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Episode 16:   Publishing in the Classroom (E16)

When high school students are given the chance to publish their writing as an ebook, it helps them gain a new appreciation for the written word.  Mark Coker shares details of an innovative writing project in Los Gatos, California where high school students collaborate to write and publish a poetry anthology that is sold in all the major ebook stores. 

Learn how you, as a writer, reader, educator or concerned citizen, can launch similar ebook publishing programs in your community.


Supplemental links (mentioned in this episode):

Windows to the Teenage Soul (poetry anthology by Los Gatos High School students, includes Tonya McQuades original teaching materials {also see updated materials below})

Complete list of all poetry anthologies publishing by Los Gatos High

Articles, press coverage and teacher resources

Download Tonya McQuade's 2017 handout (downloads Word .docx file; includes project description, project timeline, group responsibilities, parent permission slip)

No Better Time for Teachers and Librarians to Introduce Teenagers to Self-Publishing (No Shelf Required, 2017)

Article by Tonya McQuade (downloads Word .docx file; Tonya McQuade describes details of her project)

Ebook Publishing in the Classroom - Los Gatos High Students Publish Amazing Poetry Anthology (Smashwords Blog, 2014)

Los Gatos High Freshman English Class Publishes 'Windows to the Teenage Soul' (Patch, 2014)

English Class Publishes E-Book (and It's Already More Popular Than 'The Odyssey') (Education Week, 2014)

California Town Librarian Leads Projecte for Students to Publish Poetry Ebook (School Library Journal, 2014)

Los Gatos Freshman are Now Published Authors (San Jose Mercury News, 2015)

Teaching Teens Self-Publishing @ The Library (Public Libraries Online, 2015)

Libraries to Become Community Publishing Portals (Huffington Post 2014 by Mark Coker)

2016 Pew Research Study

2018 Pew Research - Who Doesn't Read Books in America?


Welcome to the Smart Author podcast where you'll learn to publish ebooks with greater pride, professionalism, and success.

I'm your host, Mark Coker. Let's get started!

In this episode, Publishing in the Classroom. This will be one of my shortest episodes, but it will also be one of my most important. Back in the series trailer for the Smart Author podcast, they told you how your book has the potential to change the world.

In this episode, we're going to raise the world-changing stakes even higher. Like most authors, you're probably writing for a higher purpose. You love reading and writing. As an author, you know books are these amazing magical vehicles of deep meaning, with the power to inspire, inform, and entertain.

In my career as an entrepreneur and author, my most fulfilling ventures have always been those wrapped in a higher purpose. That's certainly the story behind Smashwords. I wanted to democratize publishing. I wanted to give every writer in the world the tools, freedom, and knowledge to publish like a pro at no cost.

So back to you.

In these last 15 episodes of the Smart Author podcast, you learned the best practices of ebook publishing. You know how to professionally produce, publish, and promote an ebook. You know more than most writers. You are an expert now. In addition to applying this knowledge to get your own world-changing word out there, what else can you do with your new-found indie-publishing superpowers? That's the topic of today's episode.

I've always loved the phrase, Think globally, act locally. It means that the work that you do in your local community can have positive, global impact. Your mission and your opportunity, should you choose to accept it, is to mentor the next generation of readers and writers in your community.

Every mission requires a clearly defined problem to be solved. Allow me to describe the problem as I see it. This problem impacts your future as a writer, and it impacts your children, your grandchildren, and every young person entering the world so full of potential.

A 2016 study by Pew Research found that 26% of US adults hadn't read a single book in whole, or in part, in the prior year. When Pew Research dug deeper, they discovered something even more disturbing. 40% of adults with only a high school education or less, hadn't read a single book in the prior year. When they looked at college graduates, they found a different story. 87% of college graduates read at least one book in whole, or in part, in the prior year. The data also found that lower-income earners read less, and higher-income earners read more. Is this because books are too expensive for low-income earners? Or is a different dynamic in play? With the ubiquity of public libraries, low-cost ebooks, smartphones, and used print books, I don't think affordability is the reason for lower reading levels among low-income earners. And surely the literacy alone cannot account for these horrible numbers either.

Could it be that there's a reverse relationship? Could it be that love of reading is somehow the gateway to greater educational and economical achievement? I think the answer is yes. It's not that these people who don't read books are stupid or lazy. It's that their lack of passion for reading leads to a whole host of terrible consequences later in life. Low readers live in a world of self-imposed ignorance that only comes from less exposure to knowledge, less deep thinking, less critical thinking, and less fact-based reasoning. All factors that will limit a person's upward mobility.

