Monthly Archives: May 2012

More Reasons Why You Will Love My Novel: Adventures in Self-Publishing and Self-Promotion Part Two

Let’s recap, why don’t we. I do not have a history of being a very capable or enthusiastic self-promoter. I have difficulty asking people, cajoling people, insisting that people come to see my band play a show, for example, or buy our records.  It’s not that I don’t think we’re worthy of their patronage, but that I feel somehow like I’m imposing on people. It’s awkward.  It’s immodest.  It’s uncomfortable telling people how great you are.  But now I am turning over a new leaf. I am so pleased to be publishing a novel and feel perhaps more confident in myself as a fiction writer than I do in myself as a musician, I hereby vow to shout my barbaric yawp across the rooftops of the world, to impose a little, to tell people how great I am in order to get people interested in my new book, Monster Talk.

In part one of this two-part blog entry, I established three initial reasons why you, dear reader, will love my novel.  I gushed about the cover, the art, the artist who created it, the lovely picture of myself on the back and the flap, the effective, succinct, and tantalizing synopsis on the other flap, and the engaging sample on the back cover of the hardback.  Reader, you are too smart to believe that a cover makes a book good, but you are also wise enough to know that good cover art and compelling cover text are both important aspects of the successful marketing of a novel, that, in fact, we judge books by their covers all the time.  Okay.  Monster Talk has a nice cover.

I also insisted that if you love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, you will also love this novel, as its premise comes from that beautiful and so often misrepresented English classic.  And finally, I argued that whatever your predictions or preconceptions about a novel by me about a subject like this might be, you would probably be pleasantly mistaken.  In other words, I think, dear reader, that you will be surprised.

So for what other reasons will you love my novel?

#4. You like smart children and like them as main characters in stories.  You like novels that are respectful of the wisdom, intelligence, and perspective of young people.  And you like your child-main characters to be believable.  They don’t have to have magic powers; they don’t have to be wizards in training; they don’t have to be vampires–and they don’t have to be monsters.  

#5. You may not be a huge science-fiction fan or a lover of what we call fantasy fiction, but you love stories in which the super-real crosses over or connects with the fantastic.  You might enjoy magical realism as a genre.  And why is it, exactly, that this kind of thing turns you on whereas interplanetary travel,  space aliens, dwarves, elves and schools called Hogwarts leave you feeling unsatisfied? It might be, dear reader, that you read often for a higher purpose; you distrust literature that is purely escapist.  And while you know that ALL fiction to some extent allows us to momentarily escape the confines of our daily lives, you have an expectation that the fiction you read reflects or illuminates some aspect of reality, some issue that is relevant, something that you recognize and can identify with.  And you know that real life is often fantastic–the journey you’re taking in this life on this planet is often remarkable in the way that even a fire-breathing dragon can’t equal.  So you’re totally down with the metaphoric power of magical, unnatural, supernatural elements in an otherwise realistic piece of fiction .  Monster Talk is a realistic novel with a fantastic premise–and you’ll love that.

#6. You love serious fiction that makes you laugh.

#7. And finally, you love the fact that you are supporting an independent publishing venture.  You understand that small press and independent publishing is often where our literature is richest, and you value the democratizing effect that new technology has made possible in the world of the word. So, for all these reasons, you will love my novel.  Thank you, in advance, for your support.

And here are some quick links to on-line retail channels:

http://www.amazon.com/Monster-Talk-Michael-Jarmer/dp/1475915950/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338234633&sr=1-1

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/monster-talk-michael-jarmer/1110919984?ean=9781475915969

http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000540199/Monster-Talk.aspx

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Why You Will Love My Novel: Adventures in Self-Publishing and Self-Promotion

I’m telling the truth.  Yes, I will indeed tell you why you’ll love my novel, Monster Talk, available to the on-line book buying public very shortly, a week or two, perhaps, after the publication of this blog entry, and available immediately, like right this minute, at the iUniverse bookstore. But I want to begin by talking about self-publication and the unavoidable weirdness that follows, that of self-promotion.

