Publication

I wrote a book.

Now, the advert and links and so on are at the end of this post. But first I wanted to write a little about the process, which arguably is more relevant for most teachers.

Commissioning

When I was asked to write this, I was given a very specific brief. The format for a revision guide is very structured, which can be both helpful and frustrating. It’s helpful because you have a clear place to start, with lots of small parts that will in time come together to form sections and chapters. It’s frustrating because, inevitably, that structure doesn’t fit every subject perfectly but it must be followed for consistency. I now know better which questions to ask, how much to write before getting some comments and why that format is necessary to avoid complications at the later stages. And I know how to get asked; be recommended by a colleague who has shown he or she is confident to work with you. Thanks to Carol Davenport aka @drdav for being that colleague for me.

Writing

Every teacher has written summaries of particular topics. We know that some are easier than others. One challenge I had was trying to focus on a summary, without including too much teaching. Using worked examples, for instance – is that useful for recall? To illustrate a definition? And how do you explain the less typical but still important cases, without getting sidetracked?

Another complication was the need to follow the structure of the matching textbook, which had been written – as is almost always the case right now – to follow the specification. Now, honestly, I have my doubts about this approach. I’d love to be involved in an exam-board-agnostic project, with a textbook matched to practice books (SLOP anyone?) and, importantly, a teachers’ guide which delves into the pedagogy specific to each aspect. In a dream world. this would be a print-on-demand project where you would add a chapter on your exact specification, with checklist and paper breakdown, to the subject-led approach. But enough of utopia. (Unless you want me to work on it, in which case email me.)

I wrote one chapter at a time, broken down into headings with diagrams specified as I went. These went to the editor, who sent versions back with queries or suggested revisions. It was not unusual to be writing one chapter – each took about a week of evenings spent slaving over a hot laptop – while revising another. And then there were the questions and answers, plus exam-style questions and accompanying markschemes.

Editing and Proofs

This was the stage that surprised me, even having contributed to a book before. There are so many people who need to see, comment and suggest changes. Some were simple corrections; we all make spelling mistakes or cut and paste errors while rephrasing paragraphs. Some picked up on ambiguous wording, or suggested alternate examples. Sometimes I followed the suggestions, and sometimes the original text was adjusted in a different way. The diagrams and photos each needed to be checked, sometimes amended or redrawn. At one point I was receiving editorial suggestions from three different people about different versions of the same text, at the same time as trying to trim it down for length. The consolation was getting to see my words in print, as the proofs came out on paper each time to scribble on.

Publication

After the work being signed off in July it’s finally published, ready for the year 11 students who will be sitting their exams this coming summer. My author copies arrived yesterday, and apart from the one I’ve promised to my Mum – as pointed out on Twitter, I’m going to have to send her a very strong fridge magnet – I’m going to offer them to parents in the Home Ed facebook groups, for a donation to charity. If you’re teaching the Edexcel IGCSE course, have a look below for some links.

Reflection

I have no intention of working out my hourly rate. Like anything in educational publishing, being an author is not a rational decision in terms of money earned. But I’m still glad I did it, and once I’ve completed my masters course I’d be happy to look at similar projects (HINT). Plus, well, a book. With my name on it. Apart from anything else, I’ve learned to be a lot more patient with published books and their authors. With so many steps, and so many people involved, some mistakes are inevitable. And they’re even more frustrating for the author than for the reader, I promise! I understand the limitations, either practical ones or because of industry norms, better than I did. And there are several areas of physics I now know better than ever, because I’ve had to think of every way an explanation could be misunderstood, and do better. For that reason, I’d recommend any experienced teacher tries writing for publication, because it prompts us to give the best we can, with the time to think it through that is rarely possible in a classroom.

The Adverts

bookcover

My book – and that’s still sadly rather exciting to type – is a revision guide for the Edexcel IGCSE Physics course, part of the Hodder My Revision Notes range. If you want copies for work, you may wish to contact them directly. On an individual basis, try your local independent book shop (hollow laughter) or give up and go to Amazon.

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Book Busking

Where possible, I buy local. We have organic meat and eggs, for welfare reasons rather than concerns about pesticides or whatever. Chocolate, coffee and bananas are fairtrade. And yet, for a long time, I bought an awful lot of books through Amazon. I really shouldn’t have needed the recent revelation that Amazon are evading tax to encourage me to do my buying elsewhere. After all, it was in WeAreWhatWeDo’s great Save the World For a Fiver book years ago (and is still online).
 
Now I have a local bookshop. And it’s on a boat. Unfortunately right now I can’t see the review I added to the Guardian, as the map doesn’t seem to work very well, but maybe you can. I was very complimentary, and it was well-deserved. Sarah’s found books for me with only the vaguest idea of the title, refused to let me pay full price far too often, made tea while we chatted and said nice things about my baking. We’ve swapped recommendations and so far have both been delighted by the other’s suggested titles. She’s patient with the kids, and enthusiastically stocks the books they’ve enjoyed. She’s even promised to look over my book proposal and sample chapter, when I finally get around to writing it.
 
I now browse for books online or in Waterstones, then buy them through the Book Barge. As a business, she’s having trouble – and apologies for the pun – staying afloat. Not enough people buy books through ‘real’ bookshops, especially places that can’t afford to subsidize bestsellers with ‘3 for 2’ offers, or where you have to wait a day or so before they get in what you’re after.
 
So why should you care?
 
Well, if you’re local (South Staffordshire-ish), you could visit. I recommend it. If you’re not local, you could visit your own local independant bookshop, while it’s still there. If there’s not one handy, you can use The Hive Network, which means an independent gets a percentage (small, I suspect). In each of these cases, the difference to the Amazon price is likely to be noticeably less than a coffee out, which most of us wouldn’t hesitate to have.
 
Finally, you could support Sarah’s newest idea, which I would describe as ‘book busking’. She explains it better than I could here, but in summary it will mean a weekly chapter of a book explaining the volumes that have inspired her. These will be online for free, but with the electronic equivalent to an ‘honesty box’ – a PayPal button. I’m already subscribed via RSS, and look forward to the first installment. My aim is to either buy the book she recommends each time, or contribute a small amount in the hope that others are doing the same. To pay for this I’m giving up buying cakes, which is probably good for me too.
 
Thank you for taking the time to read a non-teaching post – especially one that is so selfish on my part. Not financially, I hasten to add – I just like having such a great shop nearby. Call it ‘enlightened self-interest’. Please let me know in the comments what you think of the idea. (And to make it slightly relevant, this would be a fantastic case study for both English and Business teachers…)