Sharing the insanity: Confessions of a self-published writer (Part 2 of 2)

November 14, 2011

In Confessions of a Self-Published Writer (Part 1), I talked about what it was like for me to self-publish in 2002 and how self-publishing has evolved in recent years. This year, I was presented with an opportunity to share what I’ve learned in the past decade or so to help someone else.

When Alia Azim Garcia came to talk to me about publishing her book, it never occurred to me to say no. She was charged with the task of writing a textbook for Human Resources (HR) students and professionals. She had the expertise to write the book and the support of her professional peers in the Human Resources Partnership Council at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University. I had experience in publishing, technical writing, simple book design and marketing. We began to talk about how we could use our combined skill set to make her book a reality.

We rolled up our sleeves and got to work. For the past 18 months or so, a team of us have been working hard to edit, design and print her book. She worked with an editor at the university. I brought in experts in book printing that I have worked with on previous projects. All in all, our team consisted of about 15 people, some working locally and others who worked at a distance, who  each worked on different pieces of the project.

You Did What? AzimThe outcome was the successful publication of You Did What?! A Reality Check on Human Resources Practices. This book is a compilation of scenarios that Human Resource professionals are required to address on a regular basis and provides an excellent resource for training and discussion.

For me, working with a writer to help her publish her work successfully meant sharing my knowledge and expertise of almost a decade of experience publishing paperbacks and e-books to make someone else’s dream of publishing a book come true. I went from being a self-publisher to being a publisher.

As a result, Onate Press, was born. Officially, it is an imprint or a division of Eaton International Consulting Inc., the small business I’ve run for over a decade that’s dedicated to building, researching and delivering educational programs. In effect, I ended up creating a small “indie” (short for “independent”) press that publishes materials to support and are aligned with my values as a lifelong educator.

Self-publishing is fun and exhilarating. When you publish other people’s material, the idea is for them to feel the exhilaration and for you to take on the responsibility of ensuring that the details and logistics of the publication process run smoothly. I have learned that publishing other people’s work can be quite stressful, because you want the final product to be excellent quality for both you and them.

There were lighthearted aspects of the project, too. While the final print-ready copy of the book was in the hands of the printer, we had some fun and videotaped an interview to let people know about the book:

Mount Royal University and the Human Resources Partnership Council have been stellar partners in this process. They have arranged for the book to be officially launched at the 8th Annual HR Breakfast that takes place tomorrow. The breakfast, which is being held at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and is co-hosted by local TV personality, Gord Gillies of Global television, has sold out.

When you self-publish, there is a sense of solitude, of being a lone wolf in a world where others may not understand you or your vision or what you hope to achieve. Unless you are at the very top of your game (and very few self-published authors are), the idea of having your book launched at a local event hosted by a TV personality is simply not feasible. When you publish someone else’s work, working with a team of people are collectively dedicated to making the endeavour a success, the experience is completely different.

The book is now for sale as a paperback, as well as in Kindle editions through Amazon.com (U.S.A and Canada), Amazon.UK (United Kingdom), Amazon.FR (France) and Amazon.DE (Germany).

Alia is donating all of her royalites to the Human Resources Partnership Council Legacy Scholarship, which supports students studying human resources at Mount Royal University.

Doing it yourself is ruggedly exhilarating in a pioneering sort of way. Collaborating with a team brings a deeper sense of success, knowing that you have collectively worked together to achieve a bigger vision. I’m so proud of Alia… and thrilled to have been invited to play a role in her exciting launch into the world of being an author.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Vain, insane or free rein? Confessions of a self-published writer (Part 1 of 2)

November 3, 2011

Nine years ago I did something scandalous, something that caused many of my colleagues to balk and wrinkle their noses in disdain. I self-published a book.

I have worked in academia since 1994, where the pinnacle of respect comes from articles published in the most highly acclaimed peer-reviewed journals. Self-publishing anything, let alone a “how to” guide doesn’t really result in respect. In fact, it results in quiet whispers of, “Who does she think she is, publishing her own work? We’re scholars, not peddlers. It’s just so… vain!”

I remember one particularly stinging comment of a professor who said, “Anyone who self-publishes their own work clearly has more ego than intellect.” At least he had the courage to say it to my face… and I’ve never forgotten it.

