Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    Follow the Reader: Why I DIDN'T Buy These Books

    My recent Follow the Reader post details why I bought the last twenty books in my collection. I created this blog for my students, and much to my delight and surprise--it was shock, really--a number of them actually read said Follow the Reader post. (Thanks for reading, students! You know, everything I do, I do it for you . . . )

    Of course, that post inspired a lot of follow-up questions:

    Are there any books you DON'T buy? 
    Yes, thankyouverymuch.

    How many books do you actually own? 
    Next question, please. 
    First, I'm not what you would call a numbers person. And second, my husband reads this blog. Sure, he can see the books lying all around our house. But to actually match a number with the collection? That might lead to calculations about how much I've spent, and, well, let's just not go there.
    How can you afford to buy all those books? 
    Why don't you buy them used,
    or borrow them from the library?  
    Just like everyone else, I put my money where my priorities are. I cut my own hair, brew my own coffee, and wear ten-year-old shoes to work so I can buy lots of books, and travel to cool new places. I value books and writers, so I do what I can to support them, which means buying their merchandise and spreading the word about great books.

    Do you do anything other than read all day?
    Yes. But only because the laundry won't wash itself.

    What followed was an interesting discussion about the books we choose not to buy. We talked about this in class, and then I spent some time thinking about it since, so I thought it would be interesting to detail the last few books I didn't purchase. Here goes.

    Catching Fire & Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
    Read in December 2011
    I was first introduced to these books in September 2010, when I read Katie Roiphe's Book Review of Mockingjay in my Sunday paper.
    I chose not to buy these books because my sister owned them on her Kindle, and lent them to me. She did this before I read The Hunger Games, so I had no idea how much I would love these books when I chose not to buy them. I figured I would buy The Hunger Games, but I didn't want to go for the entire trilogy in case I didn't love it. Then, after I read The Hunger Games I was too obsessed to stop reading long enough to run out and buy copies of the books for myself, so I just read them on my Kindle. Once I finished, I decided that I don't need to own the books until I decide to reread them, which may very well happen before the movie comes out in March. However, until then, I'm not going to buy them.

    American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    Read in October 2011
    I was first introduced to this book by a student at my college who participates in the NaNoWriMo write-ins I host every year.
    I chose not to buy this book because my student loaned me his copy to read. I really liked this book, and have since recommended it to many other people. However, after I finished reading my student's copy, I didn't feel I needed to buy a copy for my own library. I don't think my reading students would choose to read this book, so I wouldn't add it to my office library. I'm also not sure I'll reread this book any time soon, so I didn't feel the need to buy it for my home library.

    The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
    Read in August 2011
    I was first introduced to this book by a member of The Badass Book Club.
    I chose not to buy this book because I really wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it, so I borrowed my mom's Kindle copy. It turned out that I liked the book and gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. However, after reading it on loan I knew I wouldn't wish I had my own copy, so I didn't buy it. There have been times that I've read a book on loan first, and then bought it after I finished. (I did this with the first Sookie Stackhouse book, as well as with the entire Harry Potter series.)

    I didn't pass up the opportunity to buy these books because I didn't enjoy them, or that I don't want to support great writers. Quite the contrary. These were all good books. In fact, I love the Hunger Games trilogy, and I think American Gods is something of a masterpiece. It's just that sometimes, once I borrow a book and read the entire thing, I just don't feel the desire to own it. I've realized that typically, I will only buy a book after reading it if:

    It's the first in a series and I know I'll want to own the entire thing
    I think I'll want to reread it
    It's something I'll want to give to friends or students to borrow
    It is so beautiful I want to look at it, even if I won't reread it anytime soon

    But, why do I choose to borrow certain books and to buy others in the first place? This is the more difficult question. My best answer is:

    Sometimes, the book is so easy to borrow 
    I just don't need to go out and buy it for myself. 

    Sometimes, I'm reading the book for some reason other than a real desire to read it, 
    which often happens with Badass Book Club books. 

    And sometimes, I'm just feeling cheap, 
    and I don't want to spend my money on a new book.

    It seems that mood and accessibility have a lot of influence over my decision to purchase, or not. Beyond that, I do have some buying quirks of which I am fully aware, for which I will not apologize, and all of which I am willing to admit:

    I will not buy a giant hardcover book. 
    In fact, I avoid hardcovers whenever possible. I just plain prefer paperbacks.

    I will not buy a very heavy paperback. 
    If it's going to cut off the circulation in my forearms when I read in bed, I'm not buying it.

    I will not buy a book with pages so thin and fragile 
    they're likely to tear with regular use.

    I will not buy a book with an ugly cover. (To my eye, of course.)

    I will not buy a book with a cover that 
    gives me the heebie jeebies whenever I touch it.  
    This one is difficult to explain, but some covers feel like very soft rubber, 
    and they just give me the creeps. *shudder*

    I will not buy a book if I can't respect the author, for whatever reason.  
    I will, however, borrow the book, read it, and give it a fair review. If I'm unable to give it a fair review, I'll stay mum.

    I will not buy a book if it is priced significantly higher than comparable books.

    This one is totally weird, 
    but if the author's first name is a version of my named spelled differently, 
    and her name is written in huge letters on the cover, I won't buy it. 
    I can't stand seeing my name spelled wrong. It's Lori. L-O-R-I.
    I told you it was weird. 

    There you have it. I guess it all boils down to the fact that there is often no rhyme or reason behind my buying habits. Helpful, right? 

    What about you? What makes you pass on a book, especially one that you plan to read? Please tell me I'm not the only one with embarrassing quirks when it comes to book buying!

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    Follow the Reader: Why I Bought These Books

    After writing this post on why readers buy books, I thought it would be fun to dissect my latest book purchases to figure out what, exactly, motivated me to shell out my hard-earned cash for each book I bought.

    The First Batch

    I bought most of these books at the start of my winter break, when I was dizzy with the heady mixture of Winter Break Dreams and a full month of freedom ahead of me.

    Here's the breakdown: 

