How to write a book

Nail Your New Year’s Resolution: Published Author Shares Her How to Write a Book Blueprint

Connie Hamilton wrote a book. What’s the big deal? Like most would-be writers, Connie wondered if she could do it.

In Episode 79 of the Hack Learning Podcast, educator/presenter and popular Twitter influencer Connie Hamilton explains how she went from self-doubting, wannabe writer to a published author whose book hit Number 1 on Amazon in its first week. Best of all, she gives you a success plan with some hacks you probably didn’t know.
Listen to “79: Nail Your New Year’s Resolution: Learn how to write a book” on Spreaker.

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An Author’s Journey

I’m trying to remember how long I’ve been saying this. Years, for sure. I had the typical negative talk inside my head keeping this dream from becoming a realistic goal.

  • Who would read your book?
  • What do you have to say that hasn’t already been said?
  • You’re not a very good writer.
  • Where would you find the time?

When a friend of mine, Laura Pitari, pointed out how my mindset was preventing me from making this wish a goal, I consciously tried to be more growth-minded and shifted my thinking to:

  • Teachers and administrators are interested in my perspective on educational topics.
  • I have fresh thoughts to share.
  • My writing skills can grow through this process. An editor can help me.
  • When something is made a priority, I always get it done.

Make a Plan

With a can-do attitude and recharged motivation, I began to organize and plan. Here’s my 5-point how to write a book and get it published plan:

  1. Get specific with a book topic

Many authors have multiple passions and interests.  Narrowing down the specific focus for a future book is an important step to prepare a pitch to a publisher.

Making a list of possible topics can help a writer determine where to begin, if there is enough content to fill a book, and consider how the topic has already been shared.

  1.  Check publishers’ requirements

Most publishers have a link on their website that lays out how a writer can prepare a submission for review. Companies like ASCD and Corwin provide guidelines on how to prepare a manuscript and the process for submitting a proposal.  

Hack Learning offers a Hack Learning Author Handbook that provides potential Hack Learning authors with a manuscript template, some specific do’s and don’ts and even a list of current topics of interest.

  1. Take advantage of connections

Reach out to current authors and ask them about their involvement with different publishers. Seek advice from first-time authors and use their experiences to guide you in your selection process.

Writers like Starr Sackstein who have written books for multiple publishers are especially helpful in sharing key points for consideration. Even if you don’t know an author or publisher personally, what better way to introduce yourself than by reaching out and asking for some advice about getting published. If you aren’t too pushy, most authors will reply to a quick tweet.

Learn more

ASCD has offered a breakout session at their national conference for aspiring authors. One year I attended and Doug Fisher spoke about publishing and offered to review a summary of an idea and give his opinion on if it was “book-worthy”. ASCD had editors at the session who also provided honest feedback.

  1. Give publishers both the big idea and the details

An overview of the components of the book helps a writer determine if there is enough content to justify a complete book. A powerful message can be shared through a blog or journal article without a full book if the focus is narrow and brief.

Only having an outline of the ideas probably doesn’t provide a publisher with enough of a sample. A completed chapter highlights the writer’s style and provides a more detailed summary of the content.

The “elevator speech” approach is what landed a deal for me with Mark Barnes and Hack Learning. A two-minute pitch with a glimpse at half of the hacks was my foot in the door for Hacking Homework. Mark was interested and offered Starr and me a contract.

  1. Don’t quit — seek feedback

If your book is turned down, rinse and repeat steps 1-4. Don’t trash your idea. Perhaps a publisher already has a book with similar content. Maybe your style is a better match for a different audience. Don’t leave yourself wondering. Ask for feedback and consider it.

If you hear repeatedly, “this topic is exhausted,” then either give your perspective a facelift or consider one of your other passions and try again. My first pitch to Hack Learning was Hacking Questions. Barnes quickly informed me that the topic was saturated; plus, he showed his loyalty to current Hack Learning authors. If he were to take on a project about questioning, he said that Starr Sackstein, Hack Learning’s assessment guru, would have first dibs. This feedback was invaluable.

What about co-authoring?