I’ve always struggled with two seemingly disparate aspects of my character. One aspect is deeply curious, driven deep into research to the point of forgetting to eat, methodical and persistent, obsessed with learning, surrounded by books, and slightly susceptible to worshipping great teachers as heroes who have inspired me to be a voracious learner. That’s the scholar side.

The other side demonstrates all the classic personality traits of an entrepreneur: impulsive, headstrong, stubborn, relentless about progress and pushing the boundaries of new ways of doing things (often before I’ve considered all the risks), with a wildly creative spirit that flourishes in an environment where there are high levels of autonomy and self-determination.

When someone tells me that I can’t do something, my usual (though often unvoiced) reaction is, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”

Then I proceed to do it, come hell or high water.

I’ve run a marathon, gone “polar bearing” in Halifax harbour on New Year’s Day, done a Master’s degree in a language I didn’t really speak very well, then did a Ph.D. in a completely different field and started an educational consulting business. I’ve done these things despite the fact that at least one person told me I couldn’t do it… would never succeed. Or was it because someone told me I couldn’t do it? I’ve never really figured out which it was.

In 2002, I added “self-publishing” to that list. Very few people were self-publishing then. It was considered heinously poor form. The truth is, I couldn’t find a publisher for my book. I looked and looked. For months. No one was interested. “It won’t sell,” they said.

I didn’t want to let that stop me, so I hired an editor and a graphic designer to help me do it. Self-publishing taught me a great deal about the process of publishing a book. I still worked with an editor, a designer and a printer. My editor was relentless. Any ego I had before starting to work with her was undeniably and unapologetically crushed in the process. She reduced me to a pile of humble tired bones, pushing fingers forward on a keyboard. It was excellence or nothing. (She taught me that it’s free “rein” and not free “reign”, as I’d previously thought.) God, she was good.

I pushed myself to produce the very highest quality that I could and to learn not only about content, but also form, style and little details of the publishing process, right down to what kind of paper we would use and why.

The first edition of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program ranked among DeMille’s Technical Books Top 10 Best sellers, reaching #1 on that Top 10 list on August 25, 2003. Now, being a best seller among technical books on a small list isn’t like being a #1 best seller on the New York Times or anything, but in its own way, it was a highlight of my career.

It was, however, a bittersweet victory. While I worked like a demon on the project, I often felt sheepish and ashamed in front of some my academic colleagues who found the whole prospect of self-publishing downright disdainful.

If you believe Wikipedia, then you might be as surprised as I was to learn that works by authors such as  e.e. cummings, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Franklin, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain were self-published. Though we need to be clear that there are thousands of people whose self-published work will never be elevated to such high regard. The fact remains that some pretty darn amazing writers went ahead and published their own work when no one else would.

Here we are in 2011, when there are 156 million public blogs in existence (as reported by  “BlogPulse”. The Nielsen Company. February 16, 2011). Today, people self-publish every day, in every corner of the world. Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article about the rise of self-published books. Publisher’s Weekly reported that in 2009, 764,448 new books were either self-published or micro-published.

Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone any more.

I still struggle, on an almost daily basis with being an “academic entrepreneur”. Most of the time, I feel like I don’t fit properly into either world, and with fierce determination, I push aside the feelings in order to push forward with the work. For me, doing the work — and doing it well — has always been more important than how I feel about the work, because I rarely feel good about the work I do. No matter how good it may be, I always want to be better. It keeps me up at night… most nights, in fact.

I don’t know if e.e. cummings really did self-publish, but I do love his quote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” It takes courage to put yourself out there, to use your voice and do something a bit rash and a bit wild. People may sneer. (But then again… those same people would likely find something to sneer about anyway.)

Digital technology has democratized creativity and empowered anyone with a voice to use it. What have you done lately that is wildly creative (and even a little rebellious)? I’d love to hear your stories about how you’ve taken a creative risk and what you learned from it.

(Check out Part 2 of this post, where I talk about how I used what I’ve learned over the past nine years to help someone else launch into the world of becoming a published author.)

