Tuesday, June 23, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 62- Charleston

You can't pretend this doesn't fall directly into our sphere of influence and interest. There is zero deniability for any teacher when it comes to racial education. Ours is to confront ignorance. That's what teachers do. Any age, any grade, any subject. It’s possible. At the end of the day our job is bringing light to places darkened by ignorance. So to pretend that this isn't something that we should talk about is to increase, not decrease, ignorance.

Edchats happen weekly. That means they can be responsive, flexible communication vehicles. Something weekly is something that can be changed, that is adaptable, that should confront the issues of the world at that moment. Maybe not every time. Anyone looking at this page knows that I love to bring the ridiculous. There is no time when having a chat about narwhals is socially relevant (even though I'd argue that wasn't really a chat about narwhals, and the metaphor made it very socially relevant). Too many edchats pretend this isn’t the case, or pawn blame off on the teachers who voted for their topic. Who came up with the choices?

I hear teachers constantly rallying against standardized education. "Our students aren't standardized! We should treat them like people, not like robots/clones." But our chats? The "professional development" conversations we have amongst ourselves away from our schools and classrooms and students? By and large those don't treat teachers like people. They treat teachers like Teachers. Like the only things we have to worry about in our classrooms are how to get Kid A to read and how to teach fractions and what discipline plan is best and here's a quote from the book I wrote, respond to it, there's probably a right answer. Zero sense of the outside world. Zero connection to what's really happening.

I try to bring the world into #WeirdEd. It's not always easy. This week won't be easy.

These conversations shouldn't be easy.

Like always #WeirdEd isn’t about pointing fingers and picking fights. It is about finding connections and speaking honestly. The community built around this chat makes me trust we can have a conversation about the Confederate battle flag (take it down, it’s the heritage of hate and even South Carolina knows it) and nine dead black church-goers and the white supremacist the media won’t even call a terrorist who killed them and how the hell we are supposed to do anything about it as teachers. If we can’t have the conversation here, together, how can we ever express anything to our students? How can we fight the ignorance and hate that is in our house if we spend time in edchats ignoring it, too scared to speak?

Tonight we’re talking about Charleston. Like we talked about guns. Like we talked about Ferguson. We aren’t going to solve things, but we’re going to prove that the real world is important to teachers. We’re not going to block out the Hard in favor of the Safe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 61- The Full Chat

In this chat we are going to use exactly as much as twitter will let us. We are taking full advantage of the tool edchats use all the time..
We always talk about using everything you can in the classroom and getting the most out of every opportunity.Now is your chance to visualize
Because tonight you have to use exactly 140 character in every single answer you give. You have to go to the limit and push yourself farther
Will the ensuing grammar and punctuation errors drive some of us crazy? Probably, but that's a risk I'm willing to take to be this connected
I know you want to use your summer as well as possible. You don't want to waste a second of it. Same in your classroom. Waste can hurt kids.
So tonight take full advantage of the gift of twitter. Tonight fill your character quota on every tweet. Tonight you shall fully utilize it!

Friday, June 12, 2015

#WriteWeird pt. 2- Publishing and Promoting the Words

#WriteWeird is a brainchild of Toby Price, Rusul Alrubail, and myself supported and egged on by others. It came about because I wrote two books and that means people think I know how to write books. I try to be friendly, which means people feel comfortable asking me for help writing. I like that. I'm a teacher, helping people is pretty much what I do. That and shouting at children. And I love writing, so helping people write is a bigger bonus. And as an even bigger bonus, I have smart, funny friends who have a lot to say, so helping them write means I'm helping myself because I get to get a bigger chunk of their words in my eyeholes. 

What I'm saying is this whole thing is a selfish endeavor. 

The plan for #WriteWeird is this- I'm going to write two blogs covering a lot of what I know and I've learned about writing a book, getting it published, and helping people find it. There will be one (at least) formal twitter chat about writing and getting published under the hashtag #WriteWeird. Date and time are to be determined. After that the #WriteWeird hashtag will exist for us as a writer's circle. A place to post links to pieces, get feedback, and ask for help, advice, encouragement, and money.

