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Anne Wallingford, WordSmith

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Jenny Simonson Burke

I was manager of a Florida marine research program for years, combining field and laboratory research to develop and test original, workable solutions to protect natural resources. This was a very comfortable niche; a good fit. Then I had a lively, high-need baby. I eventually paid my entire take-home income for a sitter, and knew I had the easier job. I still could not keep a sitter. So, I became a full-time parent.

I missed my job, and continued to publish my previous data. I developed hands-on math/science/art programs and volunteered in the schools. Children began recognizing me in non-school settings, asking when I would return to share more "neat stuff". Success! But when I finished publishing my old research. I felt empty. For my whole life I had trained to research, learn, create, share, publish. I began writing Crystal Geometry.

Collecting rocks and shells had awakened my interest in science. Crystals are a perfect focus for geology, geometry, and chemistry studies. Quartz is made of silicon and oxygen atoms. When you hold a quartz crystal, you have a natural model of a quartz molecule. Crystal GeometryThe angles are perfect; tangible chemical bonds. It is as hard as glass or steel; mineral number 7 on the Moh's geology hardness scale. The angles are 120 degrees, 1/3 of a circle, obtuse. Almost every kid has some pieces of quartz at home. It's a great way to discuss oxygen: "How does it get in there?" The more ways that information is tied together, the better it will be understood and remembered.

I had a need to write, and felt this book was worth writing. Too many adults and younger students did not see the beauty in math and science; too few people looked forward to learning the mysteries of chemistry or calculus. I wanted to combine math, science, and art in a clear, meaningful book to excite student interest. The math and science activities in Crystal Geometry involve flowers, snow, mirror angle games, and kaleidoscope windows, as well as crystals. I have used these activities in grades two through high school, with students considered gifted, average, challenged, and/or behavior disordered. Activities can be easily adapted for almost any group. I love the questions. Learning occurs because students want to know why.


I knew I had a lot to learn. I joined a textbook association to learn more about publishing. I returned to my professional student roots, working as a graduate research assistant while earning a middle school math/science degree and teacher certificates for middle grades, gifted, high school math and science. It was gratifying to learn that my book fit the new math and science standards. I attended conferences and made contacts with teachers and catalogers.

I brought my manuscripts to math and science education conferences, seeking publishers with hands-on books similar to mine. This is where I first met Anne Wallingford. She encouraged me to complete my project and submit it to the catalog she represented. She believed I could self-publish, if I chose. (Anne - Thanks for believing in me. It meant a lot then, when most people thought I was just nuts to consider this! It still means a lot.)

I joined a rock club to find crystal sources. It was hard to find dealers willing to work within my parameters. A quartz dealer suggested molded glass crystals as cheaper and more reasonable; he doubted I could get what I wanted in any quantity. I finally found a Mom-and-Pop operation that would pre-sort quartz crystals and allow me to sort again and return rejects. Of course, I paid a premium price, but at least I had a source! The crystals I needed were in the top 1% of those mined. I needed calcite clear enough to show the magic doubling of a line through the acute angle. It does not double through the obtuse angle; another way to reinforce math and the mysteries of science. Only Mexico had affordable optical calcite, and I still rejected many sample batches. Pyrite and fluorite presented similar challenges.

I designed a crystal container and did library research to find plastic mold companies. Then I learned that a cheap mold would cost $50,000, plus more for the actual boxes! So much for my design. I headed for K-Mart and bought three containers (with stuff) that I thought might work. I chose one, tracked down the distributor and talked him into selling me some, empty. I put a "Choking Hazard: small parts" warning label on the box, primarily for my own protection.

Why I Self-Published

I planned to publish in the standard way. I sent query letters to several companies and received a positive response from a major publisher. I was thrilled. Then I saw a sample contract. I would have to give up all rights, including creative control. The cover design that summarized my ideas of this book, with all its embedded symbolism, could be discarded. I would need permission to copy a work I had created. The publisher could simply own the work and never publish it. I knew enough to add a clause such that it would revert to me in three years if they did not use it. But, for three years I could do nothing about it.

I would also have no say in the quality of crystals, and feared that company profit margins would lead to lower quality. Crystal Geometry works because of the hands-on activities with high-quality crystals. Poor quality crystals or plastic models would not work. I also needed specific crystal sizes to fit in the attached kit box. Calcite must be clear to show the magical doubling of a line. Quartz must be clear to show the tripled image through a side.

I was skeptical that a company could properly produce this book within their business parameters. I was unwilling to put my name on something over which I might have minimal control. I wanted to do it my way, and I enjoyed the challenge of being in charge of something. Therefore, I finally decided to self-publish.

What I Have Learned

I know more about typesetting costs, paper, plates, printing, and binding. I feel more professional, and try to plan so that I can minimize costs. Typesetting is the easiest place to save money. A scanner and Adobe Pagemaker computer software could help. It is possible to hunt around for a slightly better deal on paper. My books work best with wire-o binding, which is simply expensive. I could buy a machine and do my own binding. Of course, the more you produce, the lower the cost per book. Price breaks may occur at 200, 500, 1000, and higher amounts.