You may be wondering if my dialogue with the publisher is what led to Sackstein and I partnering to create Hacking Homework. Something like that. Writing with a co-author is a risk. My experience writing with Starr was amazing — a true collaboration and a real friendship formed. 

From Hacking Homework

Now that the process is complete, we have shared the fears we held privately during the initial stages of the project: 

  • Would we get along?
  • Do our work styles mesh?
  • Can we blend our two voices into one?
  • When considering a writing partner, consider the pros and cons. I can’t speak from experience about disagreement or conflict because we simply didn’t have any, but I can imagine how these struggles could sour the process.

Getting started

If you’re ready to launch your New Year’s Resolution to write a book, here are a three quick tips to start immediately. 

  1. Carve out some time to make your dream a reality.
  2. Dedicate a couple of hours a week to narrow your focus.
  3. Research publishers and prepare your submission the way they want it; this will move you closer to becoming a published author.

The pride you’ll feel when other educators tweet out your words, blog about your ideas, or put your strategies into action is marvelous.

The process from idea to publication is challenging and rewarding and certainly worth the time and effort that goes into it.

I’ve learned how to write a book and get it published. Now I can say with confidence, “I’ll write another one someday.”

Connie Hamilton - Hack Learning AuthorConnie Hamilton Ed.S. is the Curriculum Director in Saranac Community Schools and national presenter specializing in best practice instructional strategies, leadership, and questioning. She is the author of Hacking Homework: 10 Ways to Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom. Connect with her on Twitter @conniehamilton and on her website.

5 Strategies Most Writing Teachers Never Learned

In a different life, I was an English teacher. In fact, I spent the first half of my twenty-four-year career in education writing beside middle and high school kids. Writing workshop was my passion, and Nancie Atwell was my hero (well, she still is).

Naturally, I was thrilled when my principal tapped me to design and teach an entire course specifically devoted to this endeavor. For many years, all of the kids in our middle school enjoyed writers workshop beside their core English classes, and I got to be their teacher.

I loved this, and I loved teaching so much that when I stepped out of the classroom to begin doing staff development, I refused to let it go. Nearly a decade ago, I founded the WNY Young Writers Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing. Then, I began doing a whole lot of action research.

Here’s what I learned: When many young writers sit down to confront flat, empty screens and pages, they experience frustration and even defeat. Wading into procedures that often feel contrived using tools that are completely intangible paralyzes them.

Over time, these tensions perpetuate a sort of quiet trauma: children begin to believe that they can’t write, and then they stop trying. I have to wonder: How many adults might be better able to advocate for themselves or for justice within their communities if experiences like these hadn’t silenced them?

Many children and adults tell me that their writing ideas are quite literally out of their grasp. They can’t wrap their hands around them, and since this is how they learn best, writing remains beyond their reach.

Use Coupon Code: MAKE

Years ago, I began realizing that maybe the problem wasn’t the writer.

Maybe it was the way I was defining and teaching writing.

This is why I began hacking my writing workshop model. This began with powerful visioning work and careful attention to the culture I hoped to create. These five moves were the ones that mattered most once I had clarity here, though.

Five Ways to Make Writing

1. First, I got writers out of their seats and onto their feet.

I’ve discovered that many writers need to move, and they need their writing to move as well. They need to write out of their seats and on their feet, spreading their ideas across whiteboards and tables, lifting pieces of them up with their hands, cutting them apart, randomizing them, and tacking them into new and completely unpredictable forms.

Look inside

These writers need access to diverse tools and resources– far more than paper, laptops, and iPads. They build their stories using blocks and boards. They blend plot lines using sticky notes and grids. It’s not enough for these writers to study mentor texts. They need to tear them apart–physically. They need to use their hands to play with other peoples’ writing, and they need to tinker with their own in order to become adept.

2. This inspired us to remake our space.

When kids make writing, they use classroom spaces in uncommon and even unexpected ways. If your room is filled with desks arranged in rows that cover every square inch of your floor, some quick changes will need to be made. Tables, empty wall spaces, whiteboards, individual foam boards, tacks, scissors, painter’s tape, and chalkboards enable writers to do more than merely sit and tackle the assignments that teachers give them.

