I can't believe it, but in one week, my book Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It's a Narwhal) will be available on Amazon! One of the questions I get asked a lot is how I came to write a book. I thought I'd use my post this week to take a walk down memory lane in the hopes that you feel inspired to publish your own book...
In truth, from the time I was a child, I'd always wanted to write a book. When I was younger and thought about becoming an author, I thought about writing fiction. As I have come to know about myself, I am not a fiction writer.
Fast forward to around 2015, when I saw a poster in a bathroom that identified Philiip Schlechty's Levels of Engagement. Around the same time, I had been receiving a great deal of professional development (PD) from Dr. Paula Bevan who was working with the Danielson Group. This PD drew our attention to the impact of engagement on learning. Long story short, I started thinking about Schletchy's work and developed my own Engagement Continuum which eventually morphed into my Engagement Matrix. As I told people around me about my ideas, they often responded with, "You should write a book!" Their earnest endorsement of my thinking was encouraging so I started to think that maybe this is what I should finally write a book about.
I began formulating my ideas and getting them on paper. Then, in February 2017, I went to a full day PD session with George Couros, on his book Innovator's Mindset. Here was this former teacher and administrator who had written a book and I saw that his publisher was someone who I hadn't heard of (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.). I liked the idea of working with a small publisher because (a) I knew I was an unknown and (b) I really love my day job and I'm not looking to start a new career. I reached out to Dave Burgess via his website and held my breath. Dave contacted me in no time and we set up a video conference so we could meet. Dave was incredibly supportive and generous with both his time and advice. He told me that there are really 3 general publishing paths and talked about the pros and cons of each.
Self-Publish: Pros=You have 100% control over your work on how it is produced and all the profits go to you. Cons=Your ability to market your work is limited to your own abilities and connections.
Major Publishing House: Pros=This is all they do, so they're experts in all aspects of publishing including marketing, etc. Cons=You can become a cog in their wheel and it can feel like the work is theirs, not yours.
Small Publishing House: Pros=They tend to be people like you who want to support people like you and the work you've created. Cons=They don't have the same power or name recognition as big publishing houses.
Dave encouraged me to keep writing and let him know when I finished. So, I got to work.
I decided that I would dedicate myself to finishing the book in 2018 and I would self-publish. Like I said, I am not looking for a new career and self-publishing is very easy these days. As I got towards the end of writing the book, I thought, "What the hell. Why not try to see if someone will publish it since even though I'm not looking for a new career, I am looking to share my ideas with as many people as possible and self-publishing will limit my ability to do that."
I don't know what I was thinking trying to finish writing during the holidays, so rather than being done by December 31st, 2018, I finished in early January 2019. Close enough. I reached out again to Dave Burgess to see if he might be interested in publishing my book, which at that time was titled, The Engagement Framework. Once again, he was generous with his time. We had a video conference and he agreed to read the manuscript. It was during that chat that I shared the idea regarding engagement in schools at the highest level being a narwhal, not a unicorn. Dave loved that analogy and encouraged me to find a way to include that in the book's title. I sent him my manuscript and I held my breath.
In a few weeks, Dave got back to me and said he was going to pass on my book. I was disappointed but not discouraged. I started to send out my manuscript to big and small publishing houses--maybe about 10 or so. Here's what I realized that you should know if you ever want to write a book. You do not need to have a fully written manuscript to get a publishing deal; in fact, many/most people do not when they contact a publisher. What they have instead is a well-thought-out concept. The publisher wants to understand what the book will be about and how it's organized. They ask for samples of what the chapters would be, but they often are not interested in the full manuscript. Who knew?!
Eventually, I got several bites. One publisher even sent my manuscript to real educators to get feedback and shared the feedback with me. It was so scary to think that people who didn't know me would read what I wrote and such a relief that the feedback was so positive! Unfortunately, the person who I was working with accepted a new position and couldn't take me on. She referred me to someone in a competing publishing house who she used to work with. We spoke via email and on the phone and, again, this new person was interested in moving my work forward to her colleagues. Ultimately, they rejected the work because they claimed they had nooks already that my book would completed with.