(Part One)

Part Two- Publishing the Words

So you've written a book. Now what? Authors today have more options than we used to. As recently as five years ago it was hard to be an independently published author. Sure, you could be, but distribution was a pain. Barnes and Noble and the like controlled sales, and the only things that get into big book stores are traditionally published books. If you wanted someone to actually see your book you had to go through the proper channels. You had to probably get an agent, who, for a fee, would send your manuscript out to a bunch of publishers, who might or might not throw it straight on to the slush pile. If it made it into someone's hands at the publishing company who liked it then magic happens (I'm not 100% clear on this part), and at the end you have a book published and in stores. Maybe they even promote it. It exists in paperback, maybe hardcover, and you can visit it on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. You're an Author.

That's a lot of gatekeepers. A traditionally published manuscript seems like a miracle when I think about it. It's like a bill making it all the way to a law. It's like Sam Worthington having a career.

But you feel like an Author. Someone said, "Your book is worth our time and money and we will print it for the masses." That sounds really cool.

Here's the thing- that complex is going the way of the music industry. The internet and ereaders means it's easy to get your words into someone's hands. And you can even get paid for it.

But how?

Independent publishing. It's a risky game but it's becoming more and more viable. Popular author John Scalzi started out an independently published author and now he's fairly huge, as far as science fiction authors go. He also sold enough books that a major publisher picked him up. Make no mistake, there are benefits to having that much weight behind you. Book tours become a real thing. But you don't need them.

Think about your target audience. I'll use my first book as an example. He's the Weird Teacher is aimed at a very niche, fairly small audience. Teachers. Yes, there are a lot of us but outside of the profession the likelihood that someone seems my book and decides to buy it drops significantly. So how hard would a major publisher push the book? Realistically, would they throw much weight behind it?


Know what they would do? They'd take a cut of every sale. And Agent Man would take a cut of every sale. And amazon takes a cut of every sale. You're not going to get rich being an author, but can you see that profit margin shrinking?

You don't need to be traditionally published anymore because the market is online now. Find a way to get your words into ebook form and paperback (smashwords and createspace) and people can buy them. The cream rises to the top. Word spreads.

Choosing the right independent publisher, or doing it your own way, takes out those middle men. Now, I want to be clear that I did not go it alone. My experience has been amazingly positive because I found who I did.

Independent publishing is a Wild West, which means there's a lot of people out there to screw you. I've heard friends talk about being told it will cost thousands of dollars to get their book out. Thousands. That's insane. Even for a full color picture book it shouldn't cost that much. You're being robbed because you haven't looked enough and you're too excited by the prospect of seeing your words in print to slow down and shop carefully. Say no and walk away. Your words aren't going anywhere.

I found Ray Charbonneau through a friend who published her book with his company, Y42K. I reached out to her to ask how she got published and she sent me to the same website I'm going to send you to. I was nervous and prepared for him to hit me with a giant price tag. I had literally no idea how much putting a book out would cost.

That website is y42k.com. Ray was and remains easy to work with. He's the Weird Teacher cost me $250. That included formatting, and setting up amazon, iTunes, smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and createspace accounts. It included Ray returning nervous emails from me daily. It included a few phone conversations. It was such a positive experience that there was no question in my mind when I wrote THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) how I would get it out. I emailed Ray before I was even done writing it.

Ray doesn't edit. Like I said in Part One, editing is the author's job. Or you can pay to have it done. There's tons of places online that do that. I did it myself with the help of some friends.

The other thing not included in Ray's price is creating a cover. He can, but it costs extra. I used a friend. Dorothy Dean is a friend from Hawaii who is a photographer and graphic designer. She's awesomely talented. We worked together, using Ray's template, to create the cover of both my books. By "worked together" I mean I told her want I want, she made it pretty, I gave small suggestions, she made it prettier. Is a cover important anymore? Do you look at the covers of ebooks? I think so. I think spending the time on a nice cover is worth it. I bet if you reach out to Dorothy and tell her I sent you she'll be super nice to you.

