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July 30, 2018
By Mark Coker
How indie authors can help high school students become avid readers and published authors.

Indie authors invest a lot of time, energy, and financial resources into book marketing. Yet, for most authors, the struggle is fraught with challenge; it’s tough to reach readers.

There’s a glut of high-quality books out there, especially in the e-book market, where indie authors find most of their readers. Indies face a market in which the supply of e-books is growing faster than the supply of readers. The result is that, on average, every new book published from this day forward will share a thinner slice of the pie.

It’s time to grow the pie. We need to create new readers.

According to the Pew Research Center, overall book consumption has remained flat over the past 10 years. E-book consumption is highest among college graduates and high-income earners. Pew reports that 42% of U.S. college graduates read an e-book in the last year. The figures were 8% for those who didn’t graduate high school and 17% for those who graduated high school but didn’t pursue college.

Why do college grads read more e-books than people without a college education? Readers have access to hundreds of thousands of e-books at no cost via libraries and retailers. The problem is that these potential readers are choosing not to read books.

Reading stimulates the imagination, and from imagination comes creativity, inspiration, and innovation. Reading gives us knowledge, encourages critical thinking, and improves our communication skills. Avid readers can learn more, learn faster, and do it with less effort.

More early intervention is needed at the high school level to help young adults develop a greater love for reading. But how do we foster greater love of reading? It’s not enough to tell students to read books. A better approach is to teach these students to write and publish books.

Four years ago, in partnership with my local public library, I volunteered to help design and launch a pilot program at Los Gatos High School in which 120 freshman honors poetry students collaborated over a five-week period to write, publish, and promote a poetry anthology e-book. That e-book is titled Windows to the Teenage Soul.

The project was led by teachers Tonya McQuade and Catherine Wehr. They invited me to speak to each of their five class periods about e-book self-publishing. I shared the same knowledge that most indie authors already know from experience.

Students contributed one poem each. Next, they divided into teams. One team focused on editing, layout, and design. Another team focused on art and photography. Another team managed marketing and publicity. And another team managed event planning for their book launch.

"It’s not enough to tell students to read books. A better approach is to teach these students to write and publish books."
The day it was released, Windows to the Teenage Soul briefly ranked as the #1 bestselling poetry book on the Apple iBooks store. The evening of the release, Los Gatos Public Library hosted the book launch. The event was standing room only. Proud parents and lucky patrons listened to the students describe the project and read excerpts from their favorite poems.

Now in its fifth year, this e-book publishing project has touched the lives of more than 600 students. This May, 175 students published Voices from the Poet-Sea.

These students will begin the first chapter of their adult lives with a deeper appreciation for the written word. Their accomplishment will go on their college applications. These students are more likely to write more, read more, and publish again.

This entire project, from start to finish, didn’t cost anything. Thanks to free e-book publishing platforms, the tools of professional publishing are accessible to all. All that is needed is knowledge. And this is where indie authors come in.

Indie authors can partner with local schools to inspire similar projects in their local communities. Every high school can replicate this project in its classrooms. Every person can write poetry. All it takes is a visionary teacher, and an indie author willing to help share her smarts to help kick-start the project.

Windows to the Teenage Soul includes a teacher’s guide in the appendix to help others replicate the same project. It includes project timelines, handouts, and a list of resources. To learn more about this pioneering project at Los Gatos High, check out episode 16 of the Smart Author Podcast, “Publishing in the Classroom.

Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords and host of the Smart Author Podcast.