Reflection on Project Mentoring Student Authors

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I am wrapping up the project I started a year ago when I approached a small group of science students and asked them if they would like to learn to write a book. Each of them was doing a special research project, so they had ample material to write about. I had just finished my own first book, and I explained to them that I could show them the steps to write and self publish their own books. I ended up with three dedicated students, all of whom have now published their own books. Each is unique, and all are interesting:

Schwartz coverJen Schwartz published On the Right Track: A Student’s Memoir of Research, Advancement, and Holding on to Hope (Click title to buy this book)

Diorio coverJohn Diorio published Broadening the High School Experience:A Student’s Perspective on Independent Exploration (Click title to buy this book)

A Familiar Fin coverAlexandra DiGiacomo published A Familiar Fin (Click title to buy this book)

 

 

This was a pilot project for me, so I am assessing how it went and how to improve it when I do it again. What worked well were the overall plan I used, and getting the student authors to work together. Some things to improve:

  1. The students liked collaborating and sharing their work with one another, but the time was difficult to find to do this often–next time, I will plan more time for mutual editing and reviewing.
  2. The review process, especially around the final copy editing, broke down somewhat, and I had little idea how the students were doing. We needed a day, probably a weekend, when we could have all worked in a room and gone over formatting for publication.
  3. Book marketing, crucial to the success of any author, but especially self published authors, has tapered off with the end of the project. Successful authors will market their books before and especially after publication. Because we ended the project at the end of the school year, we could not easily work together to push marketing after publication. More planning and an agreement on what to do ahead of time would have helped.

Therefore, while the project was successful overall, I have many things I plan to do better next time. I documented our experience and made a step-by-step how to guide for teachers and mentors, Creating Student Authors: How to Mentor Any Student to Be a Self Published Author (click to purchase in paperback or ebook). I would love to hear from other teachers and mentors about your thoughts.

First Step for Science Authors: Write a Book Proposal

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Tip#2In this blog, I am sharing how I am mentoring a group of high school science students to write and publish a book about their science research experiences by April 2015 with the goal of selling 500 copies by the end of the school year. 

TIP #2: Have students draft a book proposal as a first step in writing a book. Traditional publishers have always required a book proposal from a prospective author. It is like a business plan for the book, giving the summary of the book’s contents, the target audience, and a marketing plan to reach the audience. Each publisher has a different format for the book proposal, but they all have these essential elements. Even though we are self-publishing our books, by doing a book proposal first, we start out with the same disciplined approach to writing a book that a traditional publisher would give us. (Note: I got this idea from author/publicist, Carole Jelen, in an interview on http://bookmarketingtools.com called “How To Build Your Author Platform.”)

Here is the abbreviated book proposal we used:

  • A statement of what the book’s main focus or purpose is.
  • A general outline of the book.
  • Identification of sources for the book and where to find them.
  • Identification of the target audience.
  • A plan to reach the target audience.

What a book proposal does is get the students to consider their audience from the start. Unlike a term paper or other academic paper that is meant primarily for the teacher to read, a published book seeks to appeal to many readers. By identifying the target audience, students can put themselves in the place of the audience as they write. Students had difficulty with this first step, so I had to give follow-on guidance. One tip I shared from a writers conference I attended was to cut out a magazine picture or print out some other photo of a person representing the target audience and paste it on your computer monitor as a constant reminder to whom you are writing. There are many sources out there with good advice – I list some on the Resources page of my website.

Next week, my post will have a tip on scheduling out the project to build readership before publishing. 

Subscribe to this blog at https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com to get email updates of my posts with weekly tips you can use in your classroom as I describe how I am mentoring six high school science students to become published authors by April 2015. Also, please give me your feedback, and please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.

 

When to Get Science Students Started Writing a Book

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Tip#1In this blog I am sharing how I am guiding six high school science students who agreed to try to write and publish a book about their science research experiences by April 2015. My purpose is to share this book writing experience with other educators so you can do a similar project in your school. Because this was the first time I have tried, or even heard of this type of project, I first talked to a few students who I knew would be up to the challenge. They recruited more students, and I ended up with six who were volunteering to try this idea. The goal was for each student to publish a book by April 2015, and sell at least 500 copies by the end of the school year, achieving about five to ten times the sales of a typical first-time self-published book. I gave the students this goal to make them understand from the start that this was not a vanity publishing effort, just writing a book for their own pleasure, but a true publishing endeavor to reach a large audience.

TIP #1: When is a good time to start this kind of project? Start late in the school year so that the students are ready to begin writing during the summer break. Students (and teachers) are too busy during the school year to do a project like this on top of all their other activities. Before the school year ended, we met a couple times, first to ensure the students understood the project, and then to give them a clear plan on how to proceed. See the Project Schedule for an overview of our plan. This timing gave me and the students the whole summer to write a first draft of our books and to plan our marketing. This approach gave the students what they need to concentrate on the creative part of writing, while I showed them the technical details on how to publish and market their work. Once the school year starts this fall, we will only need to work in short bursts, either to edit and revise our drafts between reviews, or to send out biweekly blog posts. One thing I did not do, but would recommend, is to partner with other departments in your school, such as the English teachers, to get them on board with the project – they could be a big help with reviews. I will start doing this after the summer break, but would have liked to have started with them earlier. Next week, you will get a tip on drafting a book proposal, the first step in writing a book.

