Friday, May 26, 2006

A New Blogger Confesses

I've only been blogging for three weeks now, and I really enjoy it. I enjoy reading other people's posts, I enjoy commenting on them, and I'm absolutely thrilled whenever I see someone has read and commented on any of mine. Now that I've had a few posts, I decided it's time to be honest and tell why I began doing this. There's no sense beating around the bush; I might as well just say it. The reason I started this blog was to promote the book that I wrote, and the name of the book is IN THE TRENCHES: A TEACHER'S DEFENSE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION.

Writing the above sentence makes me feel like a used car salesman, but I'll feel like a used car salesman who's trying to be sneaky if I don't. Believe me, though, I'm not trying to make big bucks. That just isn't going to happen with a self-published book on the issue of public education. I'm just trying not to lose too much, and I'm trying to keep something going that I honestly believe in.

There were a number of reasons that I wrote the book, but the most important one was that I was tired of hearing public education getting trashed, while it seemed like no one out there was defending us. I'm proud to be a public school teacher, and I'm proud of the job that many of us in public education do. But for most of my adult life, I've been a news-talk-show junkie, and whenever I'd see public education discussed I'd end up discouraged and angry. There would usually be a conservative who would talk about how terrible public schools were, and then there would be a liberal who would "defend" us by saying something like, "Sure, public schools are bad, but that's because they're underfunded." Gee, thanks!

The "experts" involved in these discussions would draw conclusions and make recommendations that I knew were ridiculous, but people were listening to them. As I said in an earlier post, one thing these "experts" almost always had in common was that none of them had ever run a K-12 classroom, or if they had, it was so long ago that they had forgotten what it was like. I thought there had to be a place for a book on education issues by someone who has actually been "in the trenches"--a teacher. That is not to say that there is a huge market for books about education issues. I've often thought that if I knew as much about Princess Di as I do about public education, I could become a millionaire.

In any case, three years ago in August, I began writing the book. At first, I thought the odds were against finishing it, but by the next March I had completed a rough draft that was about fifty percent longer than it was by the time it actually got published. I could have tried to find an agent and a publisher, but it occurred to me that there probably weren't a lot of agents looking for 53-year-old first-time authors of books about education. So last year I contacted a self-publishing company with a very good reputation in the Twin Cities and began the process of getting the book published, and then marketing it. It's been an interesting and enjoyable experience, and I would encourage any of my fellow bloggers who are thinking about writing a book to go ahead and do it. I can't believe how prolific some of you are, and some of you are quite witty. A word of warning, though: self publishing is not cheap.

I ordered a thousand copies and the book was published last October. When it came out, the response from people I knew was very positive--much more so than I thought it would be. While I was writing the book, I didn't want anyone to know what I was doing because I was a little embarrassed about it. I was afraid people would think, "Who the heck do you think you are? Bob Woodward?" Instead of hearing that I ended up being surprised by the number people who said something like, "I've been thinking about writing a book for years, but you actually did it!" I still haven't completely adjusted to the fact that I did that either. Since the book came out, I've been invited to give some presentations, and when I'm introduced as an author, I find myself looking around to see who it is they're talking about.

The book has not quite taken off like The Da Vinci Code, but it got more attention than I had any right to expect. The Grand Forks Herald did a full-page article on it, and then followed that up with an editorial praising the book the next day. (Now I know that having an article in the Grand Forks Herald might not impress too many people in New York City or Los Angeles, but it's a pretty big deal in Warroad, Minnesota.) Then the Minnesota Educator which goes to teachers throughout our state did another full page article on it, and there were letters to the editor back and forth about the book for the next couple of months. The feedback I've gotten from teachers around Minnesota, and even some from around the nation, has been very encouraging. Many have told me that I wrote exactly what they thought, and I feel good when I hear that because it is exactly what I was trying to do. The book created some controversy, however, because it argued that public schools teachers should be given the power to remove disruptive and apathetic students from their classrooms. Most teachers who have contacted me agree completely, but there are some who strongly take issue with that.

I now have less than a hundred books left, so the time has come to decide whether to hang it up, or keep going and order another thousand books. I've decided to stick with it and order the books--probably not the most rational decision I've ever made, since there is no real evidence that I'll be able to sell more than a handful of them. I've already sold whatever can be sold to my family and friends and to the people around my community. I've had my fifteen minutes of fame with the Grand Forks Herald and Minnesota Educator coverage. So where the heck to I go with it now?

I really don't know, but in March I retired from coaching hockey after 32 years, and that had always been the frosting on the cake of my educational career. I hesitate to call it "my passion" because I'm also passionate about my teaching, but there has been something extra-special about coaching. I know that I'll need something to replace it, and right now, promoting the cause of public education seems like the best candidate. You see, I really do believe in this cause.

That is why I started blogging. I hoped that I could draw people to my blog, and then from there they'd take a look at my book, and some might even buy the darned thing. So now you know the truth. And since this entire blog has been about the book I wrote, I won't talk about it anymore. Oh, I'll plagiarize it now and then, but I won't slyly make any references to it in an effort to lure you to it. Never! I promise!

Well, maybe just once in a while.


Blogger EHT said...

I began posting in January. My purpose was and still is to provide information for elementary and middle social studies teachers to use because so many, especially at the elementary level, are not well versed in historical facts. I'm still working on it and you will eventually get the readership you want. Don't feel as if you are overstepping the bounds here by mentioning your book. Everytime anyone of us are mentioned in a newspaper or journal article we plug ourselves. Attempting to create a post daily or at least twice a week has made my writing improve dramatically. I love the fact that I have communication with educators at all different levels from all regions of the country, and like you I absolutely love it when folks give me feedback, negative and positive. Keep up your posting. You are a great read!

5/27/2006 9:13 PM  
Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

I read your confession and yawned. ;-) Just kidding. If you didn't promote your book on your blog, I'd flog you with a wet noodle!

In my "other" life, I work with authors, helping them to promote their books. Most of my clients are self-published. From time to time, I post about tips about publishing on my media blog.

You're off to a GREAT start. I hope you will continue to keep us posted on your writings. Congrats on your accomplishments as a author and blogger!

5/30/2006 4:41 PM  
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