Teaching Students

I’ve been invited to speak to English class students in a few days and am looking forward to it! I wrote out a whole speech for the thirty minute presentation and tried to make it interactive and interesting. We’ll be talking about writing, publishing, and selling books. I’m including the speech here below for anyone who wants some ideas for speaking to students about book-writing. I hope I can stick to the script! I’ll be practicing a lot the next few days.

Hello. I have a box in front of me.  I need a volunteer to open this box.

(Pick volunteer )

Now please, open the box.  What is inside the box?

Books.  Books are inside the box.  Ordinary looking books, nothing extremely fancy about them, right?  These are some great books though with really fantastic stories meant to inspire and educate you and to transcend you to other times and places.  They will make you laugh.  They will make you cry.  They will teach you new things. 

That is the power of books.  They can influence art.  They can influence music and movies.  There’s so much that one little book can do. 

Now let’s start at the top of the stack of books.  Each one of these books was written by an author that wanted to contribute their thoughts to the world.  Each one of these books is also a different type of genre.  What is a genre?  Well, it means a certain style of book or category.  And thinking about your genre or niche, thinking about what you know about the world and what you can contribute to the world of books……….that is one of the first steps for an author. 

So let’s go through the books in the box real quick.  I want you to hold up each book to the class and let them guess the type of genre that book is and I will write it down on the board here.  There are, in fact, many different types of book genres. 

(Go through books.  When student volunteer is done, let him or her pick out a book to keep from the stack.)

Ok, so if you want to become an author, we have already established that you need to figure out what you are good at, what you have knowledge of, and what you can write about.  But what if you are a specialist on something really remote like say bugs?  What if you know everything there is to know about the bug world and you write a fabulous detailed and precise book about bugs?  Your next question to yourself should be……will that book sell?  Will you make any money or return on your investment if you write and publish that book? 

Your next step as an author should be to analyze the current book market.  Do some research.  For instance, what are the top 5 sellers now in the self-publishing book market?  You can look that up online and the answers are:

(Let students guess the top 5 sellers)

  1.  Romance novels
  2. Science Fiction novels
  3. Fantasy novels
  4. Mystery, Thriller, and Crime novels
  5. Nonfiction novels  (Self-help or Business, etc.)

Ok, so with that in mind…….what type of book should the bug enthusiast write to get the most sells?  Perhaps a love story between two bugs?  A story like this one, maybe?

(Hold up the DVD for A Bug’s Life) 

So, I recently wrote a book that falls into one of these categories here listed above.  Based on the cover design of Searching for Fire, which genre of book would you guess that it is? 

(Let students guess.)

The answer is Fantasy Fiction.   That is number 3 on the list.

Now, I’ve got an interesting question. 

In the year 2013, according to BookScan.com, how many millions of hardcover and paperback fiction copies of books were sold in the United States alone?

(Give students time to write down their guesses.)

The answer is 256 million copies of books in one year in the United States alone.

(Figure out which student came closest to the answer and applaud them) 

Now, comes the hard part……..

What is the average number of copies of a book that an author sells?  What would you guess?

(Ask a few students what they would guess.)

According to Publisher’s Weekly, an average author only sells 250 copies of their book in their first year and around 2,000 to 3,000 copies of the book in their lifetime! 

So…….what does that mean?

First, if we do the math and take 256 million copies of books divided by 250 copies of books, we realize that the current global book market is massive! 

(Write out equation on the whiteboard)

That places the number of original editions of books on the market at around 1.2 million books and that is just for one year!!!  What about all the other original edition books published prior to 2019??? 

According to Google, there are roughly over 130 million original books in the world today.  That is A LOT of books!!

The second thing, we learn from these statistics is that authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling are an amazing and unique phenomenon.  They are not the norm.  They are super successful but they had to write many, many books before they became that way. 

Ok, so why am I telling you all of this? 

Because I want you to understand that writing is a hard challenge and very few people are bestsellers.  If you want to become a writer or author, it will take hard work and dedication but more than that……you just gotta write for the sake of the storytelling itself rather than money.  You gotta love writing for writing in and of itself.  Yes, the money is very important but the reality from these statistics is that you might probably only sell 250 copies in your first year and maybe 2,000 to 3,000 copies in your lifetime.  So that means, the average author makes maybe $2,500 their first year and maybe $20,000 on a book in their lifetime. 