They allow them to generate a variety of ideas and draft them on their feet. Tools like these invite writers to literally crack their writing open and unpack its working parts. They can spread them across empty space and study how their pieces work in isolation and in concert with the whole. Tools like these also help writers make their ideas, plans, and drafts transparent to others, so that they can contribute to them, provide feedback, and push one another’s thinking.

3. We’ve begun thinking differently about audience.

Making writing truly inspires writers to value process ahead of product, and this changes everything we thought we knew about seeking audience. Gone are the days when WNY Young Writer’s Studio fellows celebrated their accomplishments by participating in readings or showcasing their anthology submissions.

We produce powerful stuff and recognize published writers to be sure, but kids who make writing seek audiences who will appreciate the expertise they gain through the process as well. For example, each spring, we host an exhibition where writers of all ages facilitate conversations about strategies that work for them, how they make writing, and the resources and tools they rely on.

Use Coupon Code: MAKE

Those who publish in our anthology receive their copies that day, and we enjoy a hearty round of applause upon distribution, but the focus is on sharing what was learned throughout the process instead of the results of it.

4. Soon enough, everyone was tinkering. 

While many writers begin the process by sketching outlines and filling out graphic organizers, adept writers often begin by tearing other texts apart. They break down the work that inspires them, studying how it works so they can mimic an expert’s approach. While these initial efforts might feel unsatisfyingly derivative, modifying existing frameworks typically inspires the development of texts that are legitimately original.

Rather than treating the process as a routine or a set of defined steps, adept writers move through it in a recursive fashion. Most notably, they tinker during each phase of the writing. When writers tinker, they often make their writing moveable, crafting it on index cards or sticky notes, slicing their drafts into pieces, and isolating portions of their work from the whole in order to study and play with them.

5. This is how kids are inspiring teachers to hack their curriculum. 

The WNY Young Writers Studio exists outside of school systems, and the kids I support consume a Common Core aligned curricula every day. They make connections between the processes they use at Studio and the way they approach writing in school all of the time. When these kids share how they make writing with their classroom teachers, I bear witness to the power that children have to lead critical change in this world.

Standards are no excuse for standardization, and when kids who make writing show teachers how it can be done, they’re often inspired to “do the Core” a bit differently. Making writing isn’t about ditching workshop, evading standards, or going rogue while your department commits to an aligned curriculum. It’s about rethinking how you attend to these things though. Most imnportantly, it’s about letting the writers we support lead the way.

Interested in learning more? I lay out a very practical approach for getting started in my new book, Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies that Turn Writers Workshop Into a Maker Space. 

Here, I unpack each of the steps above in careful detail, providing practical applications that can be used immediately and a blueprint for sustainability. My own stories from the WNY Young Writers Studio are included, as are examples from real teachers who work in real classrooms. These ideas are very new to me, and I’m excited about all that I have left to learn.

How are you leveraging the connection between making and writing? What are your students teaching you? Share your experiences in the comments or catch up with me on Twitter. My handle is @angelastockman, and you can use the #makewriting hashtag.

Want even more?

Check out my new online Make Writing Master Course. And because you are a Hack Learning supporter, use coupon code MAKE at check out and save 25%.

A version of this first appeared at Brilliant or Insane

Give writers a space - Hack Learning Twitter chat

Hacking Writing Workshop: Hack Learning Twitter Chat

Writing teacher, studio owner and author of Make Writing Angela Stockman leads an inspiring Twitter discussion that helps all teachers rethink writing workshop.

Check out the entire chat below.

Follow Angela Stockman on Twitter @angelastockman. Don’t miss her bestselling Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop into a Maker Space.

Don’t miss the live #HackLearning Twitter chat, every Sunday at 8:30 AM ET. 

Can’t make it to the live chat? Check out our chat archive here.

pen in notebook Hack Learning

6 Things to Consider Before Writing


Photo Credit:

It’s 5:15 am on a Tuesday morning, and my day is beginning in its usual fashion–quietly. Everyone else is still asleep. I relish this part of my day. I’m tempted to open my email inbox first but instead I sign into  Twitter and scroll through the updates from educators I follow there.