If you think you might print more later, print extra covers now. My first printing was for 500 books, but I had 1550 covers printed. The 1050 extra covers cost about the same as the first 500, in part due to volume, but also due to the effort it takes to get all four color plates to match up perfectly. I used some covers for advertising, and saved a lot on my next printing of 1000 books.

Storage can be a problem, but printers may store some of your books. This reminds me of the Florida fish houses, that provided free ice to fishermen and other perks to keep them coming back. I chose a local printer whose people always treated me professionally, even when I first approached them with a scrappy rough draft and dreams.

Crystal ColorsCrystal Colors, my next book, should be easier to produce. I know the book size, binding, paper, and printer that I will use. I know the people, and how to communicate with them and take care of egos. I have a container and crystal suppliers lined up. I know teachers who will let me experiment in their classrooms.


This is the most challenging part of self-publishing, and the main reason I would consider a publisher for a non-kit book. It is easier to market a book as part of a series. Catalogs have their own needs and procedures. Books are mailed to one place, invoice to another, and everything has the purchase order on it. I save any boxes that might be useful for shipping orders, to save costs.

Crystal Geometry sells best in science education catalogs, science museum gift shops, and educational stores. I take copies with me whenever we travel, and stop by any likely places. I do workshops at science, math, and gifted ed conferences and spend most of my time chatting with vendors. I write to catalog, store, and museum gift shop buyers. Once I almost had an order for 2500 from a science store chain, but they decided it was too educational. I laughed and thanked them for the compliment. Actually, assembling 2500 books and kits would have driven me nuts.

Crystal Geometry is in a number of stores and a few catalogs. I need more vendors, or a website, to progress as a business. I am contacting more museums, science store chains, and catalogs. I set up in local education and health food stores during the Christmas holidays. The Internet is a source of home-schooling parents, a market I should tap. I have a teacher materials lending library with classroom sets of crystal kits, cards, colored shells and calcite, etc. This is both a free service and another way to publicize. A second book should make both more marketable. Most importantly, writing books is providing me with a new, satisfying niche.

Book Descriptions

Crystal Geometry is intended for grades 3 through adult. It comes with high quality real crystals. Handling the crystals and measuring the natural angles makes the activities interesting. The shapes are real, not molded or cut. This helps students make the jump to understanding shapes too small to see, such as chemical bonds.

Crystal Colors explores the chemistry of color and the connections between crystals, shells, and ceramic glazes. What creates the rainbow colors of crystals? How does a snail create and paint its crystal shell? When did people first start making their own colorful ceramic rocks? How does a muddy glaze become an explosion of color on a kiln-fired vase? These are questions that sparked my interest in science, and then chemistry. I am developing hands-on activities for students at home, or for collaborations between science and art teachers. Background information must provide enough depth to foster real learning. I try to attach a concept to many areas, so it will be better understood and remembered. When you go deeply into a subject, you can see how intertwined everything is and appreciate the beauty!

Many Paths To Wellness. I was side-tracked from my math and science writing by family health problems. I began researching health, and my brother asked me to write a short summary for his family. Then my mother and one of my sisters became interested. They applied what I had learned, their health problems improved, and they began their own studies. My sister began attending conferences, and added her health findings to mine. I got caught up in the studies, and the book grew. This became another substitute for my former research scientist job. I read books and tracked down research papers. I interviewed people who had been desperately ill and became well. I began to understand the many connections and factors that intertwine within our bodies to determine health. I helped relatives with fibromyalgia, attention deficit disorder, kidney problems, arthritis, diabetes, lupus. I drove to south Georgia and spent a day with a woman who is curing herself of cancer through diet, internal body cleansings, safe body products, and counseling. Her cancerous breast tumor shrank and finally disappeared. She has rebuilt her immune system so it could tackle the cancer. I no longer see disease in the same way. I know people who have been cured of arthritis with light, diet, chelation, and other treatments. There are many paths to wellness!

I read in the newspaper of a young woman who chose assisted suicide to escape the intense, unrelenting pain of fibromyalgia. I felt empathy for her desperation and her father's terrible sorrow. I also felt anger for a doctor who could assist with suicide, but apparently not provide pain relief, hope, and a range of viable options. People need hope and options!

Many Paths To Wellness is dedicated to those who suffer. This is a practical guide to protecting and recovering health. There are sections on important health factors, safe body products, safe cleaning products, safe pest control products, internal body cleansings, useful medical tests, pharmacy, and a wide range of workable solutions for health problems. Also included are sections on pet health, easy health science experiments, and suggested reading for more information. Sources and toll-free numbers for books, products, and services are included.

My goal was to write a short, clear, useful book that provides important information and helps a person get better information for their particular problems. You must learn enough to know which questions to ask, to heal yourself or help a doctor heal you. Mom says I have spawned a health revolution in our family. That was my goal. We care for our relatives during illness. It would be an even better gift to help them protect their health and heal!

ORDER AND CONTACT INFORMATION To order Crystal Geometry, Crystal Colors, or Many Paths to Wellness, contact Jenny Simonson Burke directly at E-mail: [email protected]

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041403 Monday, June 07, 2010