Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

Jeff Minton: Save the Essays

May 26, 2014

I mean this in 2 ways:

1) to save the essays from the dumpster:

Roughly 12 million essays are written every year by college freshman comp students, and, by my educated guess, roughly 12 million of them are eventually trashed, in one way or another. Once graded, they’re eternally stored away in folders, on backup discs, in the dusty closets of hard drives, they’re cheerfully deleted, or thrown away. As a recent MFA grad entering into my first instructional position, the inevitable doom of my students’ papers made me question the point of it all. Here I am preaching audience audience audience, know your audience, and they’re thinking dumpster dumpster dumpster, what’s the quickest route to the dumpster.p12608

2) to save the essays from becoming worthy of the dumpster:

What’s even sadder is that many—if not most—freshman papers deserve their wasteful fate. If they were written for the dumpster to begin with, then the dumpster can have ‘em—who’d want to read them? To “save the essays” we need first to inspire essays that are worth saving.

I do not mean to say that all college freshman writing is bad. Certainly, there are a few exceptions in every comp class—self-motivated students with a predilection for writing. Ask any English prof, though, and you’ll hear a dismal testament of the student majority. Comp students just don’t care that much. And why should they? No one’s ever going to read their writing, right? Except the instructor, who is paid to be sympathetic to shitty work and polite in criticizing it. If they can get past the instructor, then they’re golden, and they know it.

In his article English Compositionism as Fraud and Failure, veteran instructor Jeffrey Zorn describes the field of composition pedagogy as his “adrift, embarrassing, infuriating, failing profession.” I agree.

Many experts blame the students: a spoiled, lazy, inept generation. Seriously? Take a look on YouTube—the greatest showcase of talent anywhere ever. Read the quippish genius happening all over Facebook and Twitter and in the captions of memes. People are brilliant . . . when they care—the same ones texting in the back of class and citing Wikipedia on their research papers.

Perhaps the predominant view is to blame lackadaisical and feeble professors for skirting extensive feedback because it’s either too much work or they don’t want to upset students and face grade disputes, that instructors need to push harder, be tougher. I used to share this outlook, before I experienced how poorly it works.

You can drill students until their typing-fingers blister, but they won’t learn until they want to. To an unreceptive student, intensive line editing and heavy-handed feedback teaches only how to imitate your correctness. So yes, you can improve a student’s writing by telling them what they did wrong and how to fix it. They’ll fix it, and it will be better, just like a patient takes pills to get better. You gave the student a fish. If they don’t care, all your brilliant advice goes into the dumpster along with their papers the second they see their final grade. Try as you might, you cannot teach a student how to fish until s/he’s hungry enough to need to learn.

How hard is it, anyway, to learn active voice? Every writing text and a thousand websites explain it pretty clearly. If you don’t care, you’ll struggle with it all semester, and then you’ll use it (badly) in the future because your professor told you to and you assume it’s always best. If you care, you’ll look it up and teach it to yourself in an afternoon, and when you use it in the future it will be because you want an active agent in your sentence in lieu of stating existence or victimizing your subject. Yes, it’s vital to teach craft, but it’s futile to shout it into deaf ears.

In my (fairly virgin) view, issues of craft are secondary to the primary concern: saying something worth reading—eschewing vapid bullshit. I’ll get 20 papers on gay marriage rights, 30 on marijuana laws. Gay marriage should be illegal because it’s in the img_6025
Bible. Legalizing weed will stimulate the economy because of the tax surplus. Every round of papers amounts to a grand collection of other people’s ideas. The papers are so fluffed and formulaic and monotonous and trite that offering feedback is an often worthless endeavor. You can’t polish a turd, as the saying goes. More aptly, you can’t edit substance into a vacuous composition.

Editors won’t take the time to line edit unless the manuscript is worth the work. Why should teachers? We know how to teach grammar and logic. That’s the easy stuff; it’s concrete. Railing students on passive voice and semicolon use while ignoring the banality of the thesis at best churns out exceptionally active, grammatical writers who actively and grammatically say nothing. I see a greater challenge. How do we teach significance? Passion? Originality? A desire to express oneself, to seek information and self-improve?

Call me a hippy (I’m not), but I believe everyone loves writing, in some form. It’s one of the defining traits of being human. It’s tragic that so many people are growing to hate it. How do you effectively teach someone how to do something they hate? You don’t. Thus, first and foremost, I believe my role as a comp teacher is to tap my students’ natural love of writing to draw out substance. I don’t care if there are a hundred passive constructions. If the core is strong, we have something to work with, and the student will lead the charge if s/he actually wants to make it better.