So, if you’ve been following the blog you already know this, but if you’re just popping in for the first time, I’ll give you a short recap.  I’m publishing my second novel first through iUniverse because I don’t have the time on the planet to exhaust like I did on my first novel–trying to find an agent who will then try to find a publisher who will then make me do what I have to do anyway as a self-publisher:  promote my own thing.  I just re-read that last sentence, the part about not having time on the planet.  I don’t want you to misunderstand: I’m not dying–any more or less than anyone else who is about my age and health.  It’s just that I found that publishing through the conventional means might take me the rest of my life.  I have dismissed the illegitimacy issue.  I have looked at my work and decided it is good.  It is worthy of readers. I have embraced the brave new world of do-it-yourself-with-the-help-of-a-company-that-provides-everything-your-book-could-possibly-need-plus-the-means-to-get-it-into-the-marketplace technology. I have decided that, in the end, there is nothing different about publishing your own novel than producing and selling your own music recording, which is what musicians have been doing from time immemorial. That was the process and those are the subsequent conclusions.  Now, having fulfilled my new year’s resolution in just 5 short months, as of today I have a book out that people can hold and read or use as a coaster, paper-weight, door-stop.  It’s so good, though, I’m pretty certain people who buy it will be reading it.  You, especially, will love it and will want to share it with others.  More on this later.

So now I have to promote.  Promoting your own work, promoting yourself, trying to make your thing desirable to others, creating a kind of personal brand, is a strange, awkward, uncomfortable business.  On the surface, it’s really no different from writing an entrance exam or an essay, written or spoken, for a job opening.  You are a product, a product that has a variety of positive characteristics that someone else will want to take advantage of in exchange for some monetary or material reward.  As strange as that sounds, it’s pretty normal.   In the case of a work of art or a piece of music or a novel, there are some distinct differences.  I am not my novel.  My novel is not me.  It is an  artifact  that came from me, a collection of many moments moving through me over time.  You would think that would make it easier!  But alas, not all of us are adept at separating the art from the artist, and our babies are kind of like babies.  If someone hates our baby, we feel hated by proxy.  And that’s scary.  But despite that, if we want anything like success for our creative endeavors, we’ve got to get out there and shout our barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world, saying, in essence, this thing I made is awesome and you need it and will love it and please give me money for my thing.

This thing I made, a novel called Monster Talk, is awesome and you need it and will love it and please give me money for my thing.  There, that wasn’t so hard.  Let’s see if I can keep this up for a while.

Why You Will Love My Novel:  

#1.  Look at this cover.  Lovingly created by my friend Curtis Settino, it is a quirky, inventive, and fitting illustration.

The novel’s main character is not someone who has a heart-shaped head–but the heart-shaped head captures an element that might be something else, beyond the cover, that you’ll love about my book.  More on that later, perhaps.  I want to talk more about this cover.  There are other things about the cover that you’ll also love, I think.  There’s a handsome picture of me on there.  You’ll love that, I’m sure.  I’m no beauty queen, but I’m no slouch either.  You’ll also love the text on the cover.  There’s a short little author biography, which you’ll love; there’s an excerpt on the back cover from the second chapter which, while setting up nicely the premise for the novel, thereby creating interest for you, the reader, will probably also make you laugh;  and on the back of the softcover and on the inside flap of the hardback, there’s a lovely little synopsis that will pique your interest without giving anything away.  I think you’ll really love this cover, and while they say you should never judge a book by its cover, all of us do anyway, and if you judge my book initially by its cover, you’ll probably end up wanting to read the thing and in the end you will end up loving it.

#2.  You will love the fact that my novel was inspired by another novel you love.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is about the best, most underrated, most under appreciated, most misunderstood because of a history of cultural misrepresentation, most influential novel of 19th century English literature. And if you’re not down with the preceding, Monster Talk will help you get down with the preceding. You will love that.  If you are already down with the above, you’ll love it even more, because Monster Talk honors but doesn’t copy its predecessor. Except where it copies it.  A little bit.  You’ll love all of that.

#3.  There are so many things you’ll love about my novel, I could go on and on, but I’m going to try to stop at my usual 1000 word or so blog entry limit.  So let me just share one more thing you’ll love about my novel:  Whatever predictions you may have about a novel by Michael Jarmer inspired by the great gothic genius of Mary Shelley will likely be wrong.  And you’ll love that.  You are a beautiful and intelligent reader and you like surprises.  That’s all I have to say on the matter at this time.  Onward.  Yawp.  Please go to the following link:

http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000540201/Monster-Talk.aspx

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No Grades? No Carrots or Sticks? Then What?

Not cookies and pokes in the ribs, I presume.  No, we can’t just replace one set of rewards and punishments for a different set, although, most people would rather have a cookie than a carrot and would like even less to be poked in the ribs than slapped with a stick.  I don’t know about that one.  Pokes and slaps seem equally unpleasant to me.  How about cookies or ten minutes on the rack?  Yeah, that’s better.  It’s better on the one end and worse at the other, but still really really bad no matter which way you go, because, as I’ve already established, rewards and punishments are bad in education–as they are bad in most other arenas: child-rearing, workplace motivation, innovative thinking, creativity, and relationships.  And, please, for crying out loud, don’t take my word for it; do some reading, look at the data, visit a school, or talk to some kids.  This is all a long preamble to answer the question, if no carrots and sticks, no grades, then what?

