Today I'm pleased to welcome my friend and colleague Tania McCartney, author of the Riley series. Tanya is blog touring the fourth book Riley and the Grumpy Wombat released this month. For other blog tour stops check the schedule here.
Tania is here to talk about adding value to your book with good quality Teacher's Notes.
Writing Effective Teacher's Notes
One of the best ways to promote new books is to offer More. Sounds simple enough, but what exactly is More?
You can spend years writing a children’s book, but as we all know, having it published and on the shelves is only part of the entire book production process. Marketing, promoting and selling your work to the community is potentially the biggest hurdle for any book – and this is particularly so in both a saturated market and a downturned market, as we are sadly experiencing now.
Great work sells well, of course – but even the best work is pointless unless we can get it out there, into the community, and into the hearts of children, where it belongs.
Offering ancillary products for your books is a wonderful market tool, but it’s much More than that. Ancillary products expand your work and take it to new and exciting levels – both in terms of sales for you – and in terms of enlightening and educating children.
Whether it be online games, soft toys, activity books, interactive websites or trailers, offering your work, or links to your work, in varied formats, opens up a whole new world of market saturation and delight for kids.
One of my favourite ‘ancillary’ products for my books are teachers’ notes. I have a profound respect for teachers and all they do for our kids. I also know, pretty much first hand (I live at schools and have a school teacher sister!) the work involved in teaching. Offering teachers carefully-thought-out and pre-prepared teaching notes and lesson plans for their students is not only a godsend for them, it’s actually a whole lot of fun – and what a joy to see kids explore your books in an educational setting.
For my Riley the Little Aviator series, I wanted to create teachers’ notes that honed in on the educational components of my stories – namely travel, culture, tradition and local fauna. I thought long and hard about how I could do this, and tailored my notes to suit.
I don’t think there’s a super-strict formula to follow when it comes to teachers’ notes. There are many styles and varieties available. If you are really stumped where to start for your own books, begin by going over the mass of notes available on most publisher websites and author sites. Familiarise yourself with notes that cover books similar to your own (YA? junior fiction? picture books?)
It’s important for teachers’ notes to be clearly written, grammatically correct, spell-checked and proofread. Ask someone to check them over for you before finalising. Keeping notes succinct and clear is vital – rambling will hinder.
Begin by introducing the book – its cover and blurb. Also introduce yourself and your illustrator (if applicable) with a short bio and some pictures. Be sure to link to your sites so teachers can explore more of your work and learn more about you as a person.
Writing your notes will then depend on the style and format of your book. Picture book notes can be relatively simple in format, whereas YA notes will require more complicated structure and age-appropriate questions and exploration.
Think creatively and outside the square when you write your notes. Keep your audience (age group) in mind, and think about the parts of the book that will offer the most ‘meat’ in an educational setting. Are their morals to be had in your storyline? Lessons to be learned? What other elements would fascinate children and which parts would they be intrigued to explore?
For my Riley books, I know the travel elements are really favoured by teachers – offering a way for children to armchair travel to different parts of Australia and the world. In my notes, I therefore explore each destination in greater detail – and offer really cool facts about each place that the teacher can discuss with the kids.
I also explore the cultural messaging deeply, particularly in my Hong Kong- and Beijing-based books. Kids love learning about these quirky, local idiosyncrasies. I present this material in a statement, question and answer format that allows the teacher to first present info then ask a question (and have the actual answer on hand).
Because my notes are for younger kids, I have geared them towards the teacher – to be read out in a group setting rather than a printable sheet kids can do themselves. Of course, this is another option for this age group – so it’s really up to you. Older kids would benefit from notes they can actively fill in and research themselves (ie: no providing answers!)
I actually write my notes in three parts – or ‘lessons’.
The first one is an exploration of the book – almost page-by-page. In the two Asia-based books, I take the teacher through each page and provide fascinating cultural info she can explore with the kids as she reads the book. In the subsequent Australian books, I offer information on both the location and the animal in question – that the teacher may or may not know. She can then pass these facts on to the kids and discuss them in a group setting.
In the second part of my notes, I focus on story writing and structure. Naturally, this is a huge part of the national curriculum, and covering this in more detail is the most requested topic by teachers.
The third part of the notes covers an actual activity – and for each book, I suggest a book-making activity that can be extended into a full unit of study. I presented a 14-week version of this activity at a local Canberra school during a Writer in Residence programme, and it was an enormous success.
At the end of my teachers’ notes, I provide links to other ancillary products I have online – like paper dolls to print and cut out, colouring sheets and other activities. I also let teachers know I am available to speak at schools, and I provide all appropriate web links.
Teachers’ notes may take some time to write and perfect, but they are a priceless offering for kids and teachers and a marvellous way to extend exposure for your work. I love the idea of my books being used in schools to educate children – and for me, this educational component is a huge part of why I write for kids.