Books, Promotion

Creative Book Promotion to Schools, Part 3 – Meeting Curriculum Standards

One of the most effective ways to promote your books to schools is to develop teaching units that can be integrated easily into existing curricula.

Author Barbara Techel and Frankie the Walk 'n Roll Dog
Author Barbara Techel and Frankie the Walk 'n Roll Dog make an in-person classroom visit

Remember: As with most forms of free publicity, schools aren’t interested in promoting your book to  students and their parents. They ARE interested in what valuable content/substance you can add to their existing lessons through your book’s subject. If you remember that your material must work in service to their broader goals of teaching concepts in an interesting way, your material is likely to be favorably received and actually used.

You first need to think about all the ways your book’s subject could fit into the standard disciplines:

  • reading/spelling
  • writing/grammar
  • math
  • science
  • social studies/history
  • physical education
  • art
  • music

Use Your Imagination
This exercise should be pretty easy, especially for fiction writers, since it involves making connections where there previously were none: Think about each separate teaching discipline, then imagine a creative approach you might take to make your content relevant to that segment. Obviously, not all books will fit in all teaching categories, but you may surprise yourself with the connections you can make.

As an example, I’ll use my first self-published book, a narrative nonfiction documentary of a historic weather disaster. Here’s how I can imagine Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955 fitting into several standard disciplines:

Reading/Spelling – Create a unit that uses several excerpts from the book. One will be followed by questions that strengthen readers’ close reading and comprehension skills; one will introduce ten new vocabulary words, asking readers to define them according to their context; another can be mined for spelling words.
Writing/Grammar – Pull an excerpt that discusses a diary kept during the flood. Use that section as the basis of an exercise in writing a diary entry using the 5 Ws. This could be tweaked to be written as the classic journalistic inverted pyramid for older students. Other excerpts could be pulled out to show what kind of research was required to dig up the facts, organize them into a coherent narrative, and fit them into the larger story. Still other dialogue excerpts could be used to show how people often neglect proper grammar when speaking, especially when in a hurry or under duress.
Math – There are all kinds of applied math problems that could be pulled from this narrative: How much does one inch of rainfall covering one acre weigh? What’s the formula to determine the hydraulic force of two feet of water moving at 8 mph? If a river’s level rises beyond flood stage, how far out from the banks will it spread once it’s a foot over flood stage? Story problems: If a breach forms in a canal wall that’s 15 feet thick at its base, 7 feet thick at the top, and 10 feet high, how many sandbags measuring 2 ft. x 3 ft. x 1 ft. will it take to fill it? If six men can each move six sandbags per minute, how long will it take them to fill that gap?
Science – The no-brainer here is environmental science and weather: What conditions are required for a hurricane to form over the Atlantic Ocean? How does one storm continue cycling to produce extreme amounts of rainfall? What causes a hurricane to lose so much power once it’s over land? Why is it a bad idea to straighten a waterway? Could such a devastating flood ever happen again? Why or why not?
Social Studies/History – The social studies angle could deal with how rumors spread in a panicked population; the political ramifications of not enforcing ordinances against building in the flood plain; how the flood changed the way life developed in the river valley regarding location of stores and living space, traffic patterns from washed-out bridges. History could be served simply by pulling a few dramatic excerpts that address local, regional and state history as affected by the flood.
Physical Education – My book contains an account of an amazing helicopter rescue that was only successful because the people being rescued (camp counselors between 17-19 years old) were physically fit and prepared for what they needed to do to help save themselves.
Art – Younger kids could have a project in which they draw pictures of some of the more dramatic scenes from the book, while older kids could create memorials to those who died in the event.
Music – Groups of kids could work together to write lyrics and compose music for a ballad about the Flood of ’55.

Help From On High
If you can’t come up with much, don’t worry. Most state departments of education maintain websites containing their grade level standards for curriculum content in every teaching discipline. They’re pretty detailed insofar as what content is required, and this might help you spark some ideas. These curriculum standards are freely available to anyone willing to take the time to study them. It’s possible to develop lesson plans for teaching units in as many of these disciplines as your book pertains to. It involves some work, but you can develop one unit at a time and adjust it slightly for different grade levels.