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read Ridley Pearson's review in my Sunday paper.
    I chose to buy this book because Pearson's stellar review and the general excitement about it on Goodreads intrigued me--Could it really be that good? If it was, I wanted to get in on the action. If not, there was a growing body of reviews against which I could compare my own take on the book. This story sounded so good--dystopian, with a badass female MC. An urban setting. I was really excited to read this one.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I plucked it off the shelf in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because I liked what I read on the back, it has a killer cover, and it's a series. I love finding a new series to love.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book on Goodreads, and was reminded I wanted to read it when I saw it on the shelf at the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because I loved the first few pages that I read in the store. It seemed like the kind of world I'd want to dive into for a while, which is exactly what I was looking for for my winter break reads. Also, it's part of a series, and Clare is prolific, so if I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would, it opened up a whole new world of books to enjoy.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book on Goodreads. 
    I chose to buy this book because after I found Ally Condie on Twitter and learned that she's a former high school English teacher, just like me. That made me think she must love books, and so I followed her tweets and saw that she interacts with her readers on Twitter. The story reminded me of The Giver, which is one of my all-time favorites, so I had to give it a try.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book on a blog, though I have no idea which one. The blogger received an arc of this book, and I fell in love with the cover. 
    I chose to buy this book because of the cover. I'm not going to lie. It's beautiful and haunting at the same time. It turns out that the book is, too, so in this case it was actually a perfectly good reason to buy this book.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book by a friend's 15-year-old daughter.
    I chose to buy this book because because my friend's daughter really liked it, and then I found Beth Revis on Twitter and learned that she has an awesome blog, and she is clearly a reader. I love reading books written by readers.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw it in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because because I love John Green, even though I haven't read any of his books. Yet. I own three of them. True story. I bought this title first because the back cover made me laugh out loud in the bookstore, which doesn't happen often. I first found John Green on YouTube when searching for NaNoWriMo videos, and well, that was the end of it. Once I realized that practically every reader I know loves his work, I knew I was going to buy anything and everything that man wrote.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I pulled it from the shelf in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because I liked what I read on the back cover, and the Leven Thumps character sounded familiar, so I was pretty sure some child in my life is a big fan. The back of the book promises a secret gateway to a whole new world, which reminded me of the Narnia books, which I love, love, love.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when a poster enthusiastically recommended the series on an Internet forum I frequent.
    I chose to buy this book because, based on the back cover alone, Beka Cooper sounds like a badass, and I love badassery.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when . . . I can't remember. I feel like there's been a lot of buzz around this book, so I was aware of it for a while.
    I chose to buy this book because I had a feeling it was going to be a perfect book to recommend for reluctant teen readers. And it is. I've since recommended it to so many people. Extra bonus: Jo Knowles is a great tweeter, so I followed her and she followed me back on Twitter! How cool is that?

    Looking for Alaska by John Green
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book after I saw John Green's NaNoWriMo video and then searched the Internet for more information about his work.
    I chose to buy this book because well, you've already read some of the story under the Will Grayson, Will Grayson entry. I also loved this book as soon as I learned that Alaska is a character. Great title.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I pulled it from the shelf in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because of this line on the back cover: "Most people aren't very comfortable in the woods, but the woods of Briery Swamp fit May Bird like a fuzzy mitten." Love that line.

    The Second Batch

    Purchased brand new from Sam's Club (Maybe--I could have purchased this at a local bookstore, but I can't remember.)
    I was first introduced to this book on the NaNoWriMo site, when I learned Morgenstern wrote the first draft for NaNo.
    I chose to buy this book because it sounds amazing. Have you read the blurbs about this book? I'm also a sucker for a NaNo success story.

    Purchased brand new from Costco
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw it on the shelf in a Barnes & Noble.
    I chose to buy this book because it's beautiful, and after thumbing through the pages just once in B&N, the photos haunted me. It really delivered, too. What a great book. I typically hate hardcovers, and I'll wait for the paperback, but sometimes I'll buy a hardcover because I simply lack patience.

    Purchased used from a local used bookstore.
    I was first introduced to this book . . . I've been reading Rick Steves for years. He's my favorite guide for first-time visits to new countries.
    I chose to buy this book because I always buy his books to help plan a trip, and my library didn't have a copy. This is a good example of author loyalty, that's for sure.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book after reading the first book in the series.
    I chose to buy this book because I loved City of Bones

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read about Melissa Marr on a website, somewhere, some year I can't remember. Sketchy, I know. But it was a while ago.
    I chose to buy this book because of this line on the back: "Faery intrigue, mortal love, and the clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in Melissa Marr's stunning twenty-first century faery tale." I love fairy tales, so that was that. Melissa Marr also makes great contributions to the reading world beyond writing her books. She has interesting interviews, shares interesting insights, and is just someone I want to read.

    Paper Towns by John Green
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read about it in someone's Goodreads review of The Fault in Our Stars. The reviewer gave Fault four stars because Paper Towns is her favorite.
    I chose to buy this book because, well, you already know the ridiculousness behind my desire to own every book John Green writes. (I will read them, by the way. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.) I really want my Badass Book Club to read this book. I'd want them to read The Fault in Our Stars, but we have an unwritten rule against books that are about cancer, so it's out. Also, one of the booksellers I chat with at B&N told me that she loves this book so much she plans on naming her future daughter Margo Roth. That's impressive.

    Fearless by Francine Pascal
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when Francine Pascal's name jumped out at me from the the book shelf. 
    I chose to buy this book because I might have been obsessed with one of Francine Pascal's series as a child, so when I saw that she's still writing I had to have this book. I didn't even read the back cover before I decided to purchase it. (Did you know that there was a Sweet Valley Twins board game? Oh, there was. And guess who had one? That's right, this girl. Be jealous.) I was actually in the bookstore to buy a California travel book, and before entering I told myself I wasn't even going to look at any other books. You can see how well that worked out. I bought three books on that trip.

    California 2012 by Fodor's
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book years ago. I love the Fodor's travel guides, and their forums are the best travel forums around, if you ask me.
    I chose to buy this book because I'm going to wine country with some girlfriends in March, and I know absolutely nothing about it, and as I said, I love the Fodor's guides. I didn't even have to skim through it to decide whether to buy it--it has that Fodor's logo on it, so it was as good as sold. My little sister will be in California for three more years, so I went for the big California book, instead of the smaller wine country book, because I plan to make a lot of trips there.

    So, there you have it. By my count, only four of these purchases were pre-meditated (Legend, Spain, California, and City of Ashes.) I chose to buy the other 16 books for a variety of reasons--they were purdy, witty, intriguing, or just plain unputdownable.Or written by people on which I have irrational writerly crushes.

    One interesting point: I was not motivated to buy any of these books because they were on sale. There has been a lot of talk of late about the value of books, and what readers are willing to pay for a book. For me, personally, I'm willing to pay anywhere between $10 and $25 for a book as long as I want to read it for some reason. I've always been willing to pay retail price for books, even way back when, when I was a poor college student. As I see it, it's about priorities. If people value books, they'll pay for them.

    We live in a world where people regularly spend upwards of $4 for a cup of coffee, and yet we're having discussions about whether $10 is too much to ask for an e-book?

    And I'm not alone. When I ask my students to find an independent reading novel, they have a lot of options for sourcing their books. They can take their books out of the library for free, or borrow them from my own library, or buy them from one of the many used bookstores in the Chicago area. But you know what most of them choose to do? They buy brand new books. They don't wait until they find a coupon, or the store runs a sale, they pay full retail price for them.

    What about you? What's the last book you bought, and why? Did you pay full price? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

    Follow the Reader: Why We Buy Books

     . . . and why we don't. 

    Some books I've bought in the last few weeks.
    I've long marveled at the fact that our towns and cities are practically littered with bookstores, yet our population seems to read fewer and fewer books with every passing year. (Or is it: With the launch of every new reality television series?)

    Of course, the answer is simple: There is a wide gap between the amount of books people buy, and the number of books people actually read.

    This is where it gets interesting, because the question becomes:

    Why do people buy books? 

