Kids have always written stories in school. Whether it’s part of your English class, or to help you learn a language, or even just as a way to get to grips with forming words, kids write stories.
In the school my weasels attend, they’ve taken the story-writing a step further. As part of the Publishing House program, parent volunteers help the kids develop new stories, getting them to think about character, location, description and plot. The kids write up the stories, fill out a basic “Meet the Author” page and choose an outline for the illustration frames.
Then the stories, along with the author information and frame choice, are passed along to other volunteers (one of whom is me) and they put the whole thing through a desktop publishing program, printing out the story under the picture frames booklet style, with a front cover bearing the title and author name, and the “Meet The Author” details at the back. Every book shares the same simple cover – title, author name. The writers then receive their published booklet and put in their own hand-drawn illustrations. Then the cover of the book is laminated and the whole thing assembled permanently.
The next part is the best – all the published books go into the school library. When the kids go to choose books from the library, they can choose to read books written by their friends or they can choose their own books. They can see the books they wrote on the shelves, just like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Nancy Drew, The Hungry Caterpillar…
I think it’s a brilliant program, especially now that publishing ebooks has become so easy. Children are learning that it doesn’t take much to put your words into print, and seeing those printed words gives you a very good idea of what it means to write a book. You see your story and say “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s not very long… Maybe I need more description here? Did I start telling the story in the right place? I know what this bit means, because I wrote it, but someone else might find it confusing…”
I hope the kids who try Publishing House find a useful mix of pride and disappointment – pride that these are their words on the bookshelves, and a little disappointment because it doesn’t quite look like they wanted it to. That little disappointment is what will push them on to write more, to work at their craft until they are writing the kinds of stories that reach out from the page and steal hours from your day.
Amazon’s e-publishing program is doing much the same for adult writers, but I think too few of them get to see their work from the outside – they don’t go into the library and pick their own book off the shelf. I make it a practice to download a copy of each book I publish, and I see what they look like from the outside. Often I see little things that I should do differently next time. Formatting issues, typos, cover design… These little touches matter as much as good story. And while I work on my own tales for the next publication, I’ll continue publishing the words of the next generation of authors.
Did you ever publish your own book as a child? My brother once wrote a great story called “Mark and Markos” about a boy and his robot, which he wrote and illustrated. Dad liked it so much he made copies on the old Roneo duplicator (a thing that did what photocopiers do now, but it took longer and was much, much messier. Plus you got to turn a handle round and round until it had printed enough copies….)