If on seeing the title, your first thought was, “No way!” you should know that it is absolutely possible. And being an author gives you a unique way to be noticed in your school and district. It certainly makes your presence known, and being published in any format makes you seen as a leader. Like all things dealing with leadership, it takes moving out of your comfort zone.
I have been writing since 1977, and, as with my job as a librarian, I fell into it. I took a post-grad course to earn a supervisor’s certificate. For the final paper in the course, two of us created volunteer manuals. Our fellow students said we needed to publish it. I had no idea where to begin, and neither did the other student, Ruth Toor. Fortuitously, one of my library volunteers, a college professor, suggested contacting her publisher.
Figuring we had nothing to lose, I did so. The man who became our first editor suggested we enlarge our idea – by a lot—and model it on a Teacher’s Almanac his company had done. This was far more work than we had considered, but we decided to try it. It was a definite step out of our comfort zone, but we signed the contract.
To write the book, we met on weekends and developed an outline of the chapters from September through June, along with a sample chapter. It came back loaded with corrections. Panicked, I questioned our editor if he still wanted the book. He eased our mind by saying, “we only correct good writing.”
We buckled down, adjusting our different styles and drawing on our individual skills to produce the final manuscript. In 1979, The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac was published. You can still get a used copy online, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s more than a little dated.
Shortly thereafter, our publisher suggested we do a monthly newsletter to be called The School Librarian’s Workshop, whose title lives on in my Facebook group. Over the years, Ruth and I changed publishers several times but continued writing. The books led to presentations at state and national conferences, and our reputation grew. Ruth passed away a number of years ago, but I continue to write. My newest book, The Art of Communication: A Librarian’s Guide for Successful Leadership, Collaboration, and Advocacy, was recently published by Libraries Unlimited.
Since I started, I have seen many librarians make the same journey into authorship, and you can too. And unlike Ruth and me, you have formats other than print books to get started. For example, you can submit a blog for Knowledge Quest, the journal of AASL. Your administration will be impressed that you have published on the national level.
As with everything, the hardest part is getting started. In How to Grow a Reputation as a Thought Leader, Becky Robinson recommends five ways for people to get started writing:
- Identify the content you want to share – You have knowledge, skills and experience. Don’t assume everyone has the same. Start with what has been a big success and what you like to do. Have you had great bulletin boards or other displays? Have you been able to reach formerly reluctant teachers and now collaborate with them? You have probably been more successful than you give yourself credit for and there are inexperienced librarians who would benefit from your results.
- Figure out what content you have and create a content catalog – Robinson suggests checking out slide decks from presentation you have given. If you have a website, you may have posted content that can be used. Did or do you write articles for the school newsletter? All this is content you have ready to put together.
- Create a content calendar – This usually refers to when and what you want to post on social media platforms and your webpage, but it can also help you to look forward towards what a publication might need. Look at your content and see if there are topics where you are particularly strong. In September, they are looking for New Year ideas. In March or April, they may be interested in information on how to wrap the school year up so the fall starts strong. Identify themes and any times of the year when they are most appropriate. Some themes are good all year such as leadership, advocacy, and collaboration. Robinson suggests that you, “think about the stories you tell again and again. What are the questions you always get asked? What are the frameworks you share?” That will help you build content.
- Flex to repurpose your content – A presentation for teachers can become an article with the presentation used as graphics. Several short pieces on the same topic can be merged into a longer one. A long one can be broken into shorter ones.
- Bundle it up – When you look at the work you’ve done, you may discover you have a book almost ready to go. As a librarian, you are familiar with the non-fiction publishers in our field. Contact their acquisition editor and see if they are interested. If they aren’t, try another publisher. Ask around your PLN to see who may have recommendations.
Your years as a reader have likely made you a very strong writer. Your experience as a librarian likely means you have something to share. Look for what you’d like to give back to our community, where you’ve learned and grown, and you may discover some exciting publishing possibilities.