As we continue our discussion about self-marketing, I want to talk a bit (well, more than a bit) about discussion, activity, and teaching guides. Should you have one? And how can a guide help you market your book? To give us a bit of insight, I welcome to the Tollbooth today Debbie Gonzales. Debbie is the author of eight “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge. A Montessori teacher, former school administrator, and curriculum consultant specializing in academic standards annotation, Debbie now devotes her time to various freelance projects as well as serving the Austin SCBWI community as Regional Advisor. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
First, Debbie, welcome to the Tollbooth! Can you tell us a little about the business you run creating discussion and teachers’ guides for authors?
You’re familiar with the adage “Write what you know,” right? Well, that’s what I’m doing. I pull from my years and years of teaching and curriculum development experience and pour it all into these cross-curricular book guides. I make guides like the ones I wish I would’ve had when teaching. Science, math, crafts, creative writing, analysis, games – you name it, I put it in. They’re becoming so popular; I’m having a hard time keeping up with the demand. That’s a good problem, right?
When did you decide to start cross-curricular book guides?
I got started making these when a friend and YA author was told by a librarian that she needed a book guide made to compliment her latest book, one that met the Texas educational standards. She and I got to chatting about it and I told her I’d be glad to make one for her. Soon after, her book found its way to be listed by the International Reading Association. (I’m not saying that my guide got her on the list, but it sure didn’t hurt anything.) The rest is history.
What types of guides do you create?
Picture books, chapter, middle grade and YA, you name it. I’ll do it. I create three basic types of guides for any and all genres. One is an Activity Guide, which is packed with lots of manipulative learning games applicable to all areas of the curriculum. I just finished a really cool Research Activity Guide for two non-fiction books about dogs and horses that were such fun to make! The guide features activities focusing on anatomy, map skills, research skills, poetry writing and a bunch of other things.
Another type of guide is the basic Discussion Guide. This one works quite well for YA novels. I document quotes that, I think, resonate with meaning, and then imagine kids thumbing through the pages to find the selected phrases, reading them aloud over and over again. I like to not only create questions that are inspired by the text, but those that cause the reader to consider their own emotional response to the story.
Lastly, I make longer, more in-depth guides that are a combination activities and discussion that typically end with a special art project or a Reader’s Theatre script. These guides are designed to provide discussion and activities that will span over a 6 week period of time – a teacher’s gold mine!
A collection of guides I’ve created are posted on my website. Stop by and take a look. I think you’ll like what you see there.
When it comes to self-marketing, why do you think it is important for authors to invest in discussion and teacher guides?
I think any way we can make our books appealing to gatekeepers – teachers, booksellers, librarians, parents – the better. Guides demonstrate the academic soundness of your book to the educator. They show gatekeepers that you’ve taken their needs to heart and want to help make their lives a little easier. They elevate enthusiasm for reading by providing fun and interesting activities. When kids engage in learning on a multi-sensory level, they’ll always remember that book and the way they connected with it. I like to say that guides help keep your books in the hands of those that teach, and in the hearts of children that read them.
Should all authors consider having a guide to go along with his/her book? Or do you feel the guides work best for books more aimed at the school and library market?
It all depends on the author’s intended market. If you’re interested in letting folks know a little bit about your book, oftentimes authors devise a list of summary questions and post them on their website. That works. Even a few intriguing discussion questions written on a promotion brochure flap is helpful. You’re handing these things out at book signings anyway, right? Why not devise a little academic hook and lure those educators your way?
However, if you hope for your work to find a place in the classroom, I do think that a well-crafted guide is the way to go, something packed with clearly written lessons, easy to adapt to a learning situation. Why, just the other day I attended an open-house for an Austin magnet school and was wowed by the innovative ways the teachers were using The Book Thief as a teaching tool. Maps. Art activities. Journaling. Brilliant! You can bet I was taking some crazy notes, too.
Once a guide is made, how would you encourage an author to best use it?
Naturally, post it on your website, which would be the first thing to do. One illustrator couple I worked for is binding several copies of their new guide and making them available for giveaways at ALA. Most authors bind them nicely and give them out to teachers during their school visits. Some folks mail a copy of the guide, along with a thank you card, to schools who have booked school visits with them. Many folks film dramatize Reader’s Theatre scripts and post bits on YouTube. Lots of authors use the craft 3 ideas as activities to be done by the kids during book signings. Even librarians get into the act by using discussion questions for reading group interchange. The ideas are endless!
Go ahead and get a guide for your books, from me or any of the other clever guide creators out there. Do it. You’ll be glad you did.
All right, Tollboothers, let’s talk discussion, activity, and teaching guides? Do you have ‘em? Want ‘em? How have you used them to market yourself?