How to Turn Your Great Ideas into a Great ASCD Book

I have never shared this publicly on my blog, but I have a big dream of publishing a book.  If you follow my twitter conversations on the Wednesday night #educoach chat, then you could probably guess what I’d like to write about (and have been working on for quite some time now with Shira Leibowitz and Kathy Perret).
This is why I chose to attend the #ASCD13 session on “How to turn your great ideas into a great ASCD book” led by ASCD editors Genny Ostertag and Stefani Roth and by authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. This was the perfect session for a writer to attend and I especially enjoyed hearing Fisher and Frey’s stories on writing (I LOVE learning about authors!)

If you’d like to write, but maybe not a whole book Eric Vandenheuvel attended the ASCD session on publishing an article. HERE are the notes he took in that session (Thank you Eric!)

Here are my notes from this session:

What do you want to write about most?
Do: choose a relevant topic that meets a need in the field that you have expertise/experience to share. ASCD gives priority to topics that include  educating the whole child (their mission) and will look for this in a proposal.
What’s your hook?
What really differentiates your content, what makes it special/different. What makes people think “that’s a problem I have and I can solve it.” Think of a spine supporting everything in it, provides a backbone for all the material. Make sure you have a fresh angle. 

Don’t: give a gimmick or try to hard (ex: abc’s list or sending with a teddy bear)

Who is your audience? who is your writing for? What outcomes will they be looking for? You must connect with your readers and offer solutions to their problems.  What keeps them up at night? Don’t tell them it’s for everyone.  If you say everyone will love it, then you likely haven’t thought of your audience.

Competition–do you research to know your competition. What has been done already and why was it done? If there’s nothing on it, it may be a reason. Don’t assume your idea is original. Google your title, google under publishers. 

Starting April 15, ASCD will be accepting proposals in an online portal that will allow you to track your manuscript’s progress.   Proposal guidelines are at When you send in your proposal don’t skim on sample material. They’d rather see the whole manuscript than just one chapter. They are important for the review team. They need to get to know you on the page. More is better than less.  

What do editors want? Top 5 qualities:
1. Original-What is original about your piece? Give fresh information.  Don’t state the obvious (no lit review). 
2.  Research based-evidence based, make sure it is scalable/sustainable. Don’t labor over methodology. Good example: new Principal Evaluation book by James Stronge. Not every book has to be that research-based. Could just have one chapter that includes the research and then move on to be practical. Don’t just say “We know from research” and not cite anything.  
3. Practical– Provide guidance as specific as you can so people know, but don’t be too academic. It needs to be readable. 
4. Specific-Offer helpful ideas, show what they look like in real classrooms/schools, don’t over-generalizes so much that readers can’t specify to their situations. If you can’t figure out to apply to your school while you’re reading, you’ll stop reading. A great example is How to Create and use Rubrics.
5. Conversational-ensure your text is engaging, succinct, easy to navigate, be accessible, be yourself. An editor can help you add research, but they can’t make it super conversational and give you personality…you need to do that. Don’t include a lot of jargon or over-complicated language. Don’t try to impress people with crazy big words. Don’t be over-personal “I’m so great, I’m the best…”  Great example: How to Create a Culture of Achievement by Fisher and Frey.

DeClutter–make sure that other people can see themselves using it. Put forth the how-to. 

Do talk to published authors! Dont’ stalk them!! (They must not be on twitter…my authors on twitter don’t mind the stalking and have become great resources!)
Frey and Fisher sharing their writing tips

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey shared their writing experiences and tips:

If you get a contract from a publisher-whatever date you negotiate…HIT IT! When they say your manuscript will come in on 11/15, that means they have lined up editors and the rest of the team for that date.  If you don’t hit it, they will not want you for future books.  Add 3 months to what you say you can do and then ask the editor for that date and then hit it. If something comes up, tell them immediately so they can try to change it. They do NOT like it if you miss a deadline.