    Of course, I have some thoughts about this one.
    1. Because they have to

      Let's face it: A lot of people buy books because they have to.

      I gritted my teeth and did the math in this post, where I figured that, as a teacher, I am personally responsible for the sale of 480 trade paperback books every single school year. I like to think that my students enjoy reading these books, but the bottom line is that they buy them because they have to buy them if they are to pass my classes.

      According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were over 17 million students enrolled in undergraduate degree-granting institutions in 2009. That's a lot of book sales.

    2. Because they look good.

      Shocking but true: Many people buy books simply because they look impressive on the shelf. Did you know that there are companies dedicated to creating custom book collections for their clients? My guess is that the people who use such services don't actually ever read many of the books that populate their shelves.

      We live in an extremely acquisitive time and place, after all. People buy things just for the sheer pleasure of buying. Bookstores know this. They cater to a buying culture that relishes in the experience of the purchase--from that leisurely coffee in the store cafe, to the hour spent lounging in the big squashy chair on the sales floor, to membership cards tat make customers feel special, these stores know who their customers are and what they want.

    3. Because they love someone who loves books. (Or they just can't think of anything better to give as a gift.)

      I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I'm willing to bet that books rival gift cards and soap-on-a-rope for #1 on the most popular gift list.

    4. Because they love someone who writes books.

      There is an amazing, growing community of independent writers out there. I see them banding together and supporting each other through social media such as Twitter and blogs. These are passionate, supportive individuals who care about their fellow writers, and show their support by purchasing their books and posting reviews. They share insights into the trials and triumphs of the writing life. The talented and hilarious Kristen Lamb created the Twitter hashtag #MyWANA to help serve this purpose, and it has become a driving force responsible for creating a strong indie writing community on the 'net.

      As a reader, I'm excited to see this. For the first time, I can sneak a peak behind the curtain and learn about the people who are responsible for creating books, which happen to be my favorite things in the entire world. I love to see writers supporting other writers by buying their books.

    5. Because they love books.

      This is where it gets really interesting, because as dismal as it may sometimes seem, there is a large and enthusiastic reading culture out there. The popularity of sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari evidence this, not to mention the prevalence of giant bookstore chains and e-readers. (Did you know there are currently more than 6.9 million people on Goodreads, with over 240 million books on their shelves? This fact makes my reading specialist heart go pitter-patter.)

      But loving books is not enough. Readers don't just walk into a bookstore and buy the first book they see. As someone who is in the business of helping to create readers, I've spent a lot of time collecting information about reading habits, and thinking about what it is that motivates someone to actually purchase a book. Here's what I've discovered thus far:
    We trust our bookish friends.

    Readers will often buy a book sight-unseen if someone they trust specifically recommends it for them. 

    We trust the experts. 

    I spend my Sunday mornings with the New York Times Book Review, and I add books to my Goodreads To Read shelf as I go along. Similarly, I will buy books that my favorite experts in various fields recommend--financial gurus, television chefs, etc. If Gordon Ramsay puts his stamp of approval on a cookbook, I'll buy it.

    We judge books by their covers.

    I know where not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. I know readers are amazing human beings, but we are still human, after all. 

    We buy books that feel good in our hands. 

    I love my Kindle, but I love my paper books even more. Some books just feel good in the hand. The paperbacks open easily, they aren't bound so stiffly that you have to break the spine to read the page. The covers have that satisfying, matte finish that is so easy to hold. They're just the right size to slip into a large purse, or a small bag.

    Some books feel like they were designed to be held. Know it or not, we are more likely to buy those books.

    We're loyal to our favorite writers. 

    There's a lot of author-worship that goes on amongst readers. If we've bowed at a particular writer's feet before, you can bet your bottom dollar that we'll line up for the privilege of buying her latest book. In fact, our loyalty is so blind that it will often trump a crappy cover, a mediocre blurb, or a terrible review.

    We love a great wordsmith. 

    I don't need to be familiar with a writer to appreciate his way with words. If your blurb or first few pages make me wish I had a pen to record a great line, that book is as good as sold.

    We feel something, and we want to feel more of it.

    We read to feel something, after all, and if you can make us do that after reading your Kindle sample, book jacket, or the first page, we'll crave more, and we'll buy the book. 
    Works every time.

    Now, I realize it may seem like we readers are an easy sell. Not so. 
    There are some things that immediately turn us off from buying a book. 
    Here's the inside scoop: 

    The promos make unlikely promises about the book.

    This is a trend I've noticed more and more with independently published books. A lot of books are compared to our Most Beloved Series of All Time, and authors to Our Most Beloved Authors of All Time. On its own, this won't turn off potential readers. However, when such promises are coupled with multiple reviews that set the record straight, or samples that don't inspire the same awe as the referenced beloved book or author, we move on.

    It's not that we expect every book to be the next Harry Potter, it's just that we have a lot of options out there, so we just don't have to deal with books that don't keep their promises. We have enough people in our lives that do that, already. Why add to the list?

    The authors are *out there*, but only to promote their own books.

    I love a writer who is also a reader. If a writer's blog has as many reviews of others' books as it has posts about her writing process, I feel I've found a kindred spirit. And I always want to read what my kindred spirits are writing. 

    On the other hand, if a writer uses social media to do nothing but promote her own books and reach out to other writers, not readers, then I'm not as interested. Fair or not, we favor people who are cut from the same cloth, and in this case, that means writers who participate in the larger reading culture.

    The authors don't mind their manners. 

    This one is about writers who go one step beyond my last point, and actually reject aspects of the reading culture. They don't realize they're doing this, of course, but it is one of the easiest ways for a writer to lose a potential reader. This includes: 

    - Writers who respond defensively to negative reviews of their work. Whether an author posts a comment directly on a negative review, or writes a cutting post about it on her blog, or speaks to it in an interview, it sends potential readers running in the opposite direction. I'm talking about writers who reject the negative review as being unreliable for whatever reason--the reviewer hasn't read enough books to know what she's talking about, the reviewer's claims are totally off-base, etc. Whatever it is, it's bad business. If a writer can't respect her readers, and accept a negative review and use it to inform her writing as she moves forward, I don't want any part of it.

    I understand that it's difficult to accept critical feedback, but I also know how powerful it can be if the subject of the feedback chooses to use it to her advantage. (I've been teaching for eight years. I don't want to do the math, but every single student I've ever had in class has filled out a feedback form on various aspects of my performance as a teacher. I've gotten a lot of reviews in my short time in the field, and the negative reviews are always the most powerful. In fact, they have transformed my teaching over time.)

    - Writers who publicly reject important aspects of the reading culture. I've read so many negative comments from authors about sites like Goodreads, and independent book review blogs. This is baffling. The people who choose to engage in these things are readers. They could be your readers! But they won't be, not if you reject their very participation in things that celebrate their reading habits. 

    I adore authors as much as I adore the books they write, and the people who read them. As we wade further into the unexplored waters of independent publishing, I would love to see more writers engage with the reading community as enthusiastically as they have been engaging with the writing community. Today's writers have unprecedented opportunities to get their work out into the world, and to interact with potential readers on a large scale. I look forward to seeing that happen. 

