No Better Time for Teachers and Librarians to Introduce Teenagers to Self-Publishing Than Now

From No Shelf Required:

We live in an age in which the resources necessary to self-publish are readily available. Many adults self-publish their books and see them distributed to online retailers and libraries. Some libraries are beginning to facilitate this, especially with seniors who are memoirists, but what of students? What of adolescents whose hearts are filled with passion for life and who need to express their thoughts and feelings, to know that their words can find readers, and that their ideas matter to others? Now, thanks to Smashwords with its technology and how-to guides, educators and librarians can help these young people find their voices and speak to the world.

I send a big thanks to Tonya McQuade, poet, teacher and pioneer in both ebook publishing and in educational leadership.  Tonya McQuade began writing poetry as a child. She has won awards for it, published a book of her own writings, and appeared in anthologies. She has taught high school English for over 20 years. But in 2014, she found herself inspired her to go into self-publishing with her students.

She knew that when students write for an audience, when students write with the knowledge that their words will reach people who will understand them, then students become young writers. They are not writing to satisfy a course requirement or to please a teacher. They are writing to express themselves. And this can change their lives. But how did a busy educator whose forte was poetry not technology find the time and resources to make this work, to write, organize, publish and distribute an ebook? If it had been a printed book, the cost would have been high, but as an ebook, money was not a problem. The problem, had there been one, would have centered on the technology. But there wasn’t any problem.

Los Gatos, California, was the center of a vortex of indie author energy. A great and serendipitous confluence of people and ideas met there, and the dream of publishing ebooks of student writings became a reality.

McQuade taught 9th grade honors English at Los Gatos High School for five sessions per day. Not an easy task. Smashwords, which provided the technology and the know-how, was headquartered in Los Gatos. Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, was a graduate of Los Gatos High and eager to share his knowledge with students. Henry Bankhead, a librarian with a passion for self-publishing and a vision of libraries as centers of community publishing and beyond, worked at Los Gatos Public Library. Tonya was friends with Heidi Murphy, then Co-Director of Los Gatos Public Library. Henry Bankhead was the other Co-Director. Through these personal connections and new ways of thinking about authorship, publishing, and the role of libraries in their communities, Tonya found the support she needed to publish her students’ writings in the Los Gatos vortex.

Once these personal connections were made, Mark Coker and Henry Bankhead spoke in-person to McQuade’s classes about the business of self-publishing, the benefits of it, the best practices and so on.

. . . .

The students took their book through all the stages of editing and revision that books need and then released it concurrently with a book launch party organized by the events team and held at the Los Gatos Public Library.

. . . .

Because of the pre-sale work of the marketing team, Windows to the Teenage Soul hit number one in poetry in Apple’s iBooks store on the day of its release and generated several hundred dollars of profit toward the senior prom. The book and its successors remain available through online retailers and library ebook platforms.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

9 thoughts on “No Better Time for Teachers and Librarians to Introduce Teenagers to Self-Publishing Than Now”

  1. I just read somewhere (here, actually) that the eBook craze was dead and print was recapturing its strangle hold on publishing.

    Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of teaching self-pub?
    (No need for an answer. It’s rhetorical. 🙂 )


  2. In high school and college, I worked on each school’s literary magazines, and I worked slush pile in each. Almost all kids that age have nothing new to say and say it badly, usually in the same way.

    I’ve also read a number of novels by teenagers that have been self-published. While I admire them for finishing a novel, the results were dismal.

    Pardon me, I need to do a brain enema in an attempt to remove the sludge of those memories.

    • I find most literary fiction to be pretentious and nauseatingly self absorbed, so maybe those students were just parroting The style that their professor taught them.

  3. While I’m not so big on the extended praise for Smashwords (which I have some issues with), the notion of teaching kids self-publishing is great.

    Thankfully, it seems we’re past the “if anyone can publish, all writers will work for free and the world will end” bull.

    I can envision a lovely world where it becomes expected that every kid will self-publish some kind of short story or non-fiction article by the end of grade school and a short novella or biography by the end of high school. Most won’t be read much outside of family, but it doesn’t matter, it’s like teaching kids a musical instrument even though most won’t play them into adulthood.

    And I imagine a world where when you are about to go on a first date, or meet up with a potential business associate, that the first thing you do is check the internet to see if they published something and then you can look over their early work and have a laugh about it when you meet. “Oh, no! You actually read that? I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid and…” “Yeah, I wrote poetry for a while, but then…”

    Seems like a nice idea. There’s too much emphasis on self-publishing as a money making or fame making enterprise (and even as an artistic one). It should first and foremost be a beautiful tool for creativity and self-expression which is something of benefit to all people.

    • This is a great idea until you consider that what they write will be awful and someone will think it’s fun to Mystery Science Theater the earnest efforts of children who know no better. Inspiring the development of writing skills is necessary, but this is not the way. There’s maybe too much emphasis on writing as a public publication enterprise.

      • What I first wrote at age 35 was awful too. In the business world it’s common for entrepreneurs to realize the earlier they fail miserably the quicker they can learn and find some success.

        What these kids in Los Gatos, CA will come up against is college professors who tell them indie publishing is expensive and an admittance of failure. Hacks.

        I hope someone in this HS class is teaching them marketing and promotion.

      • Awful in some eyes is sweet and endearing to others.

        Sure, most of the kids art on refrigerators is TERRIBLE! Terrible! “That doesn’t look anything like your sister!” Don’t put it out so people can see it, hide it in a drawer!

        Or that horrible kids band in high school! Nothing like the New York Philharmonic! And don’t get me started about that horrible grade school production of A Christmas Carol! Worst eight year old Scrooge yet!

        So judgmental. First, the best way to get people to write better is to have them do it when they are young, do it often, and take is seriously (by actually publishing it). Second, the point isn’t to create great literature.

        For some reason, writing fiction has really been taken over by a snobbish attitude that seems to come from the gatekeepers who get to decide what is good and what isn’t and that anyone without an MFA shouldn’t bother.

        I’ve read some “bad” books that were a blast and some award winning stuff fawned over by the literary elite that was absolute dreck.

        Wonderful thing about reading is, you can always stop at any point in the page and put it away. I can never understand it when people seem to have a desire to discourage writing in advance. The more you value great writing, the less you should desire to kill any potential gems that might pop up with a little encouragement.

        • They shouldn’t put their bad art up on Etsy, either. All art requires a lot of practice with results that only have value in that they help the artist improve. Writers need to learn that their writing is more disposable, and publicly publishing at a young age will not teach this one iota. How about they print it out, delete the file and put the hard copy out on the kitchen counter where it will be thrown away after a month or so, never to be read ever again?

          Other artists don’t seem to have a problem with this, but writers do. All of the lamenting about early passes not looking very good and all of the self-flagellation involved is far less prominent outside of writing. Maybe it’s because no one puts it on the fridge before throwing it away or putting it in a box in the attic.

  4. I’d recommend they take them through all the steps necessary to get an eBook on Amazon without worrying about the content. (Repeat the St. Crispin’s Day speech 100 times.) Buy a few copies and follow the money.

    Now they have the skill necessary to use a valuable resource should they choose. Those who actually want to write a book can do so. The rest still know how to tap into the resource if they do find a need.

    Think of it like learning how to use Word or Excel, even if there is no current need. We don’t need to start a company to learn them. It’s for the future.

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