So how do we teach caring?

I’m asking as much as I’m suggesting. In the past, I’ve tried provocative prompts, personalized assignments, peer evaluations, every manner of bonus offering (this at least gets a response), hard-ass threats (this doesn’t), public challenges, direct communication, the “you’re all geniuses” approach, sardonic humor, harsh criticism, all positive criticism, all negative criticism, extensive feedback, sparse feedback, and on and on. Some methods work better than others, but in the end the papers are compost, and who knows if anything stuck. The core of the problem remains. They’re writing for a grade, not for an audience.

Perhaps the solution, then, is to provide an audience?

This question echoes back to my previous life as a music teacher, where I faced a similar problem. Kids would come into my little guitar closet and genuinely want to learn, but weeks of practicing at home and playing for me and practicing at home and playing for me would gradually suffocate the students’ fire and they’d often quit halfway through. Then I joined the faculty of a progressive school of rock (www.musichouseschool.com, ftr). They held end-of-semester performances, which gave a stage to the students. The same kids who took months to learn half a song were suddenly learning full songs in a week, perfecting them in a few. The difference was staggering.

This past semester, I reflected heavily on my past student rock stars. I wanted to offer a “stage” to my writing students, so I tried something entirely new. I published my students’ writing—like for real (contracts and all). I aimed to kill the arbitrariness of my assignments by providing a real outlet. We worked together toward a common goal. I needed them to write well because their papers would be in a publication associated with my name. They needed to write well if they wanted to get their name in the publication, and to be proud to have other people read it, which gave them an incentive to write beyond the grade. The focus remained on the writing and the publication as much as possible and shifted to grading only when the college demanded it.admin_1-asset-5036304298008

Aside from the lectures, which I viewed more like training seminars, class ran like a publication house. I was the editor. They were staff writers. Instead of requiring assignments and arbitrarily grading them, I gave prompts and payouts for those who responded. They chose which prompts they wanted to respond to. The payouts came in the form of “class cash,” which accumulated to determine their final grade (a bit corny, I know, but it gave the realistic feeling that I was paying them for their work, which essentially I was). When they submitted papers, instead of line editing, I played editor and either accepted or rejected their papers. If rejected, I would give a paragraph or two detailing the reason and offer them the chance to resubmit for the next revision period.

Some of the papers I read 3 or 4 times before accepting, and they vastly improved throughout the process. Often, in narrative writing, students would interpret their experiences through sentimental, vague, clichéd language in their early drafts and then gradually comb out the mawkishness in trade for original expression that conveyed their significant and inimitable human plight. Many students clearly learned something about themselves through revising: that they weren’t just “a broken heart” or “an ordinary kid”—they saw that they were distinct and complex people living complex lives and that personal writing is a process of unraveling and understanding who they are and what made them. I’ll take that over active voice any day.

At the end of the semester, the students took roles as editors to address the minutia—at the point where it’s actually appropriate to deal with such issues. The entire class came together to edit and produce all the accepted papers into journal form, which now has its own website (www.thefreshmanreview.com) and is available in print through lulu.com.

The semester was not without its problems (I have many tweaks planned next time around), but for the first time, on a large scale, I saw students take genuine interest in their work—especially during the production process. When I turned the responsibility over to them, they took off. Apparently, real responsibility incites real effort.

My publication, however, is a temporary fix. It’s absurd for me to create an external publication company just to get my students to care. If everyone did this, there’d be 100,000 new publications just to cover freshman writing, and the overabundance of publications would become another type of dumpster. I believe firmly, now, that students need a real audience to develop writing skills, and I think colleges should be the ones to provide it. They could run a freshman publication within the college for the best papers—perhaps through the school paper or university press. Or, professors from different fields could commission papers from freshman students: allow them to provide real-world, needed research. Freshman writers are a valuable untapped resource. Use them. Save them.

Let their 12,000,000 papers count for something.

 

Jeff Minton Photo

Photo by Shauna Yorty

Jeff Minton lives in Camp Hill, PA, where he divides his time between his wife and three boys, his writing, composing music, disc golf, and teaching English at Elizabethtown College and Harrisburg Area Community College. Recently, his fiction won finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award and he presented a panel titled “Orchestration for Writers 101” at the 2014 AWP Conference. He holds an MFA in Creative writing from Wilkes University.

