Book Signing, NACAC 2013, and Congrats to Ted Fiske!

What a busy week it’s been!  I had my first official book talk and signing for The Secrets of Top Students at the Columbia University bookstore, which was a lot of fun.  Thank you to everyone who attended!

Stefanie Weisman Book Signing

My first book signing!

The next day I flew up to Toronto to join my publisher, Sourcebooks, for the 69th national conference for NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling).  I met a lot of great people there.  I must say, college admission counselors are an amazing group.  They really care about helping students and giving them the best education possible.

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where the NACAC conference took place.  Love the woodpeckers!

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where the NACAC conference took place. Love the woodpeckers!

I was also extremely fortunate to take part in the 30th anniversary of The Fiske Guide to Colleges, where I got to meet the man himself – Edward (Ted) Fiske.  It’s really an amazing accomplishment.  Sourcebooks honored him with a champagne toast and gave away several stacks of his books, which were gone in two minutes flat!

The champagne toast - Congrats to Ted Fiske for an amazing 30 years!

The champagne toast – Congrats to Ted Fiske for an amazing 30 years!

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk at the Stuyvesant Parents’ Association.  Back-to-School is a busy but exciting time!

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How Stuyvesant Influenced My Writing Career

On Sunday, June 23, I was honored to participate in the “Writer’s Block” event at the Stuyvesant High School all-class reunion, along with eight other writers who are Stuy alumni: Richard (R.B.) Bernstein, Robert Timberg, Joe Dorinson, Peter Wortsman, Eugene Schlanger, Rebecca Pawel, Richard Herschlag, and Becky Cooper. They asked us to talk about things like the road to publication and the impact Stuyvesant has had on our writing careers. I thought I would include the questions that were asked, along with a summary of my answers.

The Secrets of Top Students

The Secrets of Top Students

(1) Tell us a little bit about your work (most recent or favorite) and what inspired you to write the book? Include why you choose the genre you did.

I just came out with my first book, The Secrets of Top Students. It’s an advice book for high school and college students on how to succeed in school. I was inspired to write this book because I felt like I had so much to share with other students. I’ve been a top student all my life – I was valedictorian of Stuy, class of ’99. I graduated from Columbia with the highest GPA in my class. I also have experience in a wide range of subjects – I have a B.A. in History, an M.A. in Art History, and a B.S. in Computer Science. Over the years I developed lots of techniques that helped me excel in school, and it just felt natural for me to write this book and share those techniques.

(2) What is your writing practice?

I just write whenever I can. My mind is usually the clearest in the morning, so I’m most productive then. I usually write at home, but I write outside whenever I can. I’m a pretty slow writer. I write a few pages, and then I spend a lot of time editing. Some days I’m much more productive than others.

(3) Describe the road to publication, from idea to release.

This idea started when I was getting my last degree, a B.S. in Computer Science from Columbia. I started writing down all the techniques that I was using, and all the things that my classmates were doing wrong – things like cramming for tests, not taking enough notes, not managing their time well, not asking for clarification, etc. After I graduated I wrote the first three chapters, did a lot of research, and surveyed forty-five other top students to get their insight into what it takes to be a top student. These people are Rhodes scholars, Goldwater scholars, Fulbright recipients, students at top law and medical schools, and even a National Spelling Bee winner. A few months later I got an agent, Coleen O’Shea, and she helped me find a publisher/ get a book contract. It then took me a few more months to finish the book, which came out in May. The whole process, from idea to publication, took 4 or 5 years – but the idea was gestating for a long time.

(4) Describe how you went about finding an agent and how you went about finding a publisher or decided to self-publish?

I got a book called The Writer’s Market, which has a great listing of literary agents. I sent query letters to agents who accepted non-fiction books, and luckily I got one! She helped me work on my platform and create a book proposal. Then she submitted my proposal to a couple of publishers. I had phone interviews with a few of them, and Sourcebooks gave me a contract! I was really happy because Sourcebooks has a great education division. They publish books like The Fiske Guide to Colleges and Gruber’s Test Prep series.

(5) Was there a Stuyvesant Muse? Describe whether attending Stuyvesant High School had an impact on your writing endeavors.