Full disclosure:  this is a thought experiment.  I cannot claim to have solved this issue in actual practice–only to have come to a conclusion philosophically, long ago, that grades, high ones as carrots, low ones as sticks, do not work, are, in fact, detrimental. I award grades because it’s part of my job expectation–and I suppose, although I have not tried it, that if I refused to award them I might be disciplined somehow–ten minutes on the rack, maybe, or worse.  So, my goal might be to come up with an alternative that would satisfy me philosophically and satisfy administrators, parents, and students that they weren’t somehow being short-changed because the carrots and sticks disappeared, but rather, felt like they had been finally presented with something like the way education ought to go, forever and ever, amen.

There was a comment to my last blog entry from another blogger named momshieb, and it was brilliant.  Here’s what she said about grade schoolers, but I believe it applies to all schoolers: “In a school with no grades, kids would recognize and measure their own progress because they would take pride in what they are achieving. They would NOT do the “bare minimum” because they wouldn’t know what that is. When children are studying or thinking or creating because they are curious or interested, they keep going until they are satisfied. When children are not being presented with external judgements about everything that they do, they stop trying to do just enough to please the judges.”  So this is just more strong argument against grades and what might happen in their absence–which seems to me obviously and infinitely better than the hoop-jumping and grade-grubbing that goes on when kids and their parents are addicted to external motivators.  And parents are often the most culpable parties.  I can count on maybe one hand how many parents have called me over the course of my entire career to ask what their children are actually learning in my classroom and not about what they’re getting.

One of the things teachers can do immediately, even if they have to award grades in order to avoid the rack, is to do everything they can to deemphasize grades.  They shouldn’t talk about them.  They shouldn’t  dangle them.  They shouldn’t use them as a threat or as a treat. They should avoid putting point values  on assignment sheets.  After awhile students will stop asking.  They start thinking instead about what they’re doing and why, about the learning, and ultimately, they will do the work because it is meaningful work.  And if they can’t find meaning in the work, teachers can help them as long as they are looking. If they want to “pretend” to find meaning and fake their way through, they might be successful, but are nevertheless TOOLS, and this behavior will some day catch up with them.  No skin off their educator’s nose.  Another group of students will refuse to look for meaning, will be unmotivated no matter what kind of dancing monkey you place in front of them, will not do anything that is asked of them.  And these are the ONLY kids, without serious intervention that is beyond what a classroom teacher can do, who will either FAIL or be forever IN PROGRESS. Our public schools do not serve these kids well and something should be done about it–but that’s another topic and another blog. But here’s another possible perspective on those kids who will not play.  Perhaps, they find no meaning in what they’re being asked to do because there is, after all, no meaning to to be found there.  I suspect that classes in which grades and points are heavily emphasized are classes for which meaning and purpose might not be clear or even existent for students and their teachers.  Recalcitrance in these situations is likely a kind of silent protest against a dumb curriculum.

I know my colleagues often worry about rigor, they are loath to think that students might think their class is “easy.” If grades go away, and a whole range of work then becomes acceptable for a PASS, from the mediocre to the truly brilliant, why should students at the top end work hard, and why wouldn’t kids doing mediocre work just become satisfied with their own status quo? First of all, we have to accept as a given the inherent differences between individuals, differences in interest level and in readiness for particular kinds of academic work.  Kids who truly love and excel in a particular discipline will continue to do so whether grades are given to them or not, and kids who hate a  particular discipline may warm up to it or at least feel less threatened by it if the fear of failing is removed and they are allowed to work towards excellence in their own way.  We never let them off the hook and we don’t poke them in the ribs.

So would it be possible, though, Mr. School Smarty Pants, to eliminate grades altogether?  In short, yes.  Read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards or The Schools Our Children Deserve.  He’s done his homework in a big way, and he can give you names of schools that are doing it and he can tell you that it has had no adverse effect on the futures of children–that colleges accept them, businesses hire them, and people love them. No negative effects.  What are the positives? The ultimate goal is that they become intrinsically motivated, curious, healthy, balanced, joyful, critical thinking, independent, interdependent, fearless young humans.  They’re not afraid to fail because they know that’s where the learning happens and that they won’t be punished for it. Can you see it?  I think I can.