Ray walked me through all the steps and did most of the footwork himself. Now my book is in digital stores, it exists in paperback form, it has a cover, it's a Real Book. Now what?

Now I have to sell it. Well, if I want people to buy it. I could have put it out and been shy about it and never mentioned it. Why go through the trouble then, though?

Selling books is hard. It feel weird to tell people, "I wrote a thing, please spend money on it." Especially on social media you have to find a balance between being yourself and reminding people you have a product you'd really like them to check out. You cannot be a walking commercial. Everyone hates that. You should post a link to the book in your profile, then be interesting and charming. People will connect liking what you have to say in conversation with probably liking what you'll have to say in a book.

Chuck Klosterman, an author I love, told Aisha Tyler on her Girl on Guy podcast that the only thing that sells books is a person telling someone they liked it. That's it. Commercials, videos, ads, nothing works like word of mouth to sell a book. And in my experience this is 100% true. You need a street team. But again, don't exist to sell your book. Exist to be cool, and people will try your book.

Which brings me to the last piece of the publishing puzzle, something that some, but not all, independent publishers let you control- Price. I can't speak for anyone but Y42K, but Ray helped me control my price point. I'm writing for teachers. Teachers don't have much money. I'm not trying to get rich. So with his guidance I chose prices that were reasonable and afforded me some profit, but not a ton. Ray takes zero percent of my sales. None. So when you buy a copy of one of my books amazon takes a percentage, I think it's 35%, and that's it. The rest goes to me. That's why THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) is $0.99 in ebook. It's just over 19k words. He's the Weird Teacher is over 65k words. In ebook it's $4.99. I did that on purpose. Low price point makes you more likely to buy it. THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) would never be considered a "book" by traditional publishers, why should I charge you like it's a full-length book? It's super short, so it's a buck. In paperback it's $5.99, which is literally as cheap as I could make it and make any profit at all. My philosophy on pricing is I price for volume. The books are cheap, so I'll sell more, and that's how I'll make any money. As I said, I'm not looking to get rich, but I did work hard on these and I deserve something for them.

Personally, if your independent publisher doesn't help you control your price, I'd say walk and find someone who will. I'd send all of you to Ray at Y42k. Seriously, I've never had a better working relationship with anyone. Every time I write a book he's the one who will publish it.

Be smart about who puts your work out. Shop around. Find someone who won't gouge you because they think you're a noob who doesn't know any better. Find someone cool, easy to work with. Make sure you retain the rights to your work.

Use your friends. Everything that went right about He's the Weird Teacher that wasn't in my direct control went right because I have wonderful friends. The editing, finding Ray, working with Ray, getting two beautiful covers, and getting the word out. All friends.

#WriteWeird pt. 1- Writing the Words

#WriteWeird is a brainchild of Toby Price, Rusul Alrubail, and myself supported and egged on by others. It came about because I wrote two books and that means people think I know how to write books. I try to be friendly, which means people feel comfortable asking me for help writing. I like that. I'm a teacher, helping people is pretty much what I do. That and shouting at children. And I love writing, so helping people write is a bigger bonus. And as an even bigger bonus, I have smart, funny friends who have a lot to say, so helping them write means I'm helping myself because I get to get a bigger chunk of their words in my eyeholes. 

What I'm saying is this whole thing is a selfish endeavor. 

The plan for #WriteWeird is this- I'm going to write two blogs covering a lot of what I know and I've learned about writing a book, getting it published, and helping people find it. There will be one (at least) formal twitter chat about writing and getting published under the hashtag #WriteWeird. Date and time are to be determined. After that the #WriteWeird hashtag will exist for us as a writer's circle. A place to post links to pieces, get feedback, and ask for help, advice, encouragement, and money.

Part One- Writing the Words

I want to note that all of this advice is built on things that work for me. It's what I've found after two published books, two unfinished books, and too many blog posts/articles to count. Your mileage may vary.

