This week’s interview with Vanessa Levin focuses on writing on deadline for a publisher, voice, getting endorsements and a foreword writer, organizing the content in a how-to book and more.
An acquisitions editor at Wiley reached out to Vanessa Levin about writing a book–an aspiring author’s dream. She signed a contacted and the pressure was on. She had to start and complete a how-to book in six months! Vanessa wrote most of her book in Lisa Tener’s Bring Your Book to Life® program. Here are her tips, insights and thoughts on the writing process, particularly when writing under a tight deadline.
Simon: I loved reading your book, Teach Smarter: Literacy Strategies for Early Childhood Teachers. What inspired you to write this book?
Vanessa: As an early childhood teacher, I noticed a need for accessible information about how young children learn, particularly about how they learn the letters of the alphabet. There is plenty of research that has been done on the topic of emergent literacy over the last 20 years, but it hasn’t always made its way into the classroom. On the flip side, I also noticed that many early childhood programs were eager to adopt these new, research-based best practices, but they struggled to implement the changes necessary. This is what motivated me to write Teach Smarter, to bridge the gap between the research and implementation by presenting the information in a practical, easy to understand way designed to ease implementation.
Organizing What’s Most Important to Include in your BookTweet This
Simon: There are so many helpful tips provided throughout Teach Smarter, from common literacy mistakes, to answering common questions about the alphabet, to explaining the notion of print awareness. How did you decide how to organize all of this content?
Vanessa: I’ve been collecting and answering questions on the topic of emergent literacy for more than 20 years, so when it came time to sit down and lay out the content for the book, I’ll admit, it was a struggle. I had so much more I wanted to say, every little detail seemed important. That’s when I was able to utilize a very helpful organizational method suggested by my coach. Once I was able to see the content I wanted to include in the book laid out visually, it became much easier to focus on what was most important and organize it all.
Matching Tone to Your Readers
Simon: You write in a very engaging and informal voice. What was your process for finding your unique tone of voice for Teach Smarter?
Vanessa: I’ve been writing and blogging for 20 years at Pre-K Pages, so I wanted the tone of the book to feel familiar to my readers. I think part of the problem with implementing research-based best practices in emergent literacy in the classroom stems from the content not being accessible and teacher-friendly. It was especially important to me that my book had the feel of the teacher next door vs. the finger pointing authority figure.
Personal Stories make a Book more Engaging and Interesting
Simon: You provide interesting personal stories throughout Teach Smarter. What advice might you give to aspiring authors who are hoping to bring in their own experiences to make their books engaging and interesting?
Vanessa: When I think of textbooks, I tend to think of them as dry and boring. In contrast, the field of early childhood is fun and vibrant. I thought it would make more sense to write my book using real stories from my own classroom as examples to bring the concepts to life and make them relatable to my audience. My best advice is to think of your audience when you write, but also ask yourself, “Would I enjoy reading this book?”
How to Stay Focused When Writing a Book on Deadline
Vanessa: From the time I signed my contract until my publisher’s due date I had about 6 months to complete my manuscript. If you have a strict deadline, I highly recommend working with a coach who can help you stay focused and on-track. Having somebody I could turn to when I had questions or encountered obstacles made a world of difference for me.
Getting the Foreword, Introduction, and Endorsements Right
Simon: What are some challenges and lessons you learned during the process of publishing Teach Smarter?
Vanessa: As a new author, I wasn’t familiar with the publishing industry terminology. There were also little things I hadn’t given much thought to, such as a foreword, introduction, and endorsements. Working with a coach meant I didn’t have to spend hours researching each one and just hoping I got it right. Instead, I had an expert I could turn to for help navigating this uncharted territory.
Creating the Right Marketing Plan
Simon: What are some marketing tips that you have for authors who are hoping to get their book in the hands of their intended audience?
