In her Monday post “Is Your Book Ready for School?” Natalie Lorenzi did a great job explaining how authors can make the connections between their books and classrooms, especially state curricula and national common core standards. (And, don’t you love the title of her post, which summons up Audrey Vernick’s wonderful picture book IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?) With schools in Austin, where I live, opening next week, Natalie’s topic is especially timely.
Her topic is also closely related to a subject that I’ve been dealing with recently—talking to teachers—possibly hundreds of them—about my book.
My publisher, Peachtree, suggested I submit proposals to make presentations at national teachers conventions. Because my debut nonfiction book deals with civil rights, the likely target audiences are social studies and English Language Arts teachers, thousands of whom congregate annually at the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) or at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA).
Getting an hour—or, even a table on which to prop up a poster board—at one of these national conventions is highly competitive. (And garnering the opportunity to lead a day-long workshop is a coup reserved for the best connected and most respected.) Even though I had taught and worked in public education for over 20 years, I had no idea how to write a winning proposal to make a presentation at one of these conventions, especially since the guidelines for NCTE candidly state, “Proposals designed to advertise or disseminate information about books, materials, or services for sale will not be accepted.” Uh oh!
Thank goodness Barbara, the person in charge of publicity at Peachtree, offered to help me prepare the proposals. And, thank goodness, too, for friends and family who are members of these organizations and veteran proposal-writers. But, if you’re an author hoping to address these audiences, you don’t have to have either Barbara or my friends and relatives to succeed. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Focus your presentation topic on the convention’s theme. For instance, NCTE’s theme for the 2011 convention is “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” What could be more perfect for a nonfiction history book?! This theme became even more relevant when I discovered that NCTE promotes a position statement on Social Justice. Weaving that statement—“we must teach about injustice and discrimination in all its forms”—into a proposal focused on reading about the past gave the submission even more heft.
- Join forces with educators. I prepared and submitted both individual proposals for stand-alone presentations and also joint proposals for panels. The panel proposals were more fun to work on; I got a lot of help from the professionals; and, the proposals are richer. Proposals to all three organizations include a panel consisting of at least one professor of education and a classroom teacher—a teacher who has agreed to use my book in her classroom this fall and then talk about the experience!
- Concoct a catchy title. Here’s where Barbara was really helpful. She tactfully pointed out that a talk for NCSS called “Civic Engagement Through Everyday Heroes” sounded dreary. Instead, I came up with “They Might Be Heroes.” Much more enticing!
So, what happened?
At NCTE, in Chicago in mid-November, a professor of education, a school district curriculum direction, a teacher, and I will talk about WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH. They will tell other teachers and other higher education professors how to use my book in their classrooms!
And, two weeks later, at NCSS, a professor, a teacher, and I will talk about heroes. In addition, I will stand next to a table sporting a poster board to talk about interview techniques. The title for this session is “So, How Many of Your Friends Belonged to the KKK?” (See what I mean about catchy titles?)
We haven’t heard yet from IRA. Stay tuned!