Archived — Publishing From the Classroom

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Having students produce a portfolio of work that will find its way into a book mimics what real writers do—particular writing for an audience—and helps student learn to improve the quality of their work.

What makes publishing from the classroom feasible is publishing on demand. "Books are printed as needed and upfront costs are kept to a minimum," says Michael Ernest Sweet. "It can be done on almost no budget—if a class were to pre-sell 50 copies, the whole operation could easily break even."

The process

Unlike regular school assignments, writing for publication requires multiple drafts. Students hand in a series of improved versions of previously marked work. This gives them a chance to polish their work, not to mention learn how to solve problems apparent in early drafts. "This is a very good way to work in language arts even if you aren't writing for publication," adds Sweet.

Through the year, the students build a portfolio of work on the theme of the book (the environment, for example). They select pieces from this portfolio to submit for publication, which are assembled into a manuscript using Microsoft Word. A file is set up to the proper parameters (for example, trade paperbacks in North America are six by nine inches).

The students then review the pieces to determine whether they are ready for publication. They typically suggest improvements, but sometimes ask for rewriting or even reject pieces outright. Sweet and an associate editor also review the texts at this point.

As this work is going on, the layout and preparation of the final manuscript takes place. This gives students a chance to learn about matters such as titling and displaying type on a page, and producing all the components that must appear in the book, such as the table of contents.

The project also involves some cross-curricular work. For example, students analyze the cost per unit and determine what they might charge per copy. They calculate the profit and decide what to do with it—often investing it in charitable initiatives in the community. "My students have contributed between $4000 and $5000 to the Montreal Children's Hospital over the years," says Sweet. "When we did an environment-themed work, they also made a significant contribution to the TransCanada Trail out of their profits."

Resources

The actual publishing is done on an outside platform available through the web. Sweet favours a site called Lulu (http://www.lulu.com/), which has a simple process for uploading the text. Users convert the Microsoft Word file to a PDF and create a separate file with the front matter—that is, the table of contents, introduction, acknowledgements and copyright information. Keeping these files separate ensures that the page numbering for the main content begins at one. Lulu's cover wizard walks you through the steps to make a cover. For the cover photograph, Sweet uses iStock (http://www.istockphoto.com/).

Lulu also assigns an ISBN, a number that every book published must have by international convention. And, the service will put the book on Amazon at no cost and set up for worldwide wholesale distribution for a reasonable price, currently $99. Of course, a teacher can also order a small number of copies for local bookstores.

Finally, classroom publishers will want to contact Library and Archives Canada, since a copy of every book published in Canada must be made available to that government agency to be put in storage under a requirement called legal deposit. The Library will also provide, prior to publication, the cataloguing information for libraries to print on the copyright page. "Providing that information makes life much easier for librarians and they are more likely to include the book on their shelves," explains Sweet.