Fisher said (about their published books), “None of these are our titles! The marketing department gets the title and the cover…none of them were in our minds. Let it go, don’t make the exact title/cover your concern. The marketing department knows what they’re doing.  I don’t even bother anymore…I just give a general “here’s what the book is about” for the title.”
Processes to write-everyone develops their own. Nancy writes in an office at Doug’s house, because  his house is bigger and she won’t get distracted by knowing what laundry needs to be washed!  They have 2 desks in one office to talk to each other to parcel out what they will each write about.  Planning process-they cover the back of the office door with sticky notes to sort based on those sticky notes.  Then they  put on individual sticky notes a shorthand about the point/tool and then easily move/sort ideas into chapters.  Gives a good visual for conversations.  

Other publishers-know who they are and who best fits your ideas. 

 Write about what you know. Look closely at your context/experiences, this is what you are expert in. Listen to what people ask of you, pay attention to the patterns that emerge in those questions. That’s the idea that you need-if they’re seeking you out about something, it means they can’t find it out somewhere else and it means you’re an expert in. 

Books are all about the same size. Do not write a thick book for ASCD. Aim for 50,000 words. If you’re at 45,000 in chapter 3 you’re writing too much. If you hit 60,000 it won’t be thrown out, but you don’t want it to be too long.  People want short chapters to read. They’re busy and want to read small chunks in one sitting. If it’s too long, they’ll stop. 

When you send a proposal, do not send your first chapter–if you wrote it first, it won’t be your best chapter. It’s likely very general and probably won’t show your conversational tone and practical examples.  Write the meat first and THEN write the 1st chapter. Otherwise you end up saying everything you want to say in the first chapter!

Nancy keeps a writer’s notebook to jot down good ideas.  You don’t want to lose your thoughts in busy lives. Keep track of super funny quotes too!!  Keep those little stories that could possibly be used.  
If you’ve been in education for a number of years, you have a book inside of you!  It’s just that some people take the time to sit down and do it. Your butt in a chair…that’s how you write a book!  Part of the writing process is like being a brick layer of words.  There’s a level of discipline to keeping yourself from being distracted.  Schedule time to write. Treat it like a meeting. Schedule it just like a conference or something else that’s important. Keep it as a promise to yourself. If you can’t do that, how can you keep a promise to someone else.  

 Create a goal for each day, ex “today I will write this idea.”  “Today I want to finish___” and then stop.  This will help you pace yourself better to finish the book.  You will get fatigued and get frustrated if you try to write for 8 hours a day.  Nancy writes notes about what they talked about so she can look back if they haven’t written them yet.  You will paralyze yourself if you keep going back to reread what you’ve already written. Leave yourself a note to know where to start tomorrow and get going again.  

Doug said that staring at a blank page intimidates him so he opens a chapter from a previous book and writes notes on the top of the page and then copy/pastes it to where he’s working…it’s all a psychological thing for him!  Nancy-puts down a quote or a scenario to get something on the page. She may not keep it, but it gets the flow going.

Their first book started as a conversation in the car.  Her first chapter took 4 weeks to write—laboriously.  Now she writes fast.  It was hard for her emotionally to see the edits/revisions come back, because it’s like your own child.  She’s learned to become detached from that.  When you get your first book out, ask the publisher for a copy of the cover to frame on your wall…it feels good to look at it. 
And have you ever wondered how ASCD chooses their member books? (The free one you get with your membership?) It must weigh less than 1 pound!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Frank Buck

    Nice post. I am surprised ASCD wants the entire manuscript as opposed to a couple of sample chapters and detailed outline.

    Michael Hyatt has a couple of outstanding ebooks on his website that take you through the whole process, complete with providing examples He has one ebook for fiction and one for nonfiction.

    I have written two books for Eye on Education, and they offer an excellent set of instructions, most of which are consistent with what you described.


  2. Alicia Conway

    I believe that a book is the final stage of somebody’s development in the field of writing. No one will receive though this success, not having enough motivation. To keep it at a great rate, people should stick to some rules, so that everything can be accomplished:
    15 Rules of Motivation.

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