Let’s be honest. Book promotion is a part of a writer’s life, and publishers require their authors to be active partners. Many authors, especially those who write for children or teens often receive invitations to speak at schools. Every kid lit author will say this, but it’s really true: talking face to face with your target readers is the second best time you’ll ever have as a writer. So, if the opportunity arises, go for it.
A little nervous? Well, here are a few tricks of the trade that might help you out:
Have your talk or presentation down pat. Over prepare. Use note cards or powerpoints or whatever helps you keep from losing your train of thought.
Touch base with the teachers before the date and ask what they’d like you to emphasize about the writing process to support what they’re doing in the classroom.
If you’re able to sell your books while you’re there, then create a book order form and send it to the school ahead of time. You’ll always have students who bring their money at the last minute, so have extra books on hand. Bring change. Bring some Sharpies for kids that want you to autograph their shirt or arm. I balk at faces, though.
I