May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

California Town Librarian Leads Project for Students to Publish Poetry Ebook


Freshman from Los Gatos High School are the authors behind Windows to the Teenage Soul. Photo taken by Tonya McQuade

The Los Gatos Public Library held a book release on Tuesday, May 6 for Windows to the Teenage Soul, a poetry anthology ebook containing poetry and artwork from more than 120 freshman English Honors students at California’s Los Gatos High School (LGHS) who published the e-book in less than 35 days. On the day of the book release, the ebook hit #1 in the Apple iBookstore for top poetry ebook best sellers, alongside the works of Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe.

Published through Smashwords, a distributor of ebooks by self-published authors, the poetry book sells for $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Apple’s iBookstore. The proceeds from the ebook’s sales will be used to raise funds for the LGHS Class of 2017 to pay for senior prom and other events.

The original idea had evolved from an ongoing collaboration between Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, and Henry Bankhead, the Los Gatos, CA town librarian, to incorporate e-books into the library experience. (Bankhead was also selected as a 2014 Library Journal Mover & Shaker.) In order to achieve this, they tried everything from putting together several workshops on self-publishing and setting up an ebook lending system for the library.

“It dawned on me that libraries have done a really good job of promoting the culture of reading. I found an opportunity for libraries to promote a culture of authorship,” says Coker.

Coker suggested the idea of reaching out to a local high school. As they were exploring Coker’s idea, Bankhead secured one of the ten annual $15,000 innovation grants from the Pacific Library Partnership.

Bankhead explained that the library used the grant money to make “two mobile self-publishing labs with the intent to teach self-publishing at schools, other libraries, local writers groups, and other community groups.”


Window to the Teenage Soul is the brainchild of Los Gatos town librarian Henry Bankhead and Smashwords CEO Mark Coker along with several English teachers from LGHS, including Tonya McQuade. Photo courtesy of Tonya McQuade.

Around the same time, Bankhead was introduced to Tonya McQuade, an LGHS English teacher through Heidi Murphy, another Los Gatos town librarian. McQuade outlined the project and they were ready to go. Bankhead and Coker made a few presentations in her classes, and McQuade lead the project with her students.

In less than five weeks, students wrote, designed, marketed, published, and distributed the book worldwide to online retailers. Several students from another LGHS English teacher’s class, also contributed some poetry.

“Poetry has always been something that I’ve really enjoyed, and I’ve always tried to share that with my students as well,” expresses McQuade. “So every year in the spring, I always have the students do a personal anthology. Usually it’s just me that reads them, and I’m always amazed at their work.”

The students peer-edited and selected their final poems before forming different teams in charge of editing, layout and design, art and photography, marketing and publicity, and event planning. Coker spoke in class with the students about the ebook publishing industry and best practices. Jim Azevedo, the marketing director at Smashwords, also visited the class to share some ideas about how to engage in outreach for the finished product.

“It is a chance for people to read the poetry and know what today’s teenagers are thinking. What are the struggles they have? What are the joys they have?” McQuade says as she talks about the book’s title, Windows to the Teenage Soul, originally suggested by a student

The ebook became available for pre-order a week-and-a-half before the launch and soon reached top 50 on the Apple iBookstore list of top poetry ebook best sellers. On the day of the book launch, the book was listed as #1.

“[The kids] all came in and were like ‘We’re number one!’ and then they looked again and saw that number two was the Odyssey. They thought that was great!” describes McQuade.


Approximately 100 people attended the book release for Windows to the Teenage Soul , organized by Los Gatos High School students and held at the Los Gatos Public Library on May 6th. Photo taken by Tonya McQuade

Since the proceeds go directly to the 2017 class funds, the sales of the book will likely continue to grow as the students eventually reach their senior year. At the end of the ebook is a “Teacher’s Guide” that shares the step-by-step process of this 5-week project, links to the original presentations of Coker’s workshops, and an explanation of the library’s role in this project.

“The more we support community publishing and self publishing, [the more] we supporting a kind of continental shift in the way that e-books are distributed to the library market and contributing to a change that is going to benefit us in the long term,” explains Bankhead when asked about how the self-publishing initiative can impact libraries today.

Bankhead goes on to emphasize that “the more that libraries become not just consumption spaces, but creation spaces, the more we become more relevant in 21st-century where people are excited about connecting with each other electronically and meeting in the library rather than just studying quietly and individually.”

After working on this project, several students actually expressed that they can imagine themselves publishing their own books in the future. They also feel a closer bond with their local library.

“Performing this project has made me less afraid of publishing my own works, which is something I plan to do in the future,” says Stephanie Carter, a ninth-grader in McQuade’s English Honors class and a contributor to the poetry anthology ebook.

“Because of this project, I have developed a greater appreciation for literature in general,” says Nitin Srinivasan, another freshman English Honors student of McQuade’s who wrote the poem “Gone” in “Inspirational” section. “I have grown more connected to the Los Gatos Public Library.”

Yin Mei is a freelancer and Minnesotan who has lived in the Bay Area, New York, France, and China. She enjoys covering topics from China’s social media trends to education in the United States. Follow her @MeiThoughts.



  1. This is the BEST real-world exercise! And #1: Impressive!!! I did a smaller-scale project like this last fall with 3rd and 6th graders at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, CA–also took 5 weeks. (Their books are on Amazon.) Would love to see more schools doing this with their elem, middle school, and high school students!

  2. TLC Nielsen says:

    Amazing – such a great success for public libraries! I was happy to find out you put a teacher’s guide and your application of such a great idea into the book as well.