I’m a teacher in addition to being a writer and mother and grandmother and (the list goes on). As a professor and teacher educator, I was constantly engaged in research related to the history or curriculum, teaching, and school supervision. A pilot is essential in identifying potential problems with aspects of research and correcting them. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that when I neared the end of my almost-final draft of The Black Alabaster Box, I started thinking about piloting the book in much the same way that I had doctoral students pilot their research tools or curricula they developed. I was excited about finishing the book and eager to get it on its way to prospective publishers, but I decided to take out the time to find classrooms where a teacher would read the book to their class. After they had finished reading the manuscript I met with two of the classes and talked with them about what did and didn’t work. I’m glad I did.
One of the classes that I found was an urban public school in Baltimore County, Maryland. It was Katie Schmidt’s 5th grade.
It was a great and terrifying opportunity. Great because I knew I’d get good feedback from my target audience (other than myself–in the interest of full disclosure I confess that I write for myself first). Terrifying because what if they didn’t like it at all?
It was a good decision. I got great feedback from kids and teachers in pilot schools. Some kids thought the way I introduced the element of fantasy in the book was too abrupt. So I introduced an advance warning of magic afoot in chapter one. I upgraded Old Shep from your everyday, wonderful, loyal dog to a time traveler. These are just two of the ways that their feedback helped. More than anything, it let me know that I was on the right track and the book would find a welcome audience.