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No More Carrots, No More Sticks: A Classroom Without Grades

You might think I’m crazy. After all, things (and people) must be measured. And they must be measured against other things and other people. Only this morning in a staff meeting our school’s principal talked about how the only way to improve a thing is to be able to measure said thing.  And while my principal was talking about system goals and not individual humans, we’ve been acting (forever) as if the same thing might be the case for our students.  We must score them, grade them, award points, measure them up.  Otherwise, how can we ever distinguish the good from the bad, the exceptional from the mediocre, the mastery from the failure, the outcome from the starting point? Without a system of measurement, how would colleges know who to admit? How would companies and businesses know who to hire? How would men and women know who to date? You’d have pure chaos, that’s what you’d have!

I’ve written in earlier blog entries about the distasteful nature of how our public schools tend to sort human beings–through activities, through classes, through tracks, through grades, through standardized tests, through a series of hoops to be jumped into or at or through towards a diploma and towards the next step, be it college, a job, or prison.  And I’ve talked about my discomfort with all of that while working in a system that seems to require it of me. I must give grades.  I must have some “meaningful” way of determining grades.  Thus, I measure.  Is it wise? Is it, in fact, meaningful? Is it humane?

My colleagues complain all the time about incoming freshmen from middle school not having been fully measured, not having been accountable to grades, having been socially promoted regardless of skill or knowledge level.  It is true that students come to us unprepared for high school, but I am not so sure that social promotion is to blame.  I don’t have a ton of knowledge about how middle schools operate; I know little about even the one that feeds my high school, which is sad, I think.  But I do know that what happens inside the school day for any particular student is only a tiny factor in a multitude of variables that shape their intellectual, interpersonal, motivational, and emotional health.  The fact that we grade them or not I believe is a minuscule factor in the equation.  If social promotion were to stop forever at the lower levels, the reality is that no program exists for remediation and services for recalcitrant 8th graders–and they would come to us anyway, as unprepared as ever.  If you could throw gobs and gobs of money at the lower levels for interventions, then maybe we’d be in a better place–but still, in the end the grades kids get would have little to do with how well they would do later.  What would matter is whether or not they have the knowledge or skill and the proper motivational mindset for academic success.

I guess my beef is not with measurement itself, but in the way we measure, ultimately, by letter grades. And grades are bad, as I’ve said before, because they are often arbitrary, inconsistent, unreliable, and never revealing in a specific, meaningful way.  They are extrinsic motivators, carrots and sticks, that coerce students into compliance.  I have a colleague of mine in my mind’s ear right now, and he’s saying, “What’s wrong with carrots and sticks? They’re everywhere!”  And I would say, sure, they’re everywhere, and most of us have been conditioned to think this way.  But that doesn’t make it good, it just makes it ubiquitous.  Especially in the realm of education, the life of the mind, and in relationships with other humans, wouldn’t it be infinitely better if people acted a certain way for its own sake, because they understood its worth and value and inherent goodness, and NOT because they were going to get a cookie?!

So I’ve started a little thought experiment that I’d like to share in this blog (which might become a series) about what a carrot-less and stick-less classroom might look like. And I’m realizing that in this particular entry I’m only about 300 words away from my self-imposed 1000 word limit.  So even before I say the next thing, whatever that might be, I would extend the invitation to whoever is listening out there to chime in on the subject.  Whether you are a teacher or not, I’d invite you to imagine with me how a class without grades could possibly work.  Any takers?

Okay, let me begin.  It has to start with the premise that the learning is the thing at the center, and that WHAT we are doing and WHY we are doing it is infinitely more important than HOW WELL we are doing it.  And so, in the spirit of moving forward with this, the WHAT and the WHY are from the beginning ever-present, super-explicit, never fuzzy, so that no student at any time could possibly be confused about what they’re doing and why.  So, simply enough, it begins with a shift in focus.  And then, secondly, to eliminate the distraction, and because, ultimately, there does have to be some kind of performance benchmark, we eliminate grades altogether and replace them with two marks: Pass and In Progress. In the one-hundred and eleven words I have left I will, rather than continue with this initial description, instead anticipate some questions: Wouldn’t a system like this just encourage kids to do the bare minimum to “pass”? If we’re not supposed to obsess about how well students are doing, how will students ever improve? How would one determine what level of skill or knowledge earns a “pass”? How would the really motivated or highly skilled individuals distinguish themselves? Isn’t it important to have a hierarchy of a certain number of marks, let’s say 5, to effectively sort our humans? Is the writer of this blog some kind of communist?  More on this stuff later.

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