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?


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