Reading stimulates the imagination. And from imagination comes creativity, inspiration, and innovation. Reading encourages critical thinking. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, help ground us in reality. Reading improves our empathy. It helps us view and experience the world through multiple points of view. It helps us celebrate the diversity of humanity rather than feeling threatened by those who are different from us. In fact, strong empathy helps us realize that we humans are more alike than we are different. Empathy helps us organize and cooperate which, in itself, aids upward mobility because we can always achieve more working together than working apart.

Reading enriches our vocabulary. Reading improves our verbal and written communication skills, without which upward mobility is difficult, if not impossible. Avid readers can learn more, and learn faster, which is so important in today's interconnected knowledge economy. Reading makes readers more resilient to the inevitable challenges life throws our way.

And let's not forget, reading is fun.

What the Pew Research data tells me is that more early intervention is needed at the high school level and below to help young adults and children develop a greater love for reading. Once we introduce new readers to the joy of books, new worlds of opportunity open for them to discover, enjoy, and exploit.

Love of reading doesn't just open the doors to discover and enjoy the world's literary riches. Love of reading is an essential enabler of a more fulfilling life. In today's increasingly complex and competitive world, we need more readers, not fewer.

So how do we foster greater love of reading? I think the answer is to introduce the next generation of readers to the joys of writing and publishing.

Back in Episode 6 of the Smart Author podcast, where the topic was Marketing eBooks to Public Libraries, I mentioned a passion project of mine where I partnered with my town's librarian, and some forward-thinking teachers at our local high school, to incorporate ebook publishing in the classroom.

Today I'm going to tell you more about this project. And, I hope, inspire you to start similar projects in your community. I'll share how our project started, and I'll share how you, as an indie author, a reader, and a concerned citizen, can partner with your local schools to help spread the joy of reading, writing, and publishing.

So here's my story.

Back around 2010, I met Henry Bankhead, who was then the Assistant Librarian at the Los Gatos Public Library. He was looking to bring in a speaker to talk about ebooks. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that my little startup, Smashwords was also based in Los Gatos.

The invitation was special for me, because this was the library I grew up with. It's where, as a child, I attended a reading by author, Beverly Cleary. Her book, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, was my favorite book as a child. It's the book that helped me discover my love of reading.

My presentation at the Los Gatos Public Library led to a multi-year collaboration with Henry. Henry and I produced a series of free ebook publishing workshops, hosted at the library, to help local writers learn how to publish and distribute ebooks.

My work with Henry inspired me to negotiate distribution deals for our books at Smashwords with the major providers of library ebook checkout systems, such as Overdrive. We were the first to open up several of these platforms to self-published ebooks. And by opening them up, we made it possible for libraries to purchase the self-published ebooks of their local authors.

It was a great feeling to close the loop so that libraries could now help local writers publish, and then could purchase those books. It was also a great example of how libraries, which have always done such a great job of promoting a culture of reading, now had the opportunity to promote a culture of authorship as well.

After collaborating on several educational workshops, where we trained both local authors and regional librarians, Henry and I sat down to brainstorm what we could do together next. I shared with him a crazy idea I'd been noodling on for some time. I told him I thought it would be really cool if we could encourage Los Gatos High School, my alma mater, to incorporate ebook publishing into their curriculum.

I remembered back to my days at Los Gatos High. I loved any class that involved creative writing. And I imagined it would have been even more fun if there had been an opportunity to publish our stories to an audience beyond the teacher. I thought that if students could publish their work to a global audience, and see it available at major booksellers around the world, the students could gain an entirely new level of appreciation for the written word. This is because publishing makes writing more fulfilling, and writing helps us appreciate other great writers.

Henry loved the idea. And he knew a teacher he thought might be interested. Within a couple of weeks, we were meeting with Los Gatos High School poetry teacher, Tonya McQuade. Tonya immediately recognized the potential of this project to make poetry more fun, relevant, and inviting for her students. Tonya taught several periods of a freshman honors poetry class. And she knew another poetry teacher, [Catherine Wehr 00:09:27], who taught the same class, and who would also be interested.

Between the two of them, they taught five class periods totalling about 120 students. I proposed that their students could create a poetry anthology, price it at free, and then use Smashwords to publish and distribute it. By pricing it at free, the students could reach the widest possible audience.

Tonya had a better idea. She thought it would be fun to put a price on the book, and then have the proceeds go toward helping to fund the freshman class's senior prom three years later. In this way, the book project contributed toward another higher purpose, funding their class activities.

