Exemplary Student Author – Alexandra DiGiacomo

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A Familiar Fin, the children's book by Alexandra DiGiacomo promoting shark conservation

A Familiar Fin, the children’s book by Alexandra DiGiacomo promoting shark conservation

When I started a project last school year to mentor students how to write and self-publish their own books about science, I had no idea how the project would turn out. The goal was 500 or more book sales for each author, but that was to motivate them to achieve more than just vanity publishing sales. Now, just over one year later, I am especially impressed by one of these student authors, Alexandra DiGiacomo.  She not only published an outstanding children’s book about sharks, A Familiar Fin, but she also continues to market her book in the midst of her senior year in high school when most students are overwhelmed by all the activities. However, she is doing more than just book marketing, this young author is also successfully educating other youth about the importance of shark conservation. Check out her latest blog post, “What Sharks Can Do For You.”

A Review of Self-Publishing a Book Using Amazon’s CreateSpace

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Cover of Paperback Made Using Amazon's CreateSpace Cover Creator

Cover of Paperback Made Using Amazon’s CreateSpace Cover Creator

In 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-June 2015 with the goal of selling 500 copies by the end of the school year.

As my students prepare to self-publish their books, I also am self-publishing a book, Creating Student Authors: How to Mentor Any Student to Be a Self-Published Author. My book serves two purposes: It gives my students an example to follow, and it gives other teachers the tools to mentor their students. Since I asked my students to produce both paperback and ebook formats, that is what I am doing. I have found that it is easier to do the paperback first, then convert it to ebook, instead of the other way around. I am using Amazon’s services entirely, so for the paperback, I am using CreateSpace. I am just finishing up my paperback production, so here is a review of that experience.

What is CreateSpace? It used to be an independent publishing firm, but was bought up by Amazon a few years ago. CreateSpace offers to publish your book in a print-on-demand paperback format. You pay nothing. You submit a file of your book using Microsoft Word or PDF (portable document format), and CreateSpace makes it into a book file. You also upload a cover, or make one using their free “Cover Creator” service. You choose pricing and distribution channels, and they show you what your royalties will be in each one. When you finally submit your book to be published, it will appear only in online retail channels, such as amazon.com. It will not be printed and distributed in hard copy. That is the essence of print-on-demand. A book is printed only when someone orders it online. If you want to put your books on store shelves, you can order them from CreateSpace at cost, then give them to the store to sell on consignment. Talk to your local bookstore manager first to see what makes the most sense for you. What I found works well is to buy about 50 of your books when it is first published. Give some to friends and family and to people who helped with the book, then use the rest for any book events, including giving a few to local bookstores to sell on consignment.

The first step in making a book in CreateSpace is to write it. The basis of a good book is the text, and I have covered how we wrote our books and did several phases of editing and revising over the past year in my blog. One aspect of the text is formatting, and for that, I made a “Book Template for Students” that has all the pagination and blocking for a 6×9 inch book, the standard size offered by CreateSpace. CreateSpace also offers a free template on their website.

The next step is to submit your book in CreateSpace for their internal review prior to publishing. You need to establish a log in account with CreateSpace, then set up your title as a project in their website. After that, follow their step-by-step instructions. I found these straightforward, and CreateSpace offers free help through email or telephone. I used the email service a couple times, and they were prompt and helpful. In the “Interior” setup for your book, you will be asked to upload your book file. Again, this can be in Word or PDF. Once you upload it, CreateSpace says it takes 24 hours to review it, but I have found it is usually faster. During this time, upload your cover file, or design one in CreateSpace’s Cover Creator–I used that, and I have been happy with the result. They have many designs available, and you can change colors and other aspects. Once the review is complete, you will get an email explaining if there is any issue with the file. At this point, you can download a digital proof and order a paperback proof copy for a small charge. Do both. The digital proof looks like a virtual paperback on screen, so use it to catch any obvious errors. The paperback proof is invaluable to see exactly what your book will look like–plus it’s a nice souvenir. When I ordered my proof copy, CreateSpace said it would take about ten days to ship, but it actually arrived in five. After you approve the proof, your book is ready to publish. You can download my Self-Publishing Checklist for Amazon that goes through this entire process.

If you want to have a complete set of directions to mentor your students, then look for my book, Creating Student Authors: How to Mentor Anyone to Be a Published Author. It became available today on createspace.com, and it will be available on amazon.com in a couple more days, plus other distribution channels within the next few weeks. Profits will benefit Ridgefield Public Schools and Newington Public Schools in Connecticut.

My next post will be more about the preparation of the ebook using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

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-June 2015. Also, please give me your feedback, and please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.

Helping Student Authors Get Published – Copy Editing Options

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Image courtesy of www.proofreading.ca

Image courtesy of http://www.proofreading.ca

In 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.

My students are nearing the end of a nine month process to produce their books. They have gotten excellent feedback from beta readers, and they are using those inputs to produce their final drafts. Now they need to make their books professional looking by getting them properly copy edited. We discussed using a commercial copy editing service, but for different reasons, the students did not want to go that route. What other options are there?

One option is not bother with copy editing. Many self published authors go this route, as they believe they can do the final editing themselves. This is a bad option. As any writer knows, the more you look at your own draft, the harder it is to see any mistakes. Even if your attention to detail is excellent, it is unlikely you will catch all of the errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, let alone other errors in formatting, as required by the Chicago Manual of Style, the copy editing bible.

Another option that my students are pursuing is to get another writer’s help to do the copy editing. We had attended a local writers’ conference in the fall, and my students met several writers–some professional, and some in college pursuing a writing major. My students followed up with these writers, and some have helped with beta reviews, and some with copy editing. These writers are highly qualified to do this work, and I expect their copy edits to be professional quality.

Our last step to get ready for publication will be to hold a session to do a final review, then format our books for publication on Amazon. Even with good copy editing, there will be formatting that needs to be done to make a paperback, then to make an ebook. You can use my Self Publishing Checklist for Amazon as a resource to do these last formatting changes.

My next post will be more about the preparation for publication release.

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.

Start Attracting Readers to Your Book BEFORE Publishing It

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Tip#3In 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.

“Who are you? Why should I read your book?” That is what any potential reader is going to ask a new author. With hundreds of thousands of new titles coming out each year, over half of which are self-published, the new author’s book can be lost in the sea of books flooding the market. If you self-publish, the challenge is even greater, as you have to establish credibility, along with marketing your book, all of which you do on your own. This is similar to the challenge faced by any new small business–establishing a customer base out of thin air.

To meet the challenge, a new author needs to start reaching out and attracting readers well before publication–months before the book’s release. Author and consultant Tim Grahl’s Your First 1000 Copies is a great resource that lays out a clear plan to do this. What we are doing in our science author group is to start blogging and reaching out to groups in our target audience beginning this fall, as we go through the editing and revising of our books. Our planned book release date is in April 2015, so if we start reaching out to potential readers in September 2014, that’s eight months before publication. The goal I set for each author is to sell 500 copies of his or her book by July 2015. The only way this is achievable is if we have hundreds, if not thousands, of people following our blog by the publication date–these people will know us, will be interested in what we are doing, and will be the most likely people to buy our books. We appreciate their support and plan to give them a high quality book in return.

Next week, my post will have a tip on how to draft 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.