    So, what are you waiting for? Go buy some books! Go talk to your readers!

    I love to hear from readers and writers, alike. I know you have something to say, so please, post a comment and let it be heard.

    (Related: I detail why I bought 20 books over the last two months in this post.)

    Saturday, January 21, 2012

    Writers: It's Time You Own It.

    I'm talking about your writing, of course. 

    It's time you own it like 
    that pair of heels you bought on a killer sale 
    and you couldn't be prouder to wear.
    (Sorry, gentlemen. I can't relate to being excited about electronic purchases, 
    so this is as good as it's gonna get.)

    I love author Kristen Lamb's blog. It's filled with follow-worthy advice, complete with some of the best post titles I've ever seen.

    In one particular series of posts, Ms. Lamb discusses the "Lies that can poison our writing careers."

    "Lie #1 I’m not a real writer until I have a finished manuscript, landed an agent, am traditionally published, am selling books, have spent my retirement funds earning an MFA in Creative Writing."

    This first one got an immediate "Amen!" from me. I've had the honor of meeting many writers over the years, and one thing I noticed is that so many writers are afraid to call themselves writers, most often for the reasons Ms. Lamb detailed in her post.

    But they are writers. They became writers the moment they sat down and started writing, and they remain writers because they have continued that habit for the month, year, or decade since.

    So, if you're a writer but you aren't owning the title yet, what are you waiting for? Get thee to Kristen Lamb's blog!

    You're still here? Fine, I'll keep talking. I can do this all day.

    Lie #2 really spoke to me. It's this:

    "Lie: I will take my writing more seriously when others (friends, family, the FedEx guy) take me seriously."

    Oh, do I need to work on this one. It's all about setting boundaries and putting your writing first, and taking yourself seriously so others will, too. Ms. Lamb inspired me to take immediate action with this post, and I already feel better for having done it. Aaaaaah.

    And do you know what? The blog posts are just the beginning. Each post gets tons of great comments, with even more wisdom and advice from Ms. Lamb sprinkled in. And, she writes books. That's right, real books. Ones you should buy.

    The deets: We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!!

    So writers, this is me spreading the writing love. Go visit Ms. Lamb's blog.

    You can thank me later.

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    Authors! Have you Hugged a Teacher Today?

    Well, you should.
    Teachers are a great untapped resource for selling your books.

    In the interest of full disclosure: I am a teacher. And I love to read. Love, love, LOVE to read. But I promise you, I am not writing this post as a feeble attempt to get me some author love.

    Okay, now that THAT is out of the way . . .

    Do you know how many books my students purchase every single year?

    Let's do the math:
    In an average semester, I teach five English classes. An average class has 24 students in it. Students read an average of two books (of their choice) per semester in my class. I teach two semesters every school year. So . . .

    5 classes X 24 students X 2 books per student X 2 semesters = 480 books

    480 books!

    My students alone purchase 480 books off the bookshelves of our local bookstores every single school year.

    Let's do some more math. (By the way: Who knew I'd ever voluntarily do math?)
    This semester, my college is running 39 sections of reading courses. Last semester, we ran 41 sections of reading courses. Each course has an average of 20 students. Let's say these students read only one book per semester in these courses. We have two semesters in the school year.

    39 sections + 41 sections = 80 sections X 20 students X 1 book per student = 1,600 books

    1,600 books!

    Our developmental reading students purchase about 1,600 books per school year.

    But wait! There's more. 

    This fall, we ran 60 sections of English 101. This spring, we are running 40 sections of the course. The average English 101 course has 26 students in it. Let's say English 101 students read only one novel per semester.

     60 sections + 40 sections = 100 sections X 26 students X 1 book per student = 2,600 books

    2,600 books!

    So, 2,600 books for English 101 + 1,600 books for reading courses = 4,200 books total

     4,200 books!

    And that doesn't even include all the books students purchase for other English courses. (Of which, we are running an addition 76 sections just this semester, with an average of 26 students per section. Need I do anymore math? Please, I'm mathed out. :)
    So, it's safe to conclude that the instructors in my college alone are responsible for asking students to purchase at least 4,200 books every year. 

    This is something of which the textbook companies are well aware. If I told you just how many textbook reps visit my office every term, you probably wouldn't believe me. This is something that really surprised me when I first started teaching college full-time, because those textbook reps seemed like vultures circling above new prey, always popping their unfamiliar faces in my door, asking if I had a minute. But then, it makes sense, doesn't it? I teach about ten sections per year, and since I'm the person responsible for choosing the books we will read in class, books which my students are required to purchase, then those reps really want me to choose one of their books. They only have to convince one person that their book is worth reading, and then that translates into hundreds of sales off of just one point of contact.

    But I don't really need help finding quality textbooks. First of all, I wrote my own 90-page course packet for my reading courses, which I refuse to publish and instead have our bookstore copy and sells for a mere $5 each, because I believe that money would be better spent on REAL BOOKS, and not a textbook. (Not that textbooks aren't real books, calm down. You know what I'm saying.)
    So you know what I would love some help finding? 
    New, high-interest novels for my students to read.

    I started thinking about this just this past week when I asked all of my students to purchase independent reading novels for class. For many students, this will be the first time they go out and purchase a book of their own choice to read. Most of them admit that they have never been in a real bookstore before. (Other than our college bookstore, of course.) So, they're usually lost. They have little or no experience choosing books for themselves, and that is where I come in.

    I always show my students my own Goodreads page, which includes bookshelves titled "Recommended by and for students" and "Student book clubs", which include some of the books my students have recently chosen to read for class. (I admit, I'm not stellar at keeping those shelves updated.)

    I bring in a stack of books that I've read recently and think they might find interesting. 

    I encourage them to go to an actual bookstore and pluck interesting titles off the shelf so they can sit with them and read through the first several pages. I tell them to ask the booksellers for help. And you know what? They do it.

    And then, they often come to class with at least two brand new books because they couldn't choose just one. Because this is a little secret that reluctant readers don't often share with anyone: They want to read. They get the same thrill out of holding a brand new book of their own that we voracious readers get. And the best thing is that college students are so used to having to shell out $100 for a textbook they won't really read, that they are excited to spend $20 or $30 on a couple of books that actually look interesting to them.

    I do my best to read great new books, especially YA books that I think my students will love. (Let's face it, this isn't exactly a chore. I would do nothing but read and write if left to my own devices.) But here's the thing: I'm just one person. I teach full-time. I cannot read all of the great new books that are out there. (And this, my friends, is the most difficult truth to face: That I will never live long enough to read all of the books I want to read. But, I digress.)

    In an attempt to stay in the loop, I've joined Twitter and I follow hundreds of great writers. I read book blogs, and book reviews, and I cull through readers' shelves on Goodreads in search of titles they really love.

    But still, I miss out on so many great books. I know I do. And so do most teachers out there.

    And this is why I've been wondering:

    Why aren't authors targeting 
    with their promos and marketing?