The fun part of writing is writing. Being alone in my head letting the words out. Finding phrases, sentences, and thoughts I didn't know I thought until I saw them in front of me. Making myself laugh, which I do way more often than I should admit. Because I write for the same reason Ivan Drago fights. For me! You're not going to get rich writing your book. Don't aim for that. You never can tell what people will buy. A woman who write Twilight fanfic is a multi-millionaire, book sales don't make any sense. Don't try to capture the zeitgeist. Write the words in your heart and in your head. Write for you. That I have a small audience at the moment is a wonderful thing, but I did this when no one was listening and I'll be doing it long after everyone has stopped clicking my links. I have to write.

And that's my first piece of advice. You have to have to write. It's too hard otherwise. Yes, writing is fun. But it's hard. It takes forever and sometimes it seems like it'll never end. Sometimes the words don't come and the words that have come are dripping with Stupid and no one will ever want to read this and what's wrong with you you ego-case, thinking people want to hear what you have to say and look you don't even have anything to say.

This is hard. So you have to love doing it. Because you're not always going to want to. You're going to have to. Writing is a need. I think most art is a need. Yes, art. I think of this as an art. I can't paint or sing but I can write and to me that's just as cool. I think in words, but those words create pictures and music in my head. Writing is an art and art isn't easy. So if you want to write a book you have to need to write a book. The Need is what will get you through the doubt.

You have to write every day. I'm a father of two with a full-time job, so I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds. It's not about finding time. It's about making it. You're going to sacrifice sleep or gaming time or TV time or reading time or a work out or all of the above because you need to try to create something every day. The only way to make progress is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The some of best advice about getting through the Writer's Block I've ever heard came from Tom Lennon on the Nerdist podcast (you should listen to the whole thing because they are hilarious, and I just spent ten minutes scrolling through it trying to find the quote to give you a timestamp and I can't find it) who said, and I'm paraquoting, "If you don't feel like writing, just don't. Don't write. This is not for you."And he's mostly right. You carve out a block of time that is your Writing Time and then you write within it. If you can't think of anything you need to fake it. We ain't got time to be blocked. Write crap and let it be crap. Crap is good. It's a first draft, it's supposed to be full of crap. Crap gives you something to cull through to find the diamond.

Let me mix my metaphor here, and I stole this from someone but I don't remember who- A book is a statue. The first draft is the block of marble you carve the book out of. If you don't first do the mining to get the marble you'll never be able to carve the story out. No one will ever seen the block of marble. It's not fair to look at the block of marble that was the David before it was the David and say, "This is awful! It barely looks like anything!" Your first draft is the words you use to create something. But you have to work and sweat to find those words.

Sometimes you'll need a break. For me it's exercise. Getting up and out of the house, moving around. Or riding my motorcycle. Phrases, ideas hit me all the time when I am least able to do anything about them. Often the inside of my helmet is full of me repeating a phrase out loud until I find a place to stop and write it in the Color Note app on my phone. These breaks don't happen during my writing time, though. These are done because I know writing time is coming and I can feel that help will be needed.

Those are what I key in on, by the way. Rarely do fully formed paragraphs come into my head. I get a sentence, or a piece of a sentence, or a funny or clever phrase, and everything gets built on that. That's my process. And it's worked for my for long enough that now I trust it. You have to trust your process, but you have to write enough to know what your process is. Write every day. I write until I'm out of words for the day. Some people write for a set time period. Some people write to fulfill a self-imposed word count.

I organized both books by chapter first. You'll notice that neither He's the Weird Teacher nor THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) have long chapters. They average around two thousand words. Some are a little longer, not many are shorter. I've found that's about as long as it takes me to fully express the thought. I didn't know that when I started He's the Weird Teacher. All I had to start what a chapter list. "This is what I want to cover." A bunch of bullet points. This is my road map, but it's a living guide. It changed constantly, all the way through the final draft. I'd have ideas and add them. I'd be writing and realize that this idea folds nicely into that idea so they get put together now, but this idea doesn't have the legs to sustain itself so I need to find a way to put it somewhere else, flesh it out, or chuck it. And the book grew.