I wouldn’t be here today without Stuyvesant. I learned how to be a great student here. Stuyvesant has such high standards, and the student body is so talented, that I had to develop powerful techniques to succeed. I’m sure many of you will agree with me that college was relatively easy compared to Stuyvesant. And of course, being valedictorian of Stuyvesant has a certain cachet that helped me get a book contract in the first place.

I’m not sure if I would use the term muse, but I was really inspired by Dr. Nikol, who taught AP European History. He was a great story-teller and made history come alive, as they say. I remember I did pretty poorly on the first few tests in his class because they were so detailed, and I had to readjust/ refine my study habits. He was one of the most demanding teachers I had here, but I learned so much. He was a big part of the reason why I specialized in medieval European History at Columbia. I still have a love of history, and that’s why I’m writing a historical fiction novel set on Crete during the time of the Minoans, which is currently a finalist in the James Jones First Novel Contest.

A book review that warmed an author’s heart

Every once in a while, someone says something about my book that makes all the hard work I put into it worthwhile, and makes me feel like I truly accomplished something. I received such a review today, from someone called Stew Mulligan. I was so excited about it, I had to reprint it on my blog. The original review can be found here. Thank you Stew Mulligan, wherever you are!

The author and her book

The author and her book

“The Secrets of Top Students, by Stefanie Weisman, is a great book!

As a Stuyvesant High School alumnus, I know what it means to be that school’s valedictorian. Stuyvesant is not just any high school. It is a school that if you become a doctor you are considered an underachiever. They expect you to at least become head of a department in a major hospital or medical school. Stuyvesant graduate David Axelrod, is ONLY an advisor to the President; Stuyvesantian Eric Holder, is US Attorney General: not bad, but not a Supreme Court Justice. It’s where if you get 800 on your math SAT nobody lifts an eye. But in all seriousness, this is a school of really, really smart kids and, as such, I am awed by Stefanie’s academic accomplishments — not only the Stuyvesant valedictorian but she also graduated with the highest GPA from Columbia College. That’s like being the baseball Rookie of the Year and then following up by winning the MVP and Triple Crown. Stefanie knows how to hit academia’s fast ball, curve and knuckleball, and all for homeruns.

As a rule, if you want to learn something well, it is a good idea to learn from the best, and Stefanie Weisman’s Secrets of Top Students is now THE SOURCE on how to maneuver through the obstacle course of higher education. I guarantee that this book will not disappoint.

If school, in general, and tests, term papers and the like, in particular, give you anxiety attacks, then this book is definitely the relaxant. By all rights, Stefanie should never have become valedictorian. In fact, she probably should have been mediocre at best, since she has a certain learning disability. But by putting excuses aside, she learned how to use her strengths to overcome her weaknesses, by developing a relatively simple system of studying. In Secrets of Top Students she conveys her system, no longer secrets, in a clear and concise manner. And, I might add, with a particularly droll and somewhat self-effacing sense of humor. In other words, she explains how to walk the walk, how to traverse through the killing fields of the classrooms with the least possible pain and suffering. She explains how to avoid being an academic casualty or also-ran and to get through it all, knowing you did the best you can, while actualizing your potential.

This is not a textbook. But it tells how to penetrate the textbooks. This is not a lecture, but it tells how to absorb and retain what the lecturer is “trying” to expound. Being smart is not enough. You have to know how to learn. This book shows how to do it in an efficient and intelligent manner. Stefanie’s prose is concise and easy to follow and the book develops in a logical manner. (It ends with a chapter on “How to Take a Test”, by the way, since test taking is where the rubber meets the road.) The use of well placed bullet points and bold font help to highlight the most important concepts. At the same time, the book makes clear that there are individual differences, and that students have to make adjustments in their own studying methods that work best for them. Nevertheless, these basic concepts are still applicable, to different degrees and with different emphasis, to all types of learners.

Nor does the book sugar-coat the reality. It tells it like it is, which is to say that the most important thing in becoming a good, or a great student, is commitment and a willingness to work hard, damn hard. There is no easy way. There is only a EASIER WAY, a SMARTER WAY. This book is the roadmap.

