Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Way They Teach History in School

I hated history class when I was a kid in school. All they taught were names and dates and it was utterly meaningless to me. I used to think, "Who cares? This all happened before I was born." By the time I got to high school I liked history a little better, but not by much. I only took history because it was required, and even then a lot of the teachers made it boring. History class was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

It wasn't until I got to college that the light slowly began to come on for me. Again, I took history because it was a required class, but then one day one of my professors brought in a photo of Napolean, put it on the lectern, and began his lecture by saying, "Today I'm really going to trash this man's reputation." As his went on with his lecture I kept glancing back at the portrait, and began to realize this was a real person after all, and maybe there was more to history than trivial names and dates.

After I finished college I remember reading a book forecasting economic trends, and the author did it by analyzing history, and using history as a means to predict future trends or events. Apparently this is a big no-no in the world of historic academia, but for me it was a real epipthany. I finally understood that history isn't about names and dates after all. History is really the study of human psychology, and why people do the things they do based on causes and effects. And that is when I really started to take an interest in history

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think this is what history is all about. History is the story of people and what motivates them to do the things they do. To me, the names, dates and periods are simply the markers in a much larger picture, and when you look at that larger picture you may see patterns emerge that repeat themselves over and over again. Too bad the schools don't teach history that way. If they did I think we as a society would be better served. At the very least students would take more of an interest in the subject.

As for that book... I read it in the 1980s, and many of the predictions the author made, using history as a reference, have come to pass. They only real error is he thought the big economic meltdown would occur in the 1990s. So his missed it by about ten years. In the big picture of history, that's still close to the mark.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Book Promotional Materials - What Works and What Does Not

Whenever I go to book events, like the San Diego Children's Book Festival, I always like to pick up other author's promotional materials. Oftentimes people who attend these events won't necessarily buy your book that day. Instead they'll collect the author's promotional materials and decide later on which books they want to order. These little gems can go a log way to help sell your book so a lot of thought should go into them. Some authors have really nice ones, while others do not.

For example, one author was handing out illustrations of characters from her book. They were nicely drawn, but nothing else was there. Nothing about the title of her book, her name, or who the character was. It was just a little drawing of a clown printed out on a piece of computer photo paper. It looked homemade too, which was another turn-off. It was as if whoever designed it didn't care. I'm sure when people got home and went though their stuff they looked at it and thought, "What the heck is this?" before tossing it in the trash.

Another author was handing out a postcard that was well done. One the front was a color illustration, the name of his series, and a list of the books in the series. On the back was his website and a list of the booksellers carrying his books.

So which author do you think will get the most sales? It's like one of my art professors back in college used to say--"If you don't respect your art then your art won't respect you."

Take the time to create classy promotional materials. It's an investment that can really pay off.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Can Lead Them to Water...

I've just returned home from the San Diego Children's Book Festival. It was a terrific event, and I was the only author there who writes children's books on the Old West. While I was there I met some interesting people. You always do at big events like this, and there's always one or two who are unforgettable.

A very interesting prospective author came up to me. This gentleman was 91 years young, and he's writing a book on heath and nutrition for young readers. He showed me print outs of some of the pages of his book. It was well researched and well laid out. We had quite a talk about obesity and young people, and how it has become an epidemic. There are a lot of reasons why this is happening; kids today spend too much time playing video games instead of playing outside. There are too many mothers who refuse to cook for their children and feed them fast-food instead because it's more convenient. Then there's that stupid food pyramid. We're supposed to eat what, eleven servings of bread or pasta a day? My gosh, if I ate that I'd weigh 300 pounds too.

I told him I agreed, mothers need to limit the amount of sodas and snacks that their children consume. And that's when he went off on me. According to him, there is no such thing as moderation. In his book it's no sugar, no sodas, no snacks. Not ever. Not even as a special treat. And there's the rub. People are going to eat what they like because it tastes good to them. Period. I love chocolate and cherry cokes. I can and do limit them because I know they're not the healthiest foods around, but I'm certainly not going to give them up for the rest of my life. Most people feel the same about their favorite foods too. The key word being favorite.

I wish this gentleman the best of luck with his book. He may discover that the old adage about leading a horse to water is true.

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