    When I taught high school, every single one of my students read two independent novels every semester. In addition, we read three to four novels every semester as a class. I won't even begin to do the math here, but I'm guessing high school teachers are responsible for even more yearly book purchases than college teachers.

    And here's the kicker: High school teachers are even busier, and have even less time to find great books, than college professors. That's a fact. High school teachers are, in my opinion, some of the hardest working people out there.

    If I were an author . . .

    I would send one copy of my book to the English department at every local high school and community college. Or elementary school, or middle school, depending on my target audience, of course. I would include a brief, handwritten note with the book, complete with my blog/Twitter account/email/website, etc.

    I would do the same for reading specialists at the high schools. I cannot tell you how many people asked me for book recommendations when I worked as a high school reading specialist--students, parents, other teachers, administrators, etc.

    Because here's the thing: Teachers are some of the greatest champions of books and writers, especially teachers of English, composition, and reading. But you won't see many of us tweeting, or blogging regularly, or commenting on your websites, because we are just too darn busy. This is the great irony that plagued my own high school teaching career--that teaching students of reading and literature became the greatest obstacle to actually reading literature. I just didn't have the time.

    And so we teachers need you, authors, to reach out to us. We want to help you sell your books. We feel indebted to any writer who captures our students' attention, and when we find you, we will become your greatest champion.

    But we don't often have the time to seek you out. I see you spending your precious time reaching out to book bloggers and reviewers, and I wonder: What about the teachers? What about our students? Teachers spend their days (loooong, 8+ hour days) with tweens and young adults. We are desperate to find that book that will turn them from reluctant readers to voracious readers. We know you have the books, we know they've been written, but we are knee-deep in essays and parent phone calls and after-school meetings to seek them out.

    All it takes is one free book for an entire department, or an email with a link for a Kindle download. We would be thrilled to know that an author took the time to reach out to us, to acknowledge the work that we do with our students, to share a book that is just waiting to be discovered by our students.

    We are in the same business, after all, 
    of creating and inspiring readers.  

    Won't you team up with us? 
    Won't you help us get your books into our students' hands?

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Revisions, Revisions: Internet Creep and The Dread Pile

    I finished the first draft of a YA book in October (I'll call it Book #1). But, then I put Book #1 in the trunk so I could focus on NaNoWriMo in November, during which I wrote about half of a first draft of another book (Book #2).

    And then . . . December came along and I trunked both books so I could spend my winter break revising my 90-page reading packet, which I did, and read a lot of books, which I did. I also wrote some short stories and jotted down a lot of ideas for future pieces. I reread that first draft of Book #1, but I didn't do any revising of it. I just took notes, and schemed in my head. 

    Finally, January hit, and it was time to start revisions for Book #1. It all began innocently enough. I curled up in my writing zone with my laptop, pulled up the latest file of the draft, and got to work. Those first few days of revisions were glorious: The coffee maker was going strong, its percolating made fine background music for my work. My husband made sure I was stocked with enough cream and sugar to last a lifetime, thanks to some Costco purchases. And the book! Oh, the book. I was really enjoying it. This was a good sign.

    But then, after a while, it happened. Internet Creep. We've all experienced it. Some of you might be experiencing it right now, using this blog post as an excuse to let your very own Internet Creep ooze in a bit closer. See, the problem with revising on a laptop, for me at least, is that this is the very same tool with which I access the Internet.

    When I reached the first Hairy Moment in my revising process, what did I do? Did I dive into it, comb in hand, to tease out the knots? Um, no. I gave a deep sigh, minimized the document window, and opened up Firefox. In less than five minutes, I had downloaded four free books for my Kindle, retweeted seven tweets about free books, read both my work and personal emails, and started a draft of a new blog post.

    Something had to give. The Internet was creeping in, and fast.

    So, I did what most of us do when faced with a conundrum nowadays: I Googled it. How do you deal with Internet distractions when revising your novel? (Yes, yes, I know you don't have to write your Google search terms in complete sentences. My husband reminds me of that all. the. time. I like it, okay?)

    The search brought me to some great blog posts about my exact problem, and they all offered the same solution: Print out your manuscript, and edit it by hand. 

    I knew the Internet sages were going to say that.

    I wasn't so sure I was really cut out for handwritten revisions, so pfbbbbtted their advice, clicked out of Firefox, and went back to my manuscript.

    Which . . . lasted for about ten minutes. Then some fleeting thought about an email I didn't return crowded into my mind, and there it was again, Internet Creep, creeping into my revision time. That was when I started making bargains with myself, which we all know is the clearest sign of desperation. Revise an additional 10% of the book today, or print it out tomorrow. No exceptions. Man, am I rigid.

    So, with renewed energy I went back to my manuscript, and I actually had a good run. For a bit. And then I looked over and saw my cat Manny looking Cuter Than Ever on his favorite pillow, so I rushed to grab my camera and snap a picture. And then I had to share the picture with everyone I know, of course, so I uploaded it to iPhoto, and then to Facebook, and then . . . twenty minutes later I was reading some article about a reality TV star I had never even heard about and her incredible weight loss. And that's when I knew. I would have to print the manuscript, because the Internet Creep was just too overwhelming.

    Look at those paws. I mean, could you have resisted?
    So, I told my long-suffering husband my new plan: "Honey, after our workout, can we stop at Kinko's so I can print my 328-page manuscript? It will only cost about $37. I know I could save the money, but the Internet is too distracting, so I can't do it on my laptop." In his usual fashion, he supported me without question, and if he rolled his eyes he hid it well enough, because I didn't see it.

    Confident that I had finally solved my problem, and would be in Revisions Happyland shortly, I headed out to the gym with my jump drive tucked into my wallet. We worked out, and then went to Kinko's, where they gladly took our $37 to print my document. It all went down without a hitch, confirming my good feeling that this was the right choice for me.

    I rode home hugging the box on my lap. It was an exciting thing to see my entire draft printed out for the first time, it made the whole thing seem so real. I felt the same way when I got my first pair of ballet slippers--my mom bought me this matching plastic pink carrying case, and all the way home I held it tight against my chest and thought, "One day I will be a famous ballerina, and I'll remember this moment, when I got my first pair of slippers."

    Okay, well, that didn't really work out for me, the whole ballerina thing . . . but this time it will be different.

    It was late by the time we got home, so I slipped the manuscript box onto a high shelf, and went to bed with visions of revisions dancing in my head. Tomorrow will be the day. Tomorrow I will sit, hunched over the manuscript, and mark that baby up like it's a hastily written freshman essay.

    So, today is the tomorrow of which I dreamt, and here I am, NOT revising. Of course I'm not revising, I'm writing a blog post! And it's turning out to be a long and boring post, so I'm taking my time doing it.

    You may be asking Why? Why are you not revising?  What happened to all that resolve?

    Oh, I'll tell you why. No, better yet--I'll show you:

    Do you see the size of that thing? It looks like a full ream of paper! That thing is so heavy, I can't even hold it in one hand for fear of getting carpal tunnel.

    I can't revise that monster!

