When I set up our English Department school blog, www.sccenglish.ie, in July 2006, one of its key purposes was to showcase pupils’ work. At St Columba’s we have long had a tradition of publishing poetry, fiction, essays and other writing in magazine form, and one of the pleasures in teaching English here is reading the considerable amount of fine creative work written by children from 11 to 18 years old. So it seemed a good idea to use the blogging platform to enable other pupils, parents, staff and the wider world to see the quality of this writing.
By 2008, we had posted 100s of book reviews, poems and essays. It became obvious the blog format meant that a lot of great material was becoming buried deep in the site. So we used very modern technology to do a very old thing – publish a book.
Lulu.com is the world’s best-known self-publishing company. It is based in North Carolina USA. Founded by Bob Young in 2002, it enables anyone to publish a professional-quality book for no capital outlay. The conventional publishing model is that you require substantial money to fund the printing and distribution of your book, and the more copies you print, the cheaper it will be. Then you make your money back on sales (and possibly even a profit). With Lulu, however, you upload a file and design the book without any financial commitment. When you – or any other customer – wants to buy it, Lulu prints it ‘on demand’. So you can order one copy, or 100, or 1000, without paying any money up-front.
How easy is it to publish a book? You need very little technical knowledge. The Lulu website provides Microsoft Word templates for download, depending on the format and size you prefer. I went back through the posts on our blog, choosing the best pieces, and pasted the text into the template.
One thing that I was particularly keen on was the physical look of the book, and so this seemed a good opportunity to showcase the excellent art skills of our pupils (check out our Art Department’s blog atwww.sccart.blogspot.com). So once I knew which pieces would be included in the anthology, I gave our art teachers a list of possible subjects (bird, teapot, sleeping dog, garden swing, dragon…) and they set their classes busy producing line drawings. The best were scanned and then inserted into the Word template. The final file was thus very large, and needed to be uploaded by FTP (time to ask a techy friend to help if you don’t know how to do this).
I also wanted the cover to be striking, and again to use pupils’ talents. The cover is designed separately, and you can use one of the pre-prepared templates, or upload your own art-work. For the 2008 book,Going Places, I chose a stunning vibrant orange and blue painting by a girl, for Outside the Frame in 2010, a fabulous photograph by a boy of a Middle Eastern scene. The back covers also featured photographs.
When you feel the cover and the text are ready, the site generates PDFs of both, so you can see exactly what the final book will look like. It would seem sensible to do all your proof-reading at this stage, though of course you can change the text of your book at any time.
When everything was ready, I ordered three copies of the book to check all was in order. It seemed miraculous that, little more than a week later, a package arrived from North Carolina with our 150-page books: the quality of printing, paper and the colour cover illustrations was very high. Throughout this process of publishing two books, I never dealt with a human being (though help is available via online chat) by email or phone.
And the cost? Lulu sometimes changes its pricing and postage policies, which was to our benefit the second time around, but to make it simple: the first books, including postage, cost about €9 per copy, the second ones about €7. By any standards, that is great value. It was even greater value for the pupils; being published in a ‘real book’ was a thrill, even (especially?) for children of the digital and screen age. Pupils (well, probably their parents) bought copies and the whole thing was self-financing.
There’s no doubt that e-books are on their way for education; there’s equally no doubt that paper books are with us for plenty of time yet. Lulu allow you to sell (or give away free) an electronic copy of your book. I am planning to devise our own textbook for a particular (out of copyright) text, and provide pupils with both a paper book and an e-copy. Teachers in other subjects will no doubt have ideas how self-publishing would suit their own disciplines. After the initial learning curve, the whole process is straightforward, rewarding and highly effective.
Some useful links
An interview with Bob Young of Lulu.com: http://www.abctales.com/lulu-founder-bob-young-talks-abctales
About Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/en/about/index.php
Our own post on publishing our books: http://www.sccenglish.ie/2010/08/publishing-pupils-work.html