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Business as a creative force that can make the world better

September 9, 2011

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about how universities have made drastic changes in how their operational and leadership models in recent years. The change is especially apparent in the Humanities, where scholars are deeply, viscerally offended by the idea of the numbers of “bums in seats” as being an indicator of a faculty’s success.

My friend remarked, “It’s totally a business model!”

I cringed, as I often do, when I hear remarks like that. I’ve worked in post-secondary institutions, with non-profit organizations, with small businesses and entrepreneurs and yes, even with corporations.

I replied, “That’s not a business model. It’s the worst aberration of business. It’s a business model in its most hideous and grotesquely mutated form.”

Don’t get me wrong. There is no doubt in my mind that some businesses exploit their workers, their customers and anyone else they can. There are some businesses who mistreat and abuse their employees. There are some businesses who misreport their numbers and mismanage their money. There’s no denying that.

But not all businesses are that way. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins looks at the qualities that differentiate good businesses from truly great ones. He describes the characteristics of both and then goes on to give examples from industry. It’s a book that many business people know well. While he talks about profit as being one key indicator of success in business, it is not the only key factor. In fact, as the author points out, companies that are driven purely by profit often never make the leap from good to great.

Collins wrote a subsequent work that is less well known, though equally brilliant. Good to Great in the Social Sectors looks at what makes an organization — any organization — great. He shows what he means by focussing on schools, non-profits and other social sector organizations, demonstrating how we can define success in ways that have nothing to do with generating profit. In fact, he says that business can learn a lot from non-profit organizations.

Business isn’t always the great evil that those who work in education and non-profit think it is. The problem is that they see the worst mutations of business practices being employed as leadership models. When that is the case, how could they think anything else?

David Cooperrider, known to many as the “father” of Appreciative Inquiry wrote an article worth reading. “Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Awe is What Moves Us Forward” (It’s available as a free download. It’s 7 pages and it is worth reading.) In it he talks about trends in the business world relating to ethical business, green business and corporate social responsibility, ultimately arguing that business has the potential to unleash wildly creative, progressive, helpful and powerfully transformative change in the world.

I sometimes challenge my academic colleagues to talk to their spouses and friends who work in corporations about concepts like corporate social responsibility, ethics, green business practices and how their corporations are finding ways to give back to the community. It’s surprising how many people in the corporate world volunteer for community events and are committed to practices such as recycling, pursuing innovation and being creative in their work.

Educational administrations seem to be adopting the worst aberrations of business management models, becoming more self-absorbed, more self-serving and less caring, while business itself is evolving past those models and becoming more responsible, more ethical and pursuing excellence and creativity more diligently than some educational institutions.

Ironic, no?

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


The 3 C’s of 21st Century Learning and Leading: Creativity, Collaboration and Capacity-Building

April 13, 2011

What are the skills needed for 21st century leaders? I’d argue that they’re the same skills needed for 21st century students and learners. Why? Because the students and learners of today are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also the leaders of today. Notions of leadership are changing. The component of leadership that involves wisdom gained through life experience will always rest with those who have more of that experience. But young people are pushing the boundaries of technology and social change. Here are the three skills leaders of today – and tomorrow – need.

Sarah Eaton - blog - iStock photo

Creativity

Leadership today need to be creative problem solvers. The issues that are arising challenge all that we know about the world and how to make it right. Authoritarian or cookie-cutter approaches to problem solving simply won’t work in the 21st century. Even the ability to “think outside the box” won’t be enough. Instead, learners and leaders will need to be able to say, “‘Box? There is no box.”

If you’ve seen the movie, The Matrix, you may remember a scene with the small boy who bends a spoon with nothing more than his mind. When Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, asks him how he bent the spoon, the boy replies, “There is no spoon”. A similar idea of thinking beyond what we currently know to be possible will be a common characteristic of 21st century leaders. A creative and open mind will drive that ability.

Sarah Eaton - blog - group of children

Collaboration

Young learners and senior leaders alike need to know how to play well with others. We accomplish more when we work together. There needs to be trust, appreciation and a willingness to join forces and collaborate. Phrases such as, “Trust me… just do it my way.” or “Because I’m the boss and I say so!” just won’t cut it in this century.