Subscribe to this blog at https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com to get email updates of my posts with weekly tips you can use in your classroom as I describe how I am mentoring six high school science students to become published authors by April 2015. Also, please give me your feedback, and please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.

 

Why Teach Science Students to Write and Publish Books?

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Science Students in ProgramsAs a science and engineering teacher, promoting STEM education, why would I want to teach students how to write and publish a book? Don’t I have enough to do in mentoring them in STEM activities? Well, yes, and in the photo here are some of the groups I have mentored in the past several years. Nevertheless, I am a firm believer in the whole person concept – students are not just interested in STEM, or in literature, or in art, but most are interested in all these subjects to some degree.

Our education system is also getting away from strict specialization and moving more toward a holistic education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) promote literacy in science, combining the concepts of scientific knowledge with the ability to communicate. One of my sons is going to attend Boston University’s engineering school this fall, and they have trademarked the idea of the “Societal Engineer,” advocating that engineers have a wider focus than just the technical problem at hand. For all these reasons, teaching science students to clearly communicate their science research through a book seemed very appropriate. Given my recent experience in self publishing a book, I knew I could mentor them through the process.

How did the students react when I approached them with the idea for this project? They were excited and eager to begin! I asked them to focus on a target audience as one of the first steps, and they came up with a very diverse set – one is appealing to children, another to cancer patients and their friends and families, another to school administrators, and a couple of them to fellow students, but each with a different message. We will work together so that the students can mutually share ideas and get feedback. I will be writing along with them to document our experience and provide a comprehensive guide to other teachers who would like to do the same type of project.

Next month, I will be blogging about the realities and challenges of publishing a book and what I am doing to shepherd my students through the process so that they can get right to work without wasting time figuring out which of the myriad of options to choose. For the general schedule we are following, go to https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com/project-schedule/.

Subscribe to this blog at https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com to get email updates of my posts with tips you can use in your classroom as I describe how I am mentoring six high school science students to become published authors by April 2015. Also, please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.

Recruiting Science Students to Become Published Authors

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digital-self-publishingWhat was I thinking? Summer vacation was only a few weeks away, and I had decided to dedicate much of my summer to mentoring a group of science students to write their own books. Why? Well, I had just self published my own book that I had co-authored with a former student. The experience was rejuvenating for me. Not only did I rediscover my love of writing, but I also discovered a whole new world in today’s self publishing arena. The book we wrote, however, was an essay on spirituality, so we had to work on it outside of school. We wrote the first draft and did our own first edits over last summer, then we got friends to beta edit and review over the fall, then we hired a copy editor to get a finished book by January, and published it this spring. We also did our own marketing, though I realize now that we started late. We made many mistakes, but we learned the entire self publishing process with many of its facets.

Now what could I do with this newfound knowledge and interest in writing and publishing, given that I teach Physics and Engineering in a public high school? I have always required my students to write short essays about science, as I have believed that the ability to clearly communicate scientific concepts helps students learn those concepts while honing their communication skills. Mentoring students to write their own books about science would take this idea to a new level. Yet, it is right in line with the Next Generation Science Standards which seek to link science with literacy.

Then, one day in late May, it hit me as I talked to a couple outstanding science students – they were doing incredible science research projects this summer. I realized I knew other students doing similar projects. I find that mentoring students in special projects is one of the highlights of being a teacher – I have mentored many different groups as shown in the photo. Therefore, I chose three high school students that I knew and asked if they would be interested in publishing a book by next spring about their science research experience. Their response was enthusiastically positive! In fact, by the next week, they had recruited three more students. I set up two after school meetings to go over my idea with them and to see if they were all truly committed.

My first step was to have a short meeting after school to explain to all of them what I had in mind and what I believed the project would require of them – I asked them to think everything over and commit to the project by the next meeting. I also asked them to give me their parents’ contact information, so their parents could understand what I was doing. I called all the parents over the next few days, and they were universally positive and thankful for the opportunity. At the second meeting, I laid out a tentative schedule of events from initial drafting of a book through marketing and selling. I also had asked the students to produce a draft book proposal with an outline of their ideas and their target audience. The students were excited and eager to get started, and they all had great proposals. Finally, I provided them some resources to get started. Now I have six outstanding rising junior high school students who have dedicated themselves to writing and publishing a book by April 2015 with the goal of selling 500 copies by the end of the school year in June 2015 – an ambitious objective, but motivational! 

Subscribe to this blog at https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com and get email updates on the first and third Mondays of each month as I continue to describe this project and our journey to publish our books. Also, please share it with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.