Then, two things happened around the same time. The first was that I saw someone tweet about their book being picked up by EduMatch Publishing. I hadn't heard of EduMatch so I had never sent my work to them for consideration. I looked into EduMatch and thought, "Why not?" At the same time, I also received an email from another publisher who I hadn't heard from since I applied months earlier. The woman who contacted me was so kind. She said she read the manuscript and really liked it. We spoke on the phone and she made me an offer to publish my book!!!! The next thing I knew, EduMatch contacted me and also made me an offer to publish my book!!!! To say that I couldn't believe it is an understatement! I was gobsmacked!
I ended up comparing the contracts, which were quite different. I'm not going to go into the details here, but suffice it to say, EduMatch is a smaller publishing house and the other offer came from a larger one. My contract with EduMatch provided me with more royalties, but the other publisher has more name recognition and marketing capabilities. I was in a pickle. Which publisher to choose?
Here's where the story comes full circle. As it turns out, the district in which I work had booked George Couros to speak on our Opening Day in August 2019, the same time I had my decision to make about who would publish my book. George and I had gone back and forth communicating regarding his time with the district and I was his host for the day. Thus, I emailed George and asked him what advice he could share about which of the two publishers to choose:
I do have a question for you which you don’t have to answer…my desire is to share my ideas via the book with as many people as possible. Though the more established publisher would have to sell 5 copies for every 1 copy of the newer publisher for me to “break even,” I’d rather there be more copies sold than more money made by me. Even if the more established publisher sold 2-4 copies for every 1 copy of the newer publisher, there would be more copies out there than with the newer publisher. At the same time, the newer publisher could take off too and I like the idea of supporting a newer publisher who is willing to take a chance on me. Here’s the question…do you have any advice about which publisher you think I should go with? Again, if you’re not comfortable, I understand and apologize for the question.
George gave me some thoughtful advice and ultimately said, "My gut says go with the up and coming group but I also have no clue who it is." I took his advice. I wanted to take a chance on an up-and-comer because they took a chance on this up-and-comer...and I couldn't be happier!
After signing with EduMatch, I was given a Trello Board of steps to complete. I am my own worst enemy in that they were happy with the manuscript as it was. In the 9 months that had passed between finishing the draft to send to publishers and signing the contract, I had thought more about my work and realized there were changes I wanted to make. I had waited, however since I didn't know what the future held. Sarah Thomas, EduMatch's founder, told me to make any and all changes I wanted to make, so I did. In that process, I realized that the book was too long because I had far too many strategies for one book. I reached out and asked if I could pare down the strategies and make a second book that was just strategies. This may be the greatest irony since I never intended to write a strategy book because there are already so many available--that's why I wanted to write the first book; strategy books on engagement are useless if you don't have an agreed-upon understanding of what engagement is in the first place. Twelve months later, after having several people review the book, making countless changes to content and formatting, and finally settling on a title, my Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It's a Narwhal) is for sale.
My path is not your path, but if you want to write a book, I say GO FOR IT! I have been so humbled by the amazing support I have received throughout this journey. What's more, I am so excited by the ability to share my ideas with others that I am bursting with anticipation for the book's release! I know my bubble of support will try to be pierced by some haters out there. That's okay--I don't agree with every author out there or every book I've read either. However, the love I have felt in the process is surely predictive of the love that I will continue to receive when the book is finally in the hands of others. So in advance, I want to say thank you for your support!
In case you're interested, here is the link to the FAQ page for EduMatch the describes their submission process, which includes uploading a 1 minute video where you talk about your book. Here is my video that I uploaded. It took a couple of takes before I got it how I wanted it. I remember being so worried about the content and getting it all in the video in under 1 minute. Looking back, I wish I would have brushed my hair, but the message of what the book is about is spot-on. Enjoy and I hope you are inspired to start writing you own book. I know I'd be excited to read it!