    And what's worse: it looks like The Pile! But a terrible, horrible version of The Pile, because it's not other people's writing, it's my own! All of those writers who doled out their sage advice to revise first drafts by hand must not be English teachers, because every English teacher knows that the easiest way to discourage another English teacher from reading something is to make it resemble The Dread Pile. We spend decades perfecting the high art of moving The Pile around from one spot to another to create the illusion that it has been examined or altered in some way. But all we really do is add to The Pile and use it as a target for all of our misguided frustration. Spilled your coffee on the way in to work? Give the pile a good rough slam on the desk before you head out to your first class. There, isn't that better?

    I can't revise a manuscript that looks like The Pile. Especially not one that looks like the Worst Type of Pile, one that's filled with papers students didn't staple together because they couldn't be bothered. Those piles are The Worst. You can't even rough them up too much for fear that the pages will fly and then when you're absolutely forced to read them you won't know which pages belong to each other.

    So, here I am, sitting with my coffee in front of a monster manuscript that is the stuff of nightmares for an English teacher. It appears that, in this case at least, the Internet Creep has nothing on The Dread Pile. So it's back to laptop revisions for me.

    So, in that case: I'll see you on Twitter in ten.

    What about you? How do you revise? Electronically? With a printed Pile, I mean, manuscript? Post-its? Highlighters? Do tell. I'm desperate, don't you know?

    ****Edited on 1/18 to add:

    Okay, I'm back to share an unexpected bonus of a-printed-draft-that-is-all-too-reminiscent-of-The-Dread-Pile: It has been beckoning to me ever since I brought it home. In fact, it reminds me of my Pit Bull Bailee, who craftily rests her rounded muzzle on my knee and stares up at me with silent, yet pleading, eyes in an attempt to distract me from a book and get in a good bout of tug-of-war. I can't deny those eyes. I always put down the book and grab my end of that soppy rope toy. She always wins.

    And so does The Printed Draft. I keep it on the bar in our dining room, where it sits all quiet and prim in its neat little box. But there's nothing subtle about it. Oh, no. I see it staring at me as I move through the house, persistent in its patient knowledge that I will relent. And I do.

    Behold! The heretofore unknown powers of The Printed Draft!

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    So you're taking my class?

    First, you need to know some things about me.

    I look forward to working with you, and I want to thank you for choosing to take classes with me, and at OCC. You have come to the right place; this is a fabulous college, with amazing resources and students. I think we are going to have a great semester.

    I believe savvy students choose their classes and their professors wisely. So, in the spirit of that belief, here are some things you should know about me:

    My chief purpose is to support your success.

    Everything we do in class is designed to achieve this goal. If you're taking EGL 101 or EGL 097, my goal is to help you become a better writer. If you're taking EGL 092, EGL 094, or EGL 110, my goal is to help you become a better reader. If you're taking EDN 260, my goal is to help you become a competent reading teacher. For all of my students, in all of my classes, my goal is also to help you become a critical, independent thinker.

    I've designed our course schedule, readings, assignments, assessments, and policies around these goals. Nothing is arbitrary. There is a purpose behind every choice I make. I am here for you, for your success and growth, and everything we do will support that.

    This is why the next few things are true, and important for you to know about me as an instructor, if you are to be successful this semester.

    My expectations are high, and non-negotiable. 

    I am not what you would call a flexible teacher. That's not to say that I am strict, or mean, or impossible. Rather, I set expectations for my students that I believe will best support your growth this semester. I've detailed most of these expectations in our class syllabi, but it's important for you to know that I am not just *saying* these things because I think they look good on paper. I mean them. Every single one.

    I did not begin my teaching career this way. I used to set high expectations, but then I'd allow for exceptions here and there. In the beginning of the semester, it started out innocent enough. However, after collecting data on student success, I quickly learned that the students who met every single expectation learned more, and showed more growth, and got their money's worth out of our classes; and the students who asked for extensions here and there ended up falling behind and never catching up. Sounds simple enough, right? Of course it is!

    So, I changed my approach, stopped granting exceptions, and guess what? Suddenly, nearly everyone was able to meet those high expectations, every single time. My students consistently show more growth in class. They become stronger readers and writers. And they get their time and their money's worth.

    It is so true that people rise to our expectations, or in some sad cases, they fall to meet them. I want you to rise this semester, so that is what I require.

    I do not sugarcoat things. 

    You know that friend who sees that you have a piece of spinach in your teeth, but she doesn't tell you about it? And then you go home and look in the mirror and realize that you've talked to at least twenty people with a big, dark splotch across your otherwise lovely teeth? Mortifying, right?

    I won't be that person. I won't let you down like that.

    When you write for me, or read for me, or teach for me, I'm going to tell you exactly what it is that you need to work on to become better. I will not sugarcoat things, or overlook them, or pretend that they don't exist. I will tell you what is going on, and how to improve it, and you will come out on the other end of 16 weeks a better student for it. That is my promise to you.

    Don't take it personally when my feedback about your latest essay includes fifteen items in the "things to work on" list. In fact, you should take it personally if you're paying to take a course and your professor doesn't tell you what you need to work on, and how to do it. That's what you're paying for, isn't it? That is my job, and I promise to do it.

    I am extremely organized. 

    This means I can make even more promises to you:
    • I will return all of your work, with copious feedback, within one week of submission. Every once in a while I will tell you on submission day if something is going to take me longer than one week to read, but it doesn't happen often.
    • I write everything down. I will know exactly how much class you miss, down to the minute, as well as exactly when you submit all of your work, especially late work. I will tell you how much time you've missed, and how much work you've neglected to submit on time, when I give you progress reports every three to four weeks. 
      • The purpose of this practice is to make you aware of how your behavior and choices as a student affect your learning and progress in class. I'm not trying to rub it in your face if you're absent, I'm trying to make you aware of how your absences are affecting your growth. 
    I care about your success in this class. 

    It takes a lot of time and energy to give you detailed, ongoing feedback, and to keep track of your progress in class. I do all of this because I care. Most professors do, of course. After all, you are our reason for being in the classroom in the first place.

    That being said, I will put as much effort into your growth this semester as you put into it, yourself. You know those office hours professors post on their doors? That is time that we set aside just for you, our students. At Oakton, we commit to being in the building and available to students for at least five hours every single week. If you're falling behind in class, please come and see me during office hours! And if those hours don't work for you, contact me and let's set up another time to meet.

    The worst thing you can do is to become a ghost student, just a name on a roster that your professors can't even place because you haven't shown up for class in so long we've forgotten who you are. We're only human, after all, and we are far more likely to go out of our way to help the students who show that they care about our classes than those who don't.

    I love what I do.

    I love this job more than I ever thought it was possible to love a job. I feel that it is a privilege to work at Oakton, an with you. I believe in the work we do in the classroom, so much so that I think reading and writing are essential skills for anyone who hopes to live a fulfilling life. In other words, I believe the work we do is transformative. I believe you will be a better person for having attended OCC. I believe your time here will change your life.

