Parlaying a Kind Word into a Major Textbook Sale

September 2005
by Ken Wachsberger

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That first big textbook sale,
the one that earns you a chair at the big publishers’ table, requires patience.
Hang in there. As the author of Transforming Lives, a composition
textbook for grades 9–12 and first-year college, I made sales at the
college level immediately just by talking to colleagues and peers and giving
away review copies. My first high school sale took me a year.

I teach the college course no one
wants to take but everyone has to take to graduate: Freshman Composition. The
main element is the much-reviled research paper. Eighteen years ago I
discovered an alternative called the I-Search paper that differs from the
traditional research paper in two main ways. First, students select their own
topics because the topics matter to them, not to the teacher. Second, unlike
the traditional research paper, which is basically a five-paragraph essay blown
out to 20 pages that are written the night before the paper is due, the steps of
an I-Search paper—articles, books, interviews—are written
chronologically as they happen. Each step has two parts: a summary of what the
student learned and an evaluation of that step’s value in answering the
student’s questions. These subtle differences yield profound results. By the
end of the semester it is not unusual to hear a student say, “This class
changed my life.”

Bottom line: The I-Search paper

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