Vanessa: There’s so much to do when it comes to marketing your book, it can seem overwhelming at first glance. I suggest setting aside a chunk of time to come up with a marketing plan for your book way in advance of your publication date. Will you use social media? If so, how? And most importantly, how will you know if your plan is working? There’s nothing worse than coming up with a great marketing plan on paper, then discovering it hasn’t done anything to increase awareness or sales of your book.
Simon: Name 1-3 individuals who helped you in writing or publishing Teach Smarter. How did they help you?
Vanessa: My coach, Lisa Tener, was a huge help to me throughout the process of writing Teach Smarter. She helped me with everything from getting started, to marketing, and everything in between. My husband also helped me a great deal during the writing process by taking on all the household tasks and pet care so I could focus exclusively on writing and meeting my deadline.
Teaching the Alphabet
Simon: Early on in Teach Smarter, you note that learning the alphabet is often not a linear process for children. You also discuss how it is important for teachers to make learning the alphabet meaningful for children. What experience(s) helped you arrive at these important conclusions?
Vanessa: I believe when you ask a young child, “What did you learn today?” the only response you should hope for is, “I played!” Take Carlos, for example. One school day in late September, he used a short wooden dowel with a string attached and a magnet on the end to “fish” for magnetic letters of the alphabet. As he pulled out the letter M, he asked nobody in particular, “Who did I catch?”
He plucked the magnetic letter off the end of his fishing line and walked around the room showing it to each of his classmates. Eventually, Mario claimed the letter M as his own and Carlos pushed it into his hand with a satisfied look on his face. Carlos went back to fish for more letters and this scenario continued for another 20 minutes. The skills Carlos developed while fishing for letters would fill an entire page. If Carlos had instead been asked to sit and identify the letters of the alphabet on flashcards for 20 minutes, the experience would have been nowhere near as successful or enjoyable.
Play is the way young children naturally learn about the world around them and how things work. Worksheets and flashcards are not natural methods and do nothing to spark joy in a young child. When young children are taught in the same way they learn, much better results are achieved.
Make Learning Memorable
Simon: In Teach Smarter, you discuss how learning requires much more than memorization. What is the key for getting children to go beyond memorization in their learning?
Vanessa: To make learning memorable (and pleasurable) for all young children, the experience has to be fun, playful, and meaningful. I think this quote by Alfred Mercier says it best, “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”
Simon: What advice might you give to a new teacher who is not sure where to begin with teaching the alphabet to a young student?
Vanessa: Good teaching doesn’t come from a box. There’s no magic pill that will teach the alphabet to young children, but there is a clear path you can follow if you seek it out. I hope that Teach Smarter provides teachers and parents with the breadcrumbs they need to navigate the path to emergent literacy success.
How to Establish Credibility with your ReadersTweet This
Simon: After reading through Teach Smarter, it is clear that you are an expert in this area. You do an excellent job of developing credibility with the reader. What advice might you have to aspiring authors who are hoping to develop credibility and show that their approach will work for readers?
Vanessa: Personal stories resonate with me as a reader, which is why it was so important to me that I include them in my book. When writing an informational book, I encourage you to explore the possibility of including personal stories to connect with your readers and establish credibility.
Simon: If you could name one habit that helped you finish Teach Smarter, what would it be?
Vanessa: Persistence! There were many times during the writing process that I felt like giving up. There were also times when I felt like it was too difficult or time-consuming, but I kept on. Finally, that persistence paid off and I had a completed manuscript to show for it.
About Vanessa Levin
Vanessa Levin is a passionate advocate for equal access to high-quality early childhood education. She is an author, speaker, and creator of Pre-K Pages, one of the Internet’s most popular resource websites for teachers of young children. With more than 20 years of classroom teaching experience, Vanessa encourages and supports early childhood educators around the world via her Teaching Trailblazers mentorship program. Her mission is to bridge the gap between Preschool/Pre-K and the world of K-12 education.
An update on 6/3: Teach Smarter just hit #1 Amazon Bestseller for Early Childhood Education! Congrats Vanessa! Here’s the screenshot: