Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Author's Lesson in Humility

In what has become just one more installment in a series of painfully humbling moments, I spent the weekend putting labels and postage stamps on hundreds of postcards addressed to New York teachers and administrators, announcing the $5 promotion as well as the product grants now available to educators in that state. Being an author means taking a massive risk, putting your ideas out there, and hoping that things fall into place: publishers, distributors, readers. 

In much the same way that I imagine the developers of SpongeBob and other wacky characters must have felt in the early stages, I experienced my own paralyzing episodes of humility. Prior to publication, I learned to start keeping my mouth shut when people asked what I did for a living. I learned early on, for example, that discussing the development of a talking, deep-fried chicken product was a pretty effective way of terminating a first date. Unfortunately, I didn't necessarily want some of those first dates to come to such an abrupt end. So many of us have ideas, ranging from the realistic to the just plain goofy. For those of us who dabble in just plain goofy territory, the stakes are higher. We pay a huge social cost for dreaming so big, imagining so vividly, and coming so far out of left field. Our ideas tend to be judged and categorized as either the result of genius or madness. And despite all this, we have to continue writing, developing, and dreaming. 

It has officially been 2 years since the Chicken Nugget Man hit shelves. What determines the success of a book? What determines the success of a cause? My goal was to teach standards through story, to bring laughter back to the classroom, and to help kids develop a love for reading, learning, and grappling with texts.  Many wonderful things fell into place, from a distribution contract to soaring early sales, a 0% return rate, and a children's book award, but when it comes down to it, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Book sales. There isn't much money in publishing. And I'm not paid a royalty on my book sales. I have granted a license to the nonprofit publisher to use book sales as a source of revenue for its cause, which is my cause. But running an organization is a constant struggle, as any small business owner knows. Smaller companies don't have the leverage that larger organizations have to reduce costs, and this nonprofit is solely dependent on book sales revenue and foundation contributions to stay afloat. This means everyone rolls up their sleeves and lends a hand. I'm constantly packing up the book orders that schools request, fielding phone calls, and yes, labeling hundreds of postcards.

With this national version, due to hit shelves on Tuesday, comes the potential for a new day for this nonprofit publisher. Sales could surge, or simply grow incrementally given the fact that although many states have adopted the new Common Core State Standards, not to many are actually implementing the curriculum any time soon. I've come full circle, back to those moments 3 years ago when I was pitching my idea for a new genre of humorous educational fiction to random acquaintances at social gatherings and coffee shops. I'm faced with the incredibly humbling dilemma of holding a product that I have poured my soul into, knowing that an entire organization is dependent upon that product's success, and having to not only serve as the product's developer, but the person guiding and suggesting the marketing, advertising, and promotion efforts that are being funded by prior sales. As one of the first publishers to develop a Common Core Ready product, we are poised for great success, but sales are never high enough to generate the type of massive marketing campaign that this product truly deserves. It takes a lot for me to finally admit that I am proud of something I've created, and that's been a personality trait since I was a child, but I've field tested this book with students, I've seen their emails and letters, I've heard from teachers, and I know how much I would have treasured such a resource back when I was an educator. I believe in this book, and I know that one day, the type of teacher enthusiasm that is currently driving most of our sales, will lead to a collected sigh of relief from classrooms all across the country, finally pleased to have a resource that makes test prep fun for children.

Those of us passionate about student achievement take great risks to prove that all students can learn and to ensure success for the children we are charged to teach. Those financial, social, and psychological risks can mount up, especially in a culture that doesn't adequately appreciate the teaching profession. I will never forget how difficult the work of a teacher can be. And I will never stop doing whatever I can to develop resources that lend a hand to parents, educators, and administrators intent on ensuring student success.

Those of us passionate about writing take similar risks to continue sharing our work with the world. Although nowhere near as difficult as the work of an educator, we do what we do because we believe in what we write. But the life of an author can prove lonely at times, especially when book sales dip or are not what the publisher anticipated. Author royalty isn't much, and in my case, it's nonexistent, but for me, what's more motivating than any paycheck or sales report is the burden of knowing that the future of both an organization and a series of tremendously helpful educational resources rests upon my ability to continue writing and marketing innovative educational materials. Perhaps this isn't the type of message an author should convey to his readers, but since most of my readers (at least of my books) are third-graders, I'm not sure I'm too worried.

I guess my message is this: if you ever manage to get your hands on one of my books or are a NY educator that receives a postcard in the mail next week, I want you to know how much has been invested in what may seem to be just another book or postcard. I want you to know that the distance between your classroom and the author who wrote the book isn't as far as it may seem. This new genre, this book series, and this innovative idea is still too young to evaluate. But I need your help in nurturing it and facilitating its growth. No matter how much money the nonprofit pours into marketing, the majority of its book sales are the result of customer referrals. Please, if you love this idea, if you believe in these books, think beyond your classroom and share your feedback with colleagues and friends. We may not have the reach of companies like Scholastic and Disney, but we have a product that people are passionate about, that doesn't dumb down reading, and that proves learning can be fun. The implicit message in Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man is that everyone deserves a chance. I'm asking you now to help give this book a chance as it competes on a national stage against dry textbooks, drill-and-kill workbooks, and low-interest, low-level educational materials.

-Kumar R. Sathy

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Only $5 for a LIMITED TIME!!! Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A New York Test Prep Adventure

For a limited time, schools can purchase the New York version of my book for just $5. There is a minimum order of 10 books and shipping is just $5, regardless of how many books you order. You can order multiples of 5 after you meet the 10-book minimum.  Details at www.FunTestPrep.com.








Friday, February 11, 2011

Get your FREE advance copy of my latest book in exchange for a review!

Student Solutions, Inc., is giving away FREE advance copies of Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure (aligned to the new Common Core State Standards for grades 2-5). Participants must submit a review in exchange for the free book. We are VERY eager to see book reviews based on the new national version.
Visit http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway for details. Giveaway ends February 21st.
 Visit http://www.librarything.com/er/giveaway/list  for details.    (Sorry, the librarything.com giveaway ended on February 17).
Click here for details about Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure.
www.FunTestPrep.com

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Progress on My New Children's Book

As I noted in an earlier blog post, while Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure is preparing to hit stores (March 1 pub date), I've been playing around with a new plot, a new set of characters, and an even more innovative method of teaching standards through story.  This book (I'm not quite ready to share the title with the world just yet) is aligned to the new Common Core State Standards and follows the lives of two main characters: a fourth grade student who needs to pass the big standardized test to make his parents proud, and his teacher, whose teaching contract and livelihood depend on her students passing the test. They work together as a team, but not without struggle.

I've been reading the book with a group of fourth-graders at a local after-school center, without telling them that I am the author. In fact, these kids have no idea that I even write books!  The survey results indicating their feedback about the book have been great.

Yesterday was the moment of truth. We finished reading another chapter together and answering the standards-based questions in that section. I sat them all down and asked for their honest feedback about the text so far. I asked if they wanted to continue reading or if they wanted to try a different book. I asked if this book was more or less interesting than the books they read in school. I asked if they liked the questions at the end or if they were as painful and boring as the ones they were used to at the end of reading passages. And my heart was pounding with every questions, and every moment of silence as we went around the table.

I'm pleased to announce that after 4 chapters, 18 embedded educational concepts, and 16 humorous fill-in-the-bubble standardized test-type math and reading comprehension questions, every single student opted to continue reading the book, and announced that not only do they like the book, but that it is funnier and more interesting than the books they read in school. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they all maintained the view that the questions at the end were fun, and a few kids even indicated that while reading, they looked forward to answering the questions because they were so silly.

So, after a few finishing touches, I'll submit the book for review and attempt to score a distribution contract. If the budget allows for publication of a new title, and we land a distribution contract, the book might hit shelves this year. Otherwise, it will continue to serve as exciting and educational reading material for after-school centers where the children have absolutely no idea how close they are to the person who created the material that is making them LOL.

-Kumar