It’s quite likely that you’ll find your efforts worthwhile: You never know when your book’s lesson might catch on among teachers, who are famous for both sharing what works and lobbying for official adoption of effective material. It only takes one such scenario for your book to become a mandatory or at least a recommended text for an entire school district, so your investment in development can really pay off.

Once you’ve finished creating your units, one way to make them work hard for you while you’re doing other things is to post them as PDFs in your online newsroom. This makes them available not just for download by grateful teachers looking for fresh material, but also makes them searchable by web crawlers that will help make them discoverable by those very instructors looking for exactly what you’re offering.

Most often, you’ll want to develop for a K-12 grade level, but some books might lend themselves to post-secondary level adoption. These more advanced teaching units should contain tightly focused readings, discussion questions, and an assignment for a 45-minute class period. Including a quiz or related game is optional. Remember to use social media to drive awareness of these offerings.

How-To Help Is On The Way
Ideally, not only will your books make it into classrooms, but so will you! It’s a rare teacher who won’t want to meet the author of a book whose content she’s using in her classroom, and to have the author come speak to her students on that subject.   For more information about making the most of such classroom visits as a marketing and promotional tool, learn about the definitive guide to such activities: Pioneering author Barbara Techel is currently at work on CLASS ACT, the ultimate how-to guide for authors wanting to get in front of audiences in schools and classrooms.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this three-part series and will find it helpful in getting your books into classrooms and beyond.

Benefits of writing, Books, Motivation, Promotion

Book Promotion To Schools – Part 2: Finding the Decisionmakers

Author Mary Shafer teaches elementary students about writing
Here I'm teaching a special writing class to students at the Delaware Township School in New Jersey.

If you’re hoping to promote your book to schools, several good things may happen:

  1. Teachers get interested in using your book as a classroom text that will be required reading for all their students. If they do get enthused about your book, they will talk to each other about it and may start a sales chain reaction: Teachers are the original viral marketers. This will result in direct volume sales to these classrooms.
  2. What happens at one school could create the requirement of your book as a text district-wide, resulting in possible volume sales to several schools.
  3. Your book isn’t required as a text, but it gets used by the teachers as part of their content. More about this later.
  4. Your book may or may not get picked up as a text, but you or your author gets invited to speak to a single classroom, multiple classrooms, or even to an assembly. This usually results in an opportunity to sell your book afterwards.

There’s no guarantee that any of these will occur, but I guarantee that none of them will if you don’t learn the proper way to approach schools about your book.

Understand the Culture
First, understand that academia is all about hierarchy and chain of command. If you don’t know who to approach, you can doom your efforts from the start. So learn how your state’s school districts are set up, and who makes the decisions about textbook buying. It can vary widely, but usually it’s some version of certain texts being required at either state or district level, then some local — whole school or classroom level — control for individual titles.

You could research this on the Web or at your local library, but there’s an easier way: If you have kids in school and a decent rapport with one of their teachers, simply ask. Any teacher who’s been around for more than a year should be able to tell you how this works in your state. Another option is to ask your local public or school librarian. Either one should be familiar with your state’s setup.

Manage Your Expectations
Knowing this protocol won’t help you sell at the statewide level. Unless you’re a fairly large publisher with a dedicated sales staff that knows the ropes, that’s a losing battle if you’re coming from outside the system. But what this knowledge will do is tell you the general attitude about textbooks, and how much leverage you might be able to exert at the local or regional district level. Managing these expectations for your efforts is key to being able to maintain them for any length of time.

Generally, you’re looking at a structure something like this:

State DOE > Regional Administrative Unit (optional for larger districts) > School District > Individual Schools. There will be a school board somewhere along this line, made up of local officials, parents and businesspeople. It may be at the regional (admin unit), local (district) or — in the case of really rural areas — the individual school level. For the small, independent publisher or self-published author (who is also an independent publisher), this board is who you want to make friends with, because ultimately, they will make the decision about whether your book gets exposure in the schools they govern.

Gain Advocates
Yes, you can and absolutely should approach teachers directly with your ideas, because they are going to be your strongest advocate if they believe in the power of your book to help them teach kids. But it’s fairly uncommon for teachers to have the discretion to simply adopt your book as a classroom teaching aid without first running it past at least some kind of content approval committee, if not the school board. It’s not unheard of, but it’s not common.

