Friday, September 08, 2006

Self-publishing (Part One: From Customizing Your Class Handouts to Your Class Book)

This is a sort of a follow-up to yesterday's post. The connection might not be that obvious at first because I'll be starting from Adam and Eve as usual and might even digress on the way but bear with me. So, here we go...

When I give my students handouts, I almost always customize the header and the footer. That is, my students' names are added, usually in the format "for Andy, Mary, Sue, Dave and Barry" to the bottom of each page. This serves at least two purposes: it gives a personal touch, plus students have less difficulty filing their numerous sheets of paper at the end of the day or week. This is why I also always add page numbers. The header is usually "Your Book" (original, isnt't it :)), plus the title of the chapter or exercise - again, for ease of use. It takes seconds to add these little things to your documents, but believe me, they will help you and your students enormously.
Before I used these practices, I noticed that students (and not only my students) didn't really pay much attention to handouts once the lesson was over. This is understandable, of course; some handouts don't look very professional or tidy. They are just separate sheets of paper with some ink on them. They are not a book. A book is a serious thing; a handout is a throwaway. Plus, students need the feeling that they're going somewhere; that they're making progress. If you start a book on page 1 and by November you get to page 55, your students will have at least some feeling of achievement; they have "covered" 55 pages. If you only give them handouts, for whatever reason, they will be deprived of this feeling. You might be compiling a better book, which is tailored to their exact needs, but still. But if you customize the handouts, and especially, feature their names, I believe you can prevent these negative side-effects.
And this is where we get to Just imagine, now you can actually give your students a custom-made book; a real book, not just sheets of handouts.
(Disclaimer: I'm not endorsed by and I know nothing about the owners or administrators. I've signed up for a free account and I'm (tentatively) planning to publish a book using their services, but that's all.)
Of course we have all seen "vanity publishers" and other self-publishing companies which offered to publish whatever you sent them to print, but they all required you to order at least a few hundred copies, which made the venture rather expensive. With print-on-demand, things have changed. You can have your 200-page, standard-sized, black-and-white printed book for less than 10 dollars per copy. And you can order one copy only, if you like. True, you have to add postal charges, but still. You can also put a higher price tag on your book to make a profit and use to actually sell your book for you, but that's a different story (though this is the original idea behind the site). Just imagine the possibilities it will open up for you. Each class you teach can now have their own tailor-made book, possibly with their picture on the cover (or whatever else they vote on).
I admit there can be two issues with this, one smaller and the other bigger. The smaller issue is that once you have the book printed you can't change anything in it so you'll have to plan well in advance - and "well" is used in its original sense here: you have to plan not only long-term but also cleverly. The bigger problem is the ethical side: should your students be made to pay for something you wrote? Not everybody will believe that you're not making any money off of them. This is something you have to settle individually, depending on your setting. One tip: your school might be willing to bear at least perhaps some of the costs if you promise in return not to use the photo copier. You can say, look, during the school year, I'd copy more than 200 pages for each student - now do the maths. And if you order more than one copy, postage costs will decrease.
To be continued with Part Two...

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