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New Program Tracks in Publishing and Film

May 29, 2013

Ever thought you wanted to start your own press, e-zine, or literary journal? Thanks to the initiative of Akashic Books editor Johnny Temple and Etruscan Press founding editor Phil Brady, alums and current students now have the option of pursuing a Master of Arts in Publishing! This new track will open at the June 2013 residency. Wilkes alums will take only an additional 18 credits to earn the M.A. in publishing.

Have you found the world of documentary film fascinating? The Wilkes low-residency program has also added a Master of Arts in documentary film, which will begin in January, 2014. Like the new publishing degree, alums need only take an additional 18 credits to earn this degree. The curriculum is being developed now working with Robert May and SenArt Films and other to be named companies.

For more information or to apply to any of the newly revised program tracks, please email or call Dr. Culver or Ms. Dawn Leas. Deadline to apply is May 31, 2013. Visit the Wilkes writing program website for updates.

Dr. Bonnie Culver, Director: bonnie.culver@wilkes.edu
Ms. Dawn Leas, Associate Program Director: dawn.leas@wilkes.edu
570.408.4527
570.408.4534

Wilkes Publishing Seminar: Jan 7-13, 2013

December 5, 2012

Wilkes University Creative Writing Program Offers Publishing Seminar, Jan. 7-13

By Vicki Mayk

The graduate creative writing program at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, will offer a one-week in-depth literary publishing seminar, The Art and Science of Literary Publishing, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7 through Friday, Jan. 13, 2013 on the Wilkes University campus.

The Art and Science of Literary Publishing course includes information about the current publishing environment, from large to small presses, including corporate, independent, non-profit, university, multi-media and self-publishing models. There will be discussions about editorial policies, book design, distribution, business models, marketing, sales of manuscripts, legal issues, author events and much more.

Publishing Seminar
January 2013

Instructors are Phil Brady, who is the executive director of Etruscan Press, and Johnny Temple, who is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books.

Etruscan Press is an independent, nonprofit publisher that has produced more than forty books, including three that went on to become National Book Award finalists. Brady is a distinguished professor at Youngstown State University, where he directs the Poetry Center. Akashic Books is an award-winning Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction. Temple also is the cofounder of Brooklyn Wordsmiths, an editorial and consulting company. He also won the American Association of Publishers’ 2005 Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing, and the 2010 Jay and Dean Kogan Award for Excellence in Noir Literature.

The course is geared toward people interested in exploring career opportunities in the burgeoning field of literary publishing and production. It may be taken for four graduate credits in conjunction with Wilkes’ creative writing master of arts and master of fine arts degree programs. Those people not taking the course for graduate credit will receive a certificate of completion following receipt of their final portfolio of written work by the instructors.

Cost for the seminar is $2,488, with substantially discounted rates for Wilkes University alumni and current students ($1,244).

For more information, or to register, call the Wilkes University graduate creative writing program at (570) 408-4547 or email cwriting@wilkes.edu.

Q&A with alum Gale Martin

September 12, 2012

Recent Wilkes graduate Gale Martin is soaring to the top with her latest release, Grace Unexpected. The book recently reached #1 status for Amazon’s list of Movers and Shakers thanks to a 3-day book giveaway. Even after the freebie, the sales keep coming in not only for this most recent release, but her 2011 book Don Juan in Hankey, PA as well. See what Gale has to say about her publication experience in this Q&A.

Thousands of readers have downloaded a copy of the novel from Amazon. Sometimes the book has even been offered for free on Kindle. How do downloads and free copies help your overall marketing efforts?

Once an independent author sells her book to the 100-200 people she personally knows, she needs a vehicle to massively enhance the visibility of her title. A very tiny percentage of people—perhaps one for every 1,000—will actually respond to any sort of messaging or marketing with an actual book purchase or an action. If you have 300 followers on your Facebook fan page, that may seem like a big deal to you, but statistically speaking, it’s not likely to yield many sales. I have close to 3,000 followers on my two Twitter accounts, which is expected to yield a sale of 3+ books, and it did yield dozens more than that because I’d done a great deal of relationship mining prior to DON JUAN and GRACE U‘s publication. But I can’t expect those kinds of follower numbers to greatly impact my sales.