Writing and Publishing books is Big Business though.  And if you decide to become a writer, you need to look at it from a business standpoint and view yourself as this……..an entrepreneur.  What is an entrepreneur?  According to Merriam-Webster, an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. 

(Pick up candy bars for this part to show to the audience.)

So say you are an author, an entrepreneur……..you write a book you want to sell to the world, this book “this Whatjamacallit” that you have…..perhaps it is a sci-fi fiction book, perhaps you wrote about the “Milky Way” or maybe it’s a sports history book and you wrote about “Baby Ruth”………well, as an entrepreneur you take on financial risk to publish this book (perhaps you pay for editing services or custom design of the cover, etc.) and then you put it on the market and sell it.  If you sell say, “1,000 Grand” copies well then you hit “Payday”  but say you don’t sell any at all, you might get “Snickers” from friends and family and colleagues.  But that is the risk, you are willing to take because you are now officially an entrepreneur.  An author.

(Open bag of small Milky Way candy bars to pass around the classroom.)

And the book market is what is called a “low margin market.”  Meaning that for most people, it does minimally well but for the right folks, it could hit big time jackpot.  Kinda like going to a casino or winning the lottery.  JK Rowling basically hit the lottery for writing books because she’s really a great writer.   

So we’ve determined that you maybe have your genre and you’ve realistically studied the book market and know the risks and possible downfalls as well as positive outcomes associated, the rest of developing a book can be divided into three parts:

  1.  Writing the book
  2. Publishing the book
  3. Selling the book

Let’s talk about writing.  Nowadays, there are lots of tools you can use to help you write better.  There’s Grammerly to help you with spelling and grammar.  There’s also Scribner which is an app to help you keep track of your writings.

I wanted to talk to you about a specific theory that helped me write Searching for Fire.  It is called the hero’s journey and was developed by a mythologist named Joseph Campbell.  In 1949 he wrote The Hero has a Thousand Faces and in this book, he said that there is a 12-step pattern to developing an action adventure quest story. 

Action adventure quest stories are featured in many of our contemporary movies.  Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? What about Lord of the Rings?  Or Star Wars?  What about the movie Finding Nemo?  Yep, Finding Nemo also uses the 12 step pattern and I will show you how in this handout I created for you today. 

(Pass out handout to the class.)

So I wanted to write Searching for Fire and I wanted it to be a hero’s journey.  Next, I had to pick a location and setting.  I chose Northwest New Mexico and Southwest Colorado because I traveled to Mesa Verde and did an archaeology dig there once and knew it would be a fantastic location in North America to set a story in. 

What type of characters did I want this to be about?  This was another question I had to answer.  I chose to make the story about Native Americans in a hidden cliff village and they journey into the Old West of the 1800s as well.  Because this was a North American story, I wanted it to be about ordinary people who overcome difficult challenges through grit and determination just like the ideas we uphold here of an American dream.  I noticed as a mother that a lot of the shows my kids watched growing up were about lords and ladies, knights, and kings and queens which is interesting but I wanted the heroes to be just like you or me. 

So how did I start writing?  I already had a two page short story.  My first step after that was to prepare an outline that covered all the action in the book from beginning to end.  My outline took a week to create and it included the 12 step pattern of a hero’s journey.  I started first on a prologue that I hoped would hook the audience in and relay some very important background information.  Then I started working chapter by chapter by chapter until the book was completed.  To be honest, I did skip one chapter though and came back to it at the end.  Can anyone guess who that chapter was about?

(Ask audiences for their guesses.)

Yes, it was about the super villain.  He was the hardest person in the book to write about. Is it possible to have a favorite villain?  Yes, I think so.  What about you?  Who would you consider to be an interesting villain? 

(Ask audience for their responses)

Can anyone tell me what are the five elements to a good story?  Think about these 5 elements as you are writing.