To help kickstart the process, Tonya invited me to speak to each of the classrooms about ebook self-publishing. I shared the same information you learned in Episode 2 of the Smart Author podcast, An Introduction to eBook Publishing.

Since all the students were minors, I suggested we develop a parental permission slip so parents could authorize their child's participation in the project. The permission slip clarified that the student would own the copyright to their work, but that the parent was also giving the school a perpetual license to sell the resulting anthology as a fundraiser, or to even give it away for free in the future, if the school so desired. The permission slip also gave the parent the ability to determine if their child was allowed to appear in photographs inside the book, and how their child's name would appear in the book, such as full name, or first name only, or first name and last initial.

Now back to how Tonya organized the project.

She asked the students from across these five class periods to contribute one poem each. And then her students divided into working groups to perform many of the same functional roles played by a traditional publisher. One team focused on editing, layout, and design. Another team focused on art and photography. Another team managed marketing and publicity. And another team managed event planning for their book launch.

Jim Azevedo, the Marketing Director here at Smashwords, met with the marketing and publicity team to mentor them on how to write a press release, and how to plan and execute a publicity strategy that would generate press coverage from local media. He taught them the same information you learned in the last episode of Smart Author, Episode 15, which taught you how to write a press release and how to promote it.

Prior to publication, Tonya McQuade invited her students to suggest titles for the anthology. And the students voted on their favorite. The title they selected for the inaugural anthology was, Windows to the Teenage Soul. The poetry was organized in the book under different thematic sections. And each section featured original artwork from the students corresponding to the theme. It was absolutely beautiful.

They loaded the ebook as a pre-order at Smashwords, and we distributed it to all the major retailers, including Amazon. The day the book released, it was briefly the number one best-selling poetry book at the Apple iBooks Store.

You know from Episode 4 of the Smart Author podcast, the episode on pre-orders, that the pre-order helped make that happen. The evening of the release, the students held their book launch at the Los Gatos Public Library. This gave students valuable experience in event planning.

I attended. It was standing room only, as proud parents and some lucky patrons, listened to the students describe the project, and read excerpts of their favorite poems as voted upon by the students themselves.

I found myself feeling so incredibly impressed by these talented students and the visionary teachers that made this happen.

Long story made short, over the course of just five weeks, 117 students collaborated to write and publish a poetry anthology. Their book is distributed globally to all the major retailers and library platforms. Those students from 2014 graduated from Los Gatos High School in June 2017 as published authors.

Now in its fifth year, this initiative led by teacher, Tonya McQuade, has touched the lives of more than 600 students.

As I record this episode in April 2018, which by the way, is National Poetry Month, 175 students from the class of 2021 are preparing to publish their anthology.

Although the project isn't a huge money-maker for the school, that was never the point, it has touched the lives of hundreds of young adults. It's not a leap to say that each of these students will begin the first chapter of their adult life with a deeper appreciation for the written word. They'll lead happier, more fulfilling lives with books as the keys that open new doors of opportunity.

Many of these students will go on to write more, read more, and publish again. I wouldn't be surprised if some of Tonya McQuade's students, inspired by their experiences with this project, go on to write and publish books that touch millions of readers.

This entire project, from start to finish, didn't cost anything for the students or the school. Any school with a computer, a word processor, and an internet connection can implement similar projects in their classrooms.

Now back to you.

You have an opportunity to work with local educators to inspire similar projects in your community. Every elementary school, middle school, high school, and university can replicate this project in their classrooms. Every person can write poetry.

This project would also work well for flash fiction or short story anthologies. All it takes is a visionary teacher, and in indie author like you, to teach the teacher. You have the skills and ability to inspire similar initiatives in your community, schools, and classrooms. Once you teach the teacher, they can run with it.

Contact your local school. Reach out to the principal or the head of the languages department, and tell them about this project. Volunteer to be that expert resource to sit down and train the teacher, or to speak in front of the classrooms, so they can launch similar publishing projects.

This is your opportunity to change the world.

That concludes Episode 16 of the Smart Author podcast. Check out the show notes at where I'll share links to each of the poetry anthologies published by Los Gatos High, so you can read the amazing work from these talented writers.

In, Windows to the Teenage Soul, their first anthology, Tonya McQuade included a teacher's guide in the appendix to help other educators replicate the same project in their classrooms. Her teacher's guide includes project timelines, the parental permissions form, handouts, and a list of educator resources.

I'll also include links to some of the press coverage this project has attracted over the years, to help you and your local educators visual your opportunity to become literary heroes in your community.

Thanks for listening. Until next time, keep writing. I'm Mark Coker.