    You know those people who are so perpetually happy that they're always smiling and cheerful, and telling other people to smile and be cheerful, that they are actually really annoying to be around? Well, I might have a bit of that going on. Because when I'm teaching, I'm happy. I'm in my element. I'm in the zone. 

    You know the best way to deal with those annoyingly happy people? Ever heard the phrase If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? That will be your best approach with me this semester. Just go with it. Trust me. Surrender to the process, and we will have a great semester together. That's my final promise. Join me.

    Help Them Read, It's Easier than You Think

    Two Essential Prereading Skills:
    Prior Knowledge and Setting a Purpose

    It's no secret that many college students struggle with reading comprehension. We see evidence of their struggle in their inability to contribute to class discussions, their failure to pass a simple assessment, and even in their feedback: "I did the reading! I just don't remember any of it."

    Now, while it is not a professor's chief responsibility to help struggling students become better readers, she can slightly tweak her instruction to help support her students' reading comprehension by helping them use a couple key prereading skills. Here's how: 

    Help your students activate their
    Prior Knowledge
    Skilled readers automatically activate their prior knowledge before they read.

    A reader's prior knowledge consists of his knowledge, beliefs, and experiences that relate to the reading. Prior knowledge is a powerful tool for readers because it helps readers connect new information from the text to existing information, their prior knowledge. Of course, learning only happens when we connect new information to existing information, so a lack of PK will leave a reader floundering, and with no means of making any lasting connections from the reading.

    How do you help your students activate their prior knowledge before reading? I'm so glad you asked! This is the easy part: Activating prior knowledge is as simple as taking two to three minutes at the end of class to introduce your students to the text you have assigned for that night. Concrete examples:
    • Introduce the topic and ask your students to write down everything they associate with that topic. 
    • Give your students a short bit of background information about the author, or the topic, or a particular concept introduced in the text.
    • Before you assign the reading, ask your students one or two essential questions that relate to the text, and have them jot down their responses before they leave. 
    See how easy it is? While these actions are small, they are lasting. Once you plant that idea in their heads, it will grow. Like a fungus.

    Whatever you do, the key is to encourage your students to take a bit of time to set the mood for the upcoming reading. Just as we set the mood when we invite a date over for dinner, we have to set the mood before we read.

    Help your students  
    Set a Purpose for reading

    Skilled readers set a purpose for themselves before they read, and as they read they focus on achieving that purpose.

    A reader's purpose can be anything: to identify the main ideas of the reading, to evaluate the major claims in the text, to record three interesting responses to the reading, or even to ask questions about every major section of the reading.

    Whatever the purpose, this is powerful reading behavior because it helps readers focus on the text, self-evaluate their comprehension as they read, and identify key concepts in the reading.

    Professors can help their students set a purpose in a number of ways. The most obvious is to be very clear about how you plan to use the text in class.
    • Will students be expected to engage in a class discussion about the reading? If so, tell them this, and recommend that they take notes about their reactions while reading the text. 
    • Do you plan to assign a comparative essay about this and another piece? Tell them,  and give them the requirements for the assignment before they read.
    • Is this a major text that you plan to discuss for a number of class meetings? If this is the case, you can have some fun and give different groups of students different purposes for reading. One group can be in charge of identifying major claims, another can identify key concepts or terminology, another can ask discussion questions about the text, and another can make predictions about how the information in this text relates to other concepts they will learn in the course. 
      • You can vary the purposes to meet your needs, and when the class meets again, jigsaw the students into small groups so they have a representative from each purpose in each group. This approach works well with particularly challenging texts that students must understand to do well in the course. 
    For most skilled readers, these probably seem very elementary, and almost too easy to implement to actually be effective. And that's the good news: It really can be this easy. For many of our students, this small bit of guidance is all they need to help them get more out of their reading.

    Believe it or not, many of them go home and read the words you assign without actually paying attention to them. That's right, their eyes go over the words, they decode them, but they don't actually read. Sometimes, they believe that the behavior of going through the motions of reading the text is enough, and that it doesn't matter if they actually understand or recall any of it.

    Others have developed such strong compensatory skills over time that they've completely forgotten how to apply these simple reading skills, and so they never do.

    Whatever the reason, as professors we're in the unique position of gently guiding our students into effective reading behaviors. It doesn't take much class time, and you don't even have to tell them that you're helping them become better readers. In most cases, you can help them activate their prior knowledge or set a purpose in under two minutes.

    The investment is small, but it pays back in large dividends. Imagine a classroom full of students who are actively engaged in discussions about text. Imagine a stack of assessments filled with quality student responses that demonstrate true understanding and application of concepts learned from the reading. It's a wonderful feeling. I know, because it happens in my classroom all the time. And it can happen in your classroom, too.

    Of course, I'm not saying these two small reading skills are all our students need to become skilled readers, but in my opinion, they're two of the most important and effective skills. Add developing metacognition to the mix, and you have what I call The Holy Trinity of reading skills.

    I had the opportunity to do a quick demonstration of the importance of PK and Setting purpose at our last department meeting. We had a great discussion and my colleagues shared some wonderful ideas for helping students apply these skills to course readings. 
     If you're interested, I've included the materials I used:

    The PK passage is a fun way to show just how important a bit of prior knowledge really is:

    I hand out roles to individuals, and then read this passage to illustrate the importance of having a purpose for reading or listening:
    Setting Purpose Passage
    Setting Purpose Roles

    These are the PK and setting purpose pages from the 90-page course packet that I created for my college reading courses. They have a bit more background information about these two specific reading skills:
    Packet Excerpt: Pages on PK and SP

    So please, give them a try. I think you'll see how easy it is to support student success. And really, is there any other reason we're here?

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Is College Really for Everyone?

    We've all seen the ads, the ones full of promises for potential students:
    Earn a bachelor's degree in as little as three years!
    Get a professional, high-paying job right after you graduate!
    Take classes that work around your busy schedule!
    Earn your degree on your terms!
    Small class sizes in all disciplines!
    Part-time, evening, and weekend classes available! 
    Financial aid officers are waiting to help you today!

    There's one important truth that these ads always seem to leave out, and that is this:

    College is not convenient.

    It takes a lot of work and persistence to earn a college degree, and even more work to truly become a college-educated individual. Signing those financial aid forms and purchasing shiny new textbooks is just the beginning. Showing up to class is a good start, but once there, students must also pay attention. And then they must study on their own. And complete the reading and the work assigned by their professors. And make up for any gaps in their understanding by seeking additional resources outside of class so they can keep up. And continue to attend class for the entire semester. And continue to study on their own throughout the term to gain the knowledge and master the material and skills they're supposed to be learning.

    I'm not one to sugarcoat things, so I share a few facts with my students on the first day of class:
    1. College is a full-time job. Typical college students should expect to study at least two to three hours outside of class, every week, for every one hour of class taken.

      This means that a student with a 15-hour class schedule should plan to study between 30 and 45 hours per week in addition to the time spent in class. That turns out to be five to seven hours of studying every night.