I guess my only complaint, after reading this book, is that it was published 40 odd years too late. If only there had been a Stefanie Weisman to write such a book for us baby boomers, to help us get through the morass known as education, like a machete in a rain forest, who knows what grades I would have gotten. But today, 2013, if you are a young person wanting to maximize your potential in school, or if you are a parent of a student and would like to see your child rise to the top, take my advice and go out and purchase this book ASAP.”

What’s the point of a college education?

There have been a lot of articles questioning the value of a college education recently – particularly the value of a liberal arts education. Take, for example, Frank Bruni’s The Imperiled Promise of College and Michelle Singletary’s Not All College Majors Are Created Equal. These articles warn against choosing majors that tend to result in low-paying jobs (or no jobs at all). That’s why I was glad to read Alina Tugend’s article Vocation or Exploration? Pondering the Purpose of College, which argues that college students can and should study the humanities. As Ms. Tugend writes, the question is this: is the purpose of college to “ensure a good job after graduation,” or “to give students a broad and deep humanities education that teaches them how to think and write critically? Or can a college education do both?” I’m going with door number three.

In the article, Ms. Tugend notes that what students major in has a greater impact on their future earnings than in previous decades.

So does that mean I should urge our son to pursue a degree he doesn’t have any interest in because it may provide him with a higher-paying job — or any job, for that matter — after college?

No, Professor Carnevale said, because if you don’t like what you do, you won’t do it well. The point is that “young people now need to have a strategy,” he said. “If you major in art, realize you will have to get a master’s degree. The economic calculus has changed.”

I like that line – if you don’t like what you do, you won’t do it well.

When I was in college, my most rewarding classes were in the humanities. I specialized in medieval history and got an M.A. in Art History before I majored and got a job in Computer Science. Do I regret studying history and art history, where job options are extremely limited? Not in the least. I’m glad I have a background in the humanities – I think it makes me a more well-rounded, knowledgeable, appreciative person. (However, I’m lucky that I didn’t go into debt to get my degrees. If I did owe lots of money, perhaps I wouldn’t be so pro-liberal arts.) One of the best things about Columbia, my alma mater, is that it has a Core Curriculum. All undergrads, no matter what their major, are required to take classes like Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, where they have literally hundreds of pages of reading each week on everything from Homer to Dante to Freud. This was probably the highlight of my academic career.

Lastly, I was quoted in a Crain’s New York Business article last week – Goodbye, ‘bamboo ceiling’ – Corporate barriers spur Asian-Americans to start fast-growing enterprises, by Emily Laermer.

When Stefanie Weisman was Stuyvesant’s valedictorian in 1999, she said, the school was about half Asian. She described her time there as ‘the most intense four years of my life’ because of its competitiveness.

‘The students there are bright and hardworking, partly because there are so many Asian-American students,” she said, citing the influence of ‘tiger parents.’ . . . .

It’s also possible that tiger parenting ultimately backfires. Ms. Weisman, who is writing a book about academic success, said that those who enjoy learning – rather than studying because their parents insist – tend to do better professionally.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Re: Rating Stuyvesant High School

There’s an interesting take on my alma mater, from the students’ point of view. Not surprisingly, fastidious Stuy students are way harder on their school than the NYC Department of Education, which gave the school an A. See the article Rating Stuyvesant High School.

The Stuyvesant Spectator editorial board gave the following grades to their school:

Mathematics B-
Biology B
Chemistry B+
Physics C+
English A-
Social Studies B+
World Languages B-
Computer Science A-
Technology B
Music & Fine Arts B
Student Services B/B-
Facilities B+
Quality of Student Life B-

For a math/science school, the humanities are rated quite highly at Stuyvesant. I always thought that AP European History was one of the best classes I’d ever taken. By the way, if a Stuy student got this kind of report card, he/she would be in tears.

I especially like this part about quality of student life:

“For students who can manage their homework and studies, Stuyvesant offers a wide range of extracurriculars that can satisfy nearly every student’s interests. However, for what seems to be the majority of students, extracurriculars can seem like an extra burden piled upon heaps of coursework and mountains of textbooks. The atmosphere of constant competition with both other students and one’s own personal standards is highly stressful and can encourage massive sleep deprivation for those who are inept at prioritization and time management.”

You know what, I’m glad I’m not in high school anymore.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!