A "normal" novel is 50,000 words long, at least. Traditional publishers won't call it a "novel" unless it's that long, and they won't look at it if it's over 150,000 unless your name starts with S and ends with tephen King. it's expensive to print a big book like that. Ebooks will probably change this, but we'll get to that in the publishing post. Word count is something I didn't know when I started. I was sweating page count, but page count doesn't matter. Once it's formatted for print the page count goes out the window. Stop watching the page count and start caring about word count.

This next piece of advice is all me. An author I love named Warren Ellis does it differently. Maybe his way works better for you.

I don't go back and edit until I'm done. I try not to edit while I'm writing, past dumb things like spelling and punctuation and simple clarity. Editing takes time. I'm getting the first draft done. Editing makes you second guess, and we don't have time for that nonsense. So I write and write and write and write. I get done or what I feel is done. With both books I got all the way to what I thought was the end before I started making editing passes. Warren Ellis, who is a professional writer of wonderful comic books and novels, says he spends the first part of his writing day looking over what he wrote yesterday and "taking out the stupid." Maybe that works better for you. I prefer to find the stupid after it's had a chance to sit for a while. Unless something pops into my brain and I need to fix it right now right away.

Once I'm done with the first draft I take at least three passes. I'll get into editing more in the publishing blog, but as an independently published author I have to pay for an editor. Editors are expensive. I don't have the coin. So I check it and, because the writer always misses things in his/her own writing, I give it to some well-meaning, helpful friends I trust to also edit it.

This is where we form the book. A lot of writers say that the editing is where the writing actually happens. You fix the stupid, you cycle through the wonderful roller coaster of  "This is awesome, this is terrible, no one will read this, I suck, this might be ok," every day. You hold on to that because you trust that when you're done it will turn out good. You are hard on yourself first. Do not be precious with your writing. This is the hardest part for me. Cutting. Dropping things. I'm really bad at it. I'm sure my books have fluff that a "real" editor would cut out. Some writing advice says, "Cut until you cannot cut another word." I can't do that. But that's not really my style either. My voice isn't as clean as all that.

Have friends suggest cuts. Don't take them personally. Let others tell you where they are confused, where something doesn't work, and what jokes don't land. Funny thing about trying to write funny- sometime things are only funny to you because there's all kinds of stuff in your head giving it background. Other people don't get it. You choose how much you care about that. I'm split on it. There's references is both my books that literally three other people on Earth will laugh at. I'm ok with that because they don't screw up the flow. I'm not highlighting them. To you it's just a slightly odd turn of phrase. To three friends from high school it's a brilliant callback ten years old.

Trust your process. Write every day. Don't be afraid of the crap. You need to write rubbish so you can find your book. Aim for word count, not pages.

Trust your voice.

Trust your process.

Write for you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 60- Summer Nights


Know what? I'm not even going to write anything else up because if you can't figure out why I picked this song and what the questions could possibly be you're just going to have to be surprised come chat time (Weds, 7PST).

*yes, I know the song takes place at the end of the summer. But the chat takes place during a su-uuu-ummmmm-errrrr NIIIII-IIIIIIIIGHT!!!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 59- Ends

We've reached it, the end of the school year. The bottom of the calendar. Everything has been backed up. As the year rounds out we try to reflect on the end, which isn't always easy to see, even in a mirror. And while our own ends can be easy to get a hand on, it's much more difficult, and often dangerous, to get a feel for someone else's. "But, but, but, Doug!" you cry, "This has been a gas!"
Surely some things have been made out of you and me as the year has gone on, which we will touch on as gently as possible (or not, if you're into that).  All of us have felt like a mule at some point during the year, dragging ourselves out of bed and to and from the classroom. Behind it all is love though. The tail end of the school year is wagging at us. Sometimes it feels like we spent a lot of time doing nothing, but what happens right below the waste is important too. A lot of strengthening happens there when it feels like we're doing squat. So pull up your seat and let's unpack some of the junk in the trunk of the school year. And if you have a brain fart, hey it happens. Relax. try not to be so anal about everything.