Having finished proofing the indexing to The Art of the Public Grovel, I settled myself in last week to an equally exciting task: writing up the revisions for the tenth anniversary edition of The Well-Trained Mind (due out in February 2009).

For those of you who don’t know, The Well-Trained Mind was the first book I did (my mother co-authored) for W. W. Norton, almost ten years ago now. The book first came out in 1999, and we revised it the first time for publication in 2004, five years later–by which point we’d had the chance to hear from, literally, thousands of readers. The first edition was based on our own experiences; for the second, we had the great advantage of knowing how our recommendations were working for a much larger cross-section of parents and kids. (Believe me when I say: We had no idea so many people would READ it.)

So the second edition had a fair number of changes in the text, because we’d discovered where we were unclear, where we needed to include alternative methods and programs for different kinds of learners, where we needed to simplify. And between 1999 and 2004, a lot of books and curricula we recommended went out of print, or changed prices–including some of the core texts that we had described in great detail.

This time around, I honestly didn’t think there would be as many changes. I’ve been collecting curricula for the last couple of years, looking for anything new and earth-shatteringly wonderful, but while I’ve added a few new books and programs this time around, most of our recommendations still stand. And I hired a friend to help look up all of the prices and publication information so that we could update the details.

(One corner of my new-curricula pile. It’s threatening to spread and take over the third floor of the house.)

Despite that, the revision turned into a HUGE project. The big problem: Publishers let PERFECTLY GOOD BOOKS go out of print with astonishing regularity. Whole wonderful series of books that are only five or six years old, gorgeous art books that must have taken a FORTUNE to produce, science books that are well-written and clear–they all seem to fall off the backlist. And among the worst offenders are Usborne and Dorling Kindersley. I like Usborne books a lot, and I adore the DK reference books, but you just can’t rely on their titles staying around for any length of time. And this confuses me. After the first print run you’ve paid off most of your development costs; you’re just paying the physical cost of the book and the royalty to the author, and the rest is gravy. Why on earth let the books die?

Anyway, I ended up writing in an incredible number of changes, just because so many books are simply not available any more. And it was a long tiring process. In case you don’t know, a revision to an existing book is done–yes, in the year 2008–by HAND. Wherever there is a change, I am supposed to photocopy the page and write the change onto it in pencil. If the change is longer than a sentence, I type it out, indicate where it is suppose to go on the original page, attach a new page with the typed-out change to the original change, and then save the added text as a text file onto a CD. The result looks kind of like this (click for a close-up):

By the time I was done, I had a huge stack of photocopied pages with brief changes written on them in pencil,

and I had typed out and saved 199 separate text files with changes of a sentence or more.

My eyes hurt.

My HAND hurts. I don’t usually write that much in pencil any more. Seriously. I need to do some writing-muscle exercises so that computer use doesn’t atrophy my hands.

Anyway, I finally got the revisions done and out the door (here’s Mollie, my husband’s niece–she’s working for me this year–with the box, heading for UPS).

That’ll be another set of page proofs returning to be proof-read, sometime this fall–after I finish the History of the Medieval World, I hope. Remember the History of the Medieval World? My attention’s been a little distracted over the last few weeks.

Time to get back to feudalism…I mean it, this time…

Showing 10 comments
  • Lori

    Good stinking grief, what a process. As much as I like to write all over things with corrections, I tend to do my husband’s corrections in the text file, in a different color. Of course, the difference is that I’m not making changes for a publisher.

    It’s hard to believe that TWTM has been out for 10 years! I still use the first edition.

  • Christine

    I do SO despise when good books go out of print. So does my husband. . .you know the man who believes that his wife has taken it on as a mission in life to buy books that may possibly go out of print. 😉

    At least you have help (looking up prices and doing delivery runs).

    You know, given that you are writing about medieval times, you could pretend a medieval torture chamber is your lot in life if you don’t get to work on the manuscript. Or maybe the manuscript is or your torture chamber?

    Baked goods have always been good (cliche) at freeing prisoners. Maybe you just need another baking day?

  • As much work as it all is, know that there are lots of grateful folks out here very interested in your efforts! When DH — a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher — and I first started researching homeschooling, I checked out a stack of books from the local library branch, plus requested a bunch more to be sent from other branches around the city. As I looked through them all, I felt freed and excited, then completely overwhelmed and freaked out. TWTM, however, was the only one that gave me the “a-HA” moment, like I didn’t know what I was looking for until I found it. And TWTM was the only one that I went out and bought.

    We’re new to this process still — DD1 is almost five. She’s reading at a 1st-grade level (thanks to OPGTR) so far. We have a long road ahead of us — such are the realities of the Chicago Public Schools. And it looks like TWTM will be a big part of it. I’m looking forward to checking out the new edition when it comes out.

    In other words, this is all a long-winded “Thank You!” to you (and your mom, of course!!).

  • Angie

    Which books or materials that you and your mom suggested only in the first and/or second editions would you still have as your top choices, if only they had not gone out of print? And then which replacement recommendations are truly better than those in the previous editions?

    Angie (WI)

  • melissa in Australia

    thankyou , thankyou, thankyou.
    I am really looking forward to an update. it is Sooo hard to get some of the books recomended!

  • A Circle of Quiet

    Sent away!

    What beautiful words and representing so.much.work.

    Congrats to you, and thanks,

  • Amber Emory

    I can’t believe TWTM has been out ten years! I started using it last year and it has completely made our homeschooling experience so much better! I am also looking forward The History of the Medieval World. I am half-way through The History of the Ancient World and I love it! I really enjoy your books. 🙂

  • Tom Atkins

    I just stumbled in here and to my surprise, I did find all the details insanely interesting! Scary, but so. Thanks for taking all time to write about these things. Who knew?

  • Lynn


    I heard TWTM might have a Christian supplement coming out through Canon Press. Any truth/details to this?

    Also is your new world history set intended to be used for the logic or rhetoric stage students? Is it being used for your upper grade children?

    Thanks for your time,

  • Erin Reeves

    I wish I had known that you were doing revisions on TWTM. We have recently discovered Real Science 4 Kids and Science 2 Discover for kindergarten through high school students. The books seem to be well written with science concepts at the appropriate age level rather than dumbed down science. The chemistry series of books is wonderful. I am using all three levels pre-level I (K-3), Level I (4-6), and Level II (7-9). There are also biology and physics books for Level I. You an find these books at http://www.gravitaspublications.com and at http://www.science4kids.com/RealScience-4-Kidsbooks.htm. There are samples (the first chapter) available online.

    Science 2 Discover (http://www.science4kids.com/bookstore.htm) has books on biotechnology, cell biology, and genetics (the Gene series) for middle school and high school. You can also access the biology, chemistry and physics books from the bottom of the previous link.

    I hope someone else has already mentioned these books to you for inclusion in your new edition of TWTM. My husband encouraged me to write to you because he thought you’d appreciate these books. 🙂

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