Several people are sharing their thoughts about how the writing process is changing, wondering why it’s happening. They are sharing how their own practices are changing as a result. Or not. My head is full of new questions, and I share a few as I take the few last bites of my breakfast.

Before I close the page, I catch this tweet: “Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

I start to reply, but I’m not quite sure how to respond.

The question continues to follow me around all morning.

It’s 12:30 pm that same afternoon, and I’m sitting beside the members of the Kenan Arts Council in Lockport, New York. They’ve asked me to join them for lunch and talk with them a bit about the WNY Young Writers’ Studio, a writing community I founded.

Some of the people in the room are retired teachers, but most are not. Many of them are parents, like me. Some are even grandparents. They want to know more about technology. They are excited and intimidated by the possibilities.

“Tell us some stories about what kids do with computers at Studio,” one of them presses; so, I do.

I tell them about Dan, about how he hated school, hated writing, and hated that his mother made him come to Studio. I tell them about the stop motion video he made with another friend. I tell them how I didn’t teach him how to do this, but that he learned what he needed to from another Studio fellow who was three years younger than Dan.

“That kid also hated school, hated writing, and hated that his mother made him come to Studio,” I grinned. “They’re happy to be hanging out with us now though,” I assure them. It had nothing to do with me.

“They taught me that storytelling isn’t just about text anymore,” I suggest. Then, I show them what I mean

“This is Sam,” I continue, projecting the first slide of his digital story onto the wall. They giggle in response. His story is about an alien. He chose to play the part himself and design his own costume. His pictures are compelling. His story doesn’t have any text, though.

It doesn’t need it.

Mark Writing - Hack Learning Series

Look Inside

“Sam does not like to sit still, and when we make him, he tells us that he has a hard time concentrating. So when Sam came to Studio, we made sure he was never sitting. The first thing that he wanted to do was write this digital story,” I explain. “Then, he invented a game that can be played inside the arena here at the Kenan Center. He’s publishing this game now. We’ll be playing it at our writing celebration this spring, and he’ll tape it. Then, he’ll share that video and the game with others who want to play it too.”

“How?” someone asks.

“On the web. His teacher uses Twitter in the classroom.”

Their eyes widen. Some are smiling. Some are not. Everyone is listening though. Nearly everyone has a question, too. I invite a woman on my left to speak. Her hair is white, her smile is kind, and her eyes are filled with skepticism.

“What if teachers don’t care about these possibilities? Whatever happened to pen and paper? Does that not matter anymore?” she asks, her voice laced with just the tiniest bit of disdain. “Isn’t it possible to teach writing well even if kids aren’t publishing online?”

Déjà vu.

“Ironically, I’ve been thinking about that all morning. I don’t know how to answer your question,” I admit. “As a writing teacher, I guess I’m wondering if that’s even the right question for me to be tangling with.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Well, I guess I rarely think about technology when I begin to teach. I don’t think about the computer at all, in fact. Is that bad?”

“Well, what do you think about then?”

“The kids, what matters to them, and the difference they hope to make.”

I ask myself questions like the ones below.

Six Things to Consider at the Start of the Writing Process

1. Who are the writers you serve? Some may be athletes. Others, artists. Some may love Minecraft. Others may love baking. Get to know them, and inspire them to write about what matters to them.

2. What kind of difference do they hope to make with their words? Will they write to entertain? To inform? To advocate for justice?

3. Who is their audience? Classmates? Community members? Global readers?

4. Which modes and tools will help them reach their audience most efficiently? Should they publish a letter to the editor of the local paper? A blog post? A short story, within an online forum?

5. Who has already published something powerful in this arena? Their work could serve as mentor text.

6. How can I position myself as a facilitator rather than a leader of the learning? How will inquiry play a role?

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it is representative of the questions I find myself mulling over most. Strangely enough, they often bring me right back to where I began.

Is it possible to teach writing well if kids aren’t using the web to amplify their voices?

What say you?