  • A great protagonist that readers identify with
  • An antagonist that thwarts the plans of the protagonist and is an interesting character
  • An inciting action that pits the two against each other
  • Conflict – this can be internal or external
  • Resolution – the climax where we see who wins the conflict

The actual work of writing Searching for Fire took me 6 weeks at 6 hours a day but I also spent 8 hours each day at work at the factory carefully thinking over the sequence of events.  I would work out the ideas in my head for hours long before I came home each night to write them.  This meditation time is also really crucial to developing better twists and turns and maybe fight scenes. 

A good size book for your first novel could be about 100 pages written in MS Word.  The publishing company will also need to format the book and put in extra pages and different fonts and illustrations.  By the time the publishing company was done with the formatting, my 100 page work turned into about 140 pages. 

When you finish writing, you will feel great!  Truly great as if you just created something truly wonderful.  But don’t let that cloud your judgment.  You need to give the manuscript to a confidante, a close friend or two, that would be willing to read your work and edit it.  Drew was the first person to read Searching for Fire.  He was a big help to me.  The other person that helped me a lot was my sister, Jerri.  She has worked at libraries for years and had many great ideas for how to improve the manuscript.  After that was done and the revisions were made, I knew I was ready to submit the work to others.

I chose to go with a company called Archway Publishing because they are closely affiliated with Simon and Schuster and also because they were affordable for me.  When publishing there are three routes an author can take:

  1.  Traditional Publishers & Book Agents – This is the best route but the hardest to attain for a first time writer.
  2. Smaller Presses or Pay-to-print Presses – Some of these publishers require you to pay them a fee to help you publish your work.  If you are new to writing, you might consider this carefully.  You can get your book into stores but only if you have great professional reviews from Clarion, BlueInk, Kirkus, The Library Journal, The Midwest Book Review, etc. 
  3. Self-publish – Can anyone tell me the name of the one company that has revolutionized the book market in the past few decades?  I’ll give you a hint……the company starts with the letter A. 

(Wait for responses.)

Yes, the answer is Amazon.  Nowadays many many authors choose to self-publish and why not?  You keep royalties for your sales.  But the downside to this is that you must contract out work that publishing companies would do for you and when you self-publish, you do all the marketing yourself.  Also self-published works sometimes don’t get a lot of online traffic or get sold in bookstores.

I went with the second option.  I submitted the manuscript to Archway and they approved it for print.  Then I went through about a dozen editing revisions with Archway, many of which I worked on first-hand.  There was an editor that did line editing which is setting the book to Chicago Style grammar and spelling.  After the edit process, then the book moved to cover design.  The publishing company had a huge database of images to use for the book.  I picked an image with the help of Ella and Drew.  Then the cover designers created the cover and sent it to me for revisions.  From cover design, we moved then to production.  The production agents then prepared the interior formatting of the book and they created things like the dedication page and title page.  I approved what they sent and then they got it ready for print into paperback books and also to setup on Amazon live in paperback and Kindle eBook format.  In the future, I’d really like to get the book into the audiobooks market as well. 

So that’s publishing, now came the hardest part of all……….selling the book!  I though the hardest part was writing……no, no, no…….the hardest part is convincing other people to take a look at the book.  This part is called book marketing.  Book marketing should be viewed as a long term irrigation process rather than a thunderstorm at the beginning of the release.  You have to plan things out longterm and plan to do something new each month to promote the book.  The first month, I had a book launch party at the Pittsburg Artwalk.  In September, I had a Local Author Night at the Root Coffeehouse.  In October, I have planned an author night at the Pittsburg Public Library and a book signing at the PSU bookstore, and a Writers’ Faire.  In November, I plan to go to other places. 

Another part of book marketing is social media:  blogging, a book website, vlogging, a Facebook page, Instagram posts, email newsletters. 

Newspaper attention also helps to get the word out.  Thus far, for Searching for Fire…..I have contacted the Pittsburg Morning Sun, The Tulsa World, The Joplin Globe, The Parsons Sun, The Fort Scott Herald Tribune, and the Lawrence Journal World.  Other things to consider are book clubs, professional magazines, professional review journals, and especially book contests and book awards. 

So, finally, that is all I know about writing my first book.  I still have much to learn.  But these are the pros and the cons, the ins and the outs.  Now we have time for questions and answers.  Does anyone have any questions?

2 thoughts on “Teaching Students

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