. Here is an agent saying that if your novel is not commercial (fast-paced action), it will not make it anyway. But educational books are the one that sell the most.
A novel that has obvious educational content will have a harder time being marketable. If a kid cannot put down your novel, it does not matter how much educational it is, it will be successful. I think the more educational content it has, the more appealing it will be to the reader, of course at the condition of making it appealing and fun to read. And at the condition you find the agent who even wants to look at it. The conclusion is: do not write anything educational because it's doomed. Only go for the entertaining.
I also got that if you come up with a fresh idea, it will be rejected because few people will get it. So the agents keep telling us to write fresh stories at the condition they are not so different that nobody knows how it will fare on the market and few people will take a chance on it.
Think about Dr. Seus and how hard it was for her to get it published but got instant success after publication.
Tim Carmody. “Why Education Publishing Is Big Business.” Wired.
“Educational Literary agents.” Writers Net.
Try Educational Novels for Teaching and Learning http://www.bus.lsu.edu/accounting/faculty/lcrumbley/educational_novels.html