In this century, everyone has the ability and capacity to be both a follower and a leader. Those who try to exert authority over others without their consent will not only be questioned, they’re likely to be shunned. Learning to appreciate others’ strengths won’t be enough… Learning how to leverage each other’s strengths will be a key to working together, creating new work, solving problems and achieving new goals.

Geographical boundaries have been almost completely transcended in the first decade of this century. In a few more decades, people won’t think twice about working with someone at a distance on a collaborative project. Those who don’t partner and collaborate effectively will be left behind. In a century driven by technology, people skills are – and will continue to be – more important than ever.

Capacity-Building

Twenty-first century leaders will have the ability to look at those around them and help them build their capacity in order to help them grown personally. That growth will add to the organizational growth. In addition to leveraging one’s current strengths, there will be a drive to explore and learn by doing.

This century, more than any other period in history is passionate about – even addicted to – creating new knowledge using technology, to inventing new and visionary projects and making things happen on a large – even global – scale. To do so, a dedication to lifelong learning not only for ourselves, but also for our colleagues, partners and team members will become the norm. Learning in a traditional classroom has already been extended to the Web, to podcasts, to television… Learning, professional development and continuous self-creation will happen almost any place, any time.

Each of us is both a learner and a leader in the 21st century. I, for one, believe in our collective potential and look forward to what we can create together.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Are you stifling your teachers’ creativity?

May 29, 2010

Educational program leaders and directors have a tough job managing programs. They need to oversee all aspects of program management including operations, human resources, curriculum, scheduling and budgets, just to mention a few things. Most program directors are overworked, underfunded and understaffed. They work like mad just to keep their head’s above water. If that sounds like you, then I have a question for you: In all this hustle and bustle what are you doing to keep your teachers motivated?

Like students, teachers have different gifts and talents. Do you give them opportunity to use those talents? Better yet, do you give them an opportunity to share their expertise with their peers?

Teachers need more than to just deliver content to students. This is especially true if that content is “canned”, that is to say, it’s very structured, rigid and inflexible. I once had a teaching job that I loathed because all the teachers had the same textbook and had to cover exactly the same content every week. We had a week-by-week outline of all the content we had to teach. Tests and assignments were developed by the two head teachers without input from others. All the assignments given in every class, by every teacher were the same. Every teacher had to give the same test on the same day.  Teachers were instructed on grading practices, so that grading would be “simpler and standardized”. Those in charge said it would increase quality.

It was true. It was all very standardized. And I’ll be honest, a monkey could have taught that class. There we were, a group of dynamic, engaged professionals, all of whom had bachelors or master’s degrees, churning out canned classes like robots. I stayed for a while and then resigned. Why? Because by being overly prescriptive about our teaching, the quality didn’t increase. It decreased.

One by one, the most engaged, dynamic and creative teachers all left. Those who stayed did so either because they liked the ease of not having to prepare much or because they were too afraid to look for work elsewhere. In any case, the result was the same. The teachers became disgruntled, disengaged and unhappy.

Now let’s consider another case. At a local college, my friend Val is an ESL teacher. While she has particular objectives in her teaching, she also had an idea about using Reading Circles in her work. She asked for the opportunity to run a reading circle with her fellow teachers at the college. Her superiors said, “Go for it!” The reading circle was a success and her project became hot talk among her peers. She moved on to do an applied research project about using reading circles for ESL and literacy. She was asked to do a presentation at the college about her work. People started talking. Val’s idea began to spread. She has gone on to present at conferences. There’s even a YouTube video about Val’s Reading Circles.

Val was given the opportunity by her superiors to use her creativity and not have it stifled. By being given the chance to explore and develop her ideas and talents, Val went about digging deeper into an area she has an interest in, develop professionally and become a leader in her own right in the area of reading circles for ESL literacy.

Giving teachers a chance to showcase and celebrate their professional expertise achieves 5 things (maybe more):

  • Offers them a chance to share their knowledge and passion with their peers.
  • Motivates them to become self-directed learners themselves as they have the chance to investigate what they’re interested in.
  • Provides recognition from others, both inside and outside your school.
  • Increases the teacher’s commitment to the profession.
  • Raises the profile of your school by highlighting the talented professionals who work with you.

What are you doing to encourage your teachers to use their creativity?

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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