      Students often tell me that they have never studied in their entire academic career. They've never heard of a study group. They have never brought their books home from school. This may have worked for them pre-college, but trust me, it is not going to work anymore. (And most of the time, it didn't even work back then. If you're one of those students who has never studied, consider how much you actually learned in high school. I'm going to guess it wasn't much.)

      The best thing students can do for themselves is to form a study group, and meet with the group every day, in the same spot, at the same time. The study group will become a student's greatest asset in college. I had a study group in undergrad, and I don't think I could have done it without them.

    2. The more classes you take, the more likely it is that you'll succeed. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true. Students are far more likely to fail their classes if they take only one or two courses in a semester, and far more likely to pass if they take a full schedule.

      This is the fact that brings out the truth about college that the for-profit institutions don't want to share with you: College is not convenient. Yes, there are people who hold down full-time jobs while attending college part-time, raising four small children on their own, and caring for their elderly grandparents; and they still manage to graduate in four years summa cum laude. I'm sure it's happened, and it will happen again. But this is not the norm. This is not how it normally works.

      Sometimes, it's just not the right time to attend college. Maybe a student isn't ready to handle the responsibility on his own, or he has too many other responsibilities that he won't be able to get much out of school, or he just plain can't afford it. Or he doesn't really know what he wants to get out of a college degree, so he won't take it seriously enough to make good on his investment.

      Whatever the reason, the fact is that, despite what the advertisements say, there is nothing convenient about earning a college degree. It will take a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of money. I don't know about you, but when I invest my time, energy, and money into something, I want to squeeze every last benefit I can out of it.

    3. The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you are too good for a particular class. I see this happen quite often in my developmental reading and writing courses. Students take a placement exam and place into a lower level course than what they believe they should have placed into, and they let their ego get in the way of their learning. Sometimes they attend class but they don't do the work, sometimes they don't attend at all. And when it comes time to retake the placement exams at the end of the semester, they place right back into the same exact course, and find themselves re-enrolling and paying that tuition money all over again.

      Sure, sometimes students are placed into the wrong course. But know this: It doesn't happen often, and when it does, most professors spot it right away. If we're two weeks into the semester and I have not yet told you that I think you don't belong in the course, you can rest assured that you are exactly where you should be.

      While we're on the topic of developmental courses, I want to say one more thing: These courses are the best thing that could happen to the students who place into them. If your college offers developmental courses, what they are really offering you is a chance to level the playing field before you jump into college-level work. Colleges with developmental courses are saying We care about you and your ability to succeed, and we do not want to set you up for failure by throwing you into a course for which you do not yet possess the necessary skills.

      I know that students often see developmental courses as an irritating road block on their path, but they are just the opposite. They are opportunity. They are a gesture of support. They are a sign that you attend a college that is not going to let you get in over your head and become so frustrated that you give up entirely and walk away. These courses are life rafts designed to prepare students for the rigors of the college-level work that is to come. I believe it when I tell my students that my developmental reading course is the most important course they'll take in college. And you know what? Many of them have come back and said You were absolutely right. I use the skills we learned in that class every single day.

    4. College is not for everyone. Before you call me an elitist, hear me out: College is not for everyone because college is not always necessary to accomplish your goals. I know we live in a time and place where everyone seems to say that You need a college degree to get a good job.

      My question is What is a good job?
      Is a good job one that pays a lot of money? Well, a college degree certainly isn't going to guarantee that. I have multiple degrees and I don't think I earn what anyone would consider a lot of money.
      Is a good job one that makes you happy? One with a lot of autonomy? One that allows you to travel? One that puts you in charge of other people? Or large machinery? Or requires creativity? Or has you sitting at a desk for eight to ten hours a day?

      If you don't know what you want to do with your professional life, then I'm not sure college is the right option for you right now. Are you really willing to spend one year, two years, four years pursuing a degree that may or may not help you land a job that you may or may not consider to be a good job? I've read countless articles that quote twenty-somethings who regret attending college because they have no job to show for it. They took out college loans they cannot repay, and they realize now, after the fact, that their degrees did not help them get anywhere closer to where they really want to be. Don't let this happen to you.

      Now, let me get one thing straight: I do not believe that the purpose of earning a college degree is to get a good job. I was one of those crazy people who studied exactly what I wanted to study in undergrad simply because I loved the fields. (English and technical theatre, in case you're wondering.) But I did so with reasonable expectations. I knew that my degree may or may not lead to an actual career, and I was fine with that. I had that luxury, because I was willing to sacrifice my lifestyle post-undergrad for the pursuit of an education. I had wonderful parents who let me live in their home as a young adult while I figured it all out. And I took the time to do just that. And today I am happy for it. But that's me.

      You need to figure out what you want to get out of your college education before you attend. And if you do attend college for the sole purpose of getting a better job (which is a perfectly reasonable purpose) then for crying out loud do a bit of research and know what you hope to accomplish. What job would you like to get? Which degree or program will get you there? Do you even need a degree to land the job?

      If you are a traditional age student standing on the precipice between high school and college, and you have parents who are willing to provide a roof over your head while you pursue your education, take a moment to revel in this luxury and consider what it is you really want to do with your life. This is a luxury that is not available to everyone. You owe it yourself to really consider what you want to do, and to follow a path that will lead you there while time is on your side. The worst thing you can do with this privilege is to squander it and end up, years from now, none the better for having had it.

    5. College can change your life. I know that now I'm starting to sound as bad as those college advertisements, but this is true, college can change your life. But as with most life-changing experiences, you have to work for it. I see just as many students go through the motions of college and get absolutely nothing out of it as I see students who take advantage of all it has to offer and come out on the other end changed. The world is filled with wasted opportunities, but only you can decide whether your college experience is going to be one of them.

      And really, in the beginning, that's all it takes: A decision. You have to make it for yourself, but once you do, all of these other things I've been jabbering away about will seem small obstacles, and in time, they'll feel like nothing at all. Because the bottom line is that nothing gets in the way of someone on a mission. The time, the money, the effort, it all becomes a part of your grand plan to create a life for yourself that will be worth living. Any investment you make will seem like time, money, and effort all worth the spending. But before you dive in, make sure that you're jumping into the right body of water.
    If I were to revise those college advertisements, I'd want them to look something like this:

    Unemployed? College could be your next full-time job!
    Before you enroll, know that it is going to cost you a lot:
    You may not be completely prepared, but we'll get you there with extra classes!
    Just make sure this is the right choice for you!
    College: It can change your life, just make sure it's a change you really want or need.

    I could not be more grateful for the opportunity I had to earn a college degree as a traditional undergraduate student. It was a life-changing experience for me, and I cannot imagine where I would be today if I hadn't done it. The decision to attend college was easy for me, and while it took a lot of work, and many years to pay back my loans, those four years were transformative for me. But I knew--I knew before I attended, before I filled out my first application, before I got my first brochure in the mail; I knew what I wanted to get out of college, and I knew what it was going to take to make it happen.

    And now, so do you.

    Go make it happen, whatever it is. The only bad decision you can make here is the one you don't make for yourself. Good luck.
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