Basically, the Kindle Free days are a tool to reach tens of thousands of potential readers who will then help boost paid sales. And it worked. During my three Free Kindle days in early September, more than 38,300 readers downloaded GRACE UNEXPECTED for free. In the next 36 hours, it sold 400 copies. And it’s still highly ranked. It sounds counterintuitive, but in order to get reviews, I have to give away 100 or more copies. In order to get the requisite word of mouth—the buzz—needed to sell books in volume, tens of thousands of people have to have heard about my book. Kindle Free campaigns are one tool indie authors can use to reach a certain threshold of visibility (lacking the big media campaigns of the Big Six publishers.)

Speaking of marketing efforts, can you tell us a bit about what lead you to the ‘Don Juan Gets Around’ contest?

Well, that was a funny, organic sort of campaign that evolved because a geographic location is referenced in the title. One of my video reviewers, an opera singer, responded so strongly to Hankey, PA, that he recorded his professional performing group The American Tenors, singing “Hankey, PA” during one of his East Coast gigs. Then a friend took the book to scenic St. Barth’s just after it was published. Then, he posted the photo of Don on Facebook. And other people who had bought the book began sending me photos from their parts of the world–Staffordshire, England; Yosemite National Park; the Paris Opera; Seoul, Korea; Florida; Salem, Mass.; Mt. Rushmore; Shanghai; and of course, the winning photo was taken in Puerto Rico. It was great fun receiving photos of DON JUAN from around the country and the world.

Grace Unexpected was recently picked for best designed covers by Shelfbuzz.com. Congrats! Tell us about the book design process and how this cover came to be.

This is a fantastic process with Booktrope. Basically, you talk with your book manager about what qualities you want your cover to project. Then, the designer who has elected to work with you tries to match your vision. It took ten iterations before my manager, Booktrope’s COO, and I agreed on a cover. It was great fun to see it evolve, to see it refined from draft to draft. I needed it to project energy and lightness. Bright colors convey lightness. I also wanted to show scenic Shaker Village which is the location for the book’s inciting incident. Designer Greg Simanson is really a genius. And also really listens. Because everyone knows indie books need great covers to sell well. And Booktrope is firmly committed to that.

You’re pretty active on Facebook. How has social media helped develop your author platform?

I can’t imagine being an indie author and achieving any success (which I define as having your work read and appreciated) without relying on social media. Book reviewers are more inclined to review your work if you have the capability to Tweet or Share their review. Every blog post I write is magnified and can obtain more Google juice because it can be broadcast via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit, etc. Let’s face it, since time immemorial, word of mouth has sold books, and social media offers viral word of mouth. If one person endorses your novel on their Facebook page, all their friends take their recommendations very seriously, especially if the poster is a thought leader. In looking at my analytics over time, Facebook sends more traffic to my website and blog than any other single source. So, if writers can’t embrace more than one social media outlet, they should at least establish a Facebook fan page.

How did the Wilkes program prepare you for your publication experience?

Author and Alum Gale Martin

For one thing, you leave the program with clear expectations that Wilkes wants you to publish. They expect you to try your level best to get published. Another thing—I’ve done a lot of author events since first being published in November of 2011. And the Wilkes program definitely helps prepare authors to present their writing. I did an author event with a Big Six author. He didn’t know how to read or showcase his work at the event in which we both participated. Thanks to the Wilkes program, I and every Wilkes-trained author I’ve presented with absolutely kills personal appearances. Also, I have tapped my fellow students and faculty members for endorsements and blurbs. So, overall, I would say my Wilkes preparation was invaluable to my feeling confident and projecting a professional writer’s image.

Final thoughts?

I feel very fortunate to have found Booktrope and to have been embraced by them. They work so hard—tirelessly—to help the authors they represent to succeed. It’s like being part of a very caring family. Within that family are authors like me who have had literary representation at one time and/or who have sought representation for years and haven’t succeeded. Emerging authors need to know there are other models available for publication, additional avenues besides the Big Six. I’ve gotten so much satisfaction from the publication of my novels. It’s less important to readers who publishes your novel—just that it’s published. And you don’t have to self-publish, which offers no appeal to me whatsoever. Not with publishers like Booktrope around who provide support and expertise for authors on every level—editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing, and promotion.

Gale Martin is scheduled to participate in Pat Florio’s (another Wilke’s alum!) author showcase on September 23: Writers Showcase in Belmar, NJ, 608 River Road, 3 PM to 5:30 PM.

More news and events from Gale Martin are posted on her website, http://galemartin.me.