First Impressions Count
Once you’ve determined who to approach, prepare a professionally produced package to send them. This should include a cover letter attached to a promo kit (your press kit, but slanted specifically to appeal to teachers), and a free reading copy of the book. If you can’t afford to give out that many free copies without knowing it has a good chance of selling more books, at least include a 4 x 6 postcard with some check-offs stating that the teacher wants more information or to request a reading copy (count on it — they will if at all interested) that they can send back to you.

Obviously, the hope is that you’ll be able to sell volumes of your book to classrooms, but it may not work that way. You may only be able to sell copies to the teachers, who will teach from it without requiring students to read it. This is not ideal, but it’s not a bad thing, either. With a teacher  in front of a class talking about your book for almost an hour (and maybe more, if you create a multi-class teaching unit) there are bound to be at least a few kids in each class who go out and buy the book. From there, it can turn into Referral City — the best possible kind of promotion!

Next: Meeting Curriculum Standards

Books, Promotion, Publishing Industry

Creative Book Promotion to Schools, Part 1 – It’s Not Just About Textbooks

Author Mary Shafer Presenting To a Classroom

After you’ve written your book and gotten it published, you have about a year to really make a mark with it in the reader marketplace. Hopefully, you thought about how to promote your book even before you started writing it,  and have built some great marketability into the content and format. But even if you’re coming to book promotion late in the game, all is not lost. There’s plenty to learn and lots of places to begin to make a name for yourself and your work. In the interest of efficiency, it makes sense to put most of your effort into places where you can make volume sales. And there are few such markets as interesting and attractive as the education market.

For self-published authors and other small independent publishers, the school market may at first appear untouchable. It’s a crowded marketplace, with dozens of big-name publishers vying for the volume sales generated when whole schools or entire districts buy a title. Aside from the sometimes questionable tactics used by big publishers to get their textbooks into the schools (deeply discounting or even BOGO pricing one book to make huge sales on another, more profitable title — yes, it happens, and purchases are not always based on what’s most appropriate for any given course), there are all kinds of seen and unseen barriers to entry to this most lucrative selling field. But it’s not impossible to crack, if you set realistic expectations and take the time to understand the way schoolbooks get bought and used.

It’s a fallacy that only textbooks are used for teaching in schools. Remember back to when you were in grades K-12: Remember Scholastic’s Weekly Reader, and the neat books they offered for students to buy? Well, they’re still around, and though the Reader has gone digital (what hasn’t?), kids can still buy Scholastic titles to take home. And those books are often used as integral teaching content in the classroom.

Those titles have going for them instant publisher name recognition among educators, which carries with it a mantle of trust and confidence that their books will be of high quality and appropriate for classroom use. Still, you needn’t be a mammoth, venerated publisher to get your books into students’ hands. Sure, it takes some doing, but even small independent publishers — including self-published authors — can get their books into the hands of classroom readers, if they’re willing to devote the time and energy.

For the purposes of this post series, we’ll assume a high level of quality of the book: Professionally written and edited, illustrated and produced. Something you’d be proud to put in front of anyone, and that you know is well-constructed enough to stand the rigors of rough handling. Of course, if your book is in digital form only, this isn’t a consideration. What would be a consideration, then, would be a high level of interactivity, i.e., your book isn’t just “flat,” but contains enough weblinks, 3D animated illustrations and embedded audio and video to keep modern readers engaged. That’s a whole different post series  in itself, so we’ll deal primarily with p-books rather than e-books for this series.

The key term to remember when fishing for classroom readers is RELEVANCE. Teachers are forever on the lookout for fresh materials that bring concepts they’re teaching in the classroom to real-life applicability. This is particularly true for more abstract concepts that can’t be physically demonstrated, such as loyalty, perseverance, conscience, and many science and math concepts. Since teachers typically revert to storytelling to explain these concepts anyway, why shouldn’t it be your book they use to base this teaching on?

Regardless whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction, there are likely several ways you can effectively promote your book to schools and schoolchildren of appropriate ages. This series will explore things you can do to make your book promotable to them, including how to get in front of the eyes of teachers and others who buy books for classroom use.

Come back and visit next week, when we’ll begin a series of actionable, accessible tips you can immediately get to work on to get your books in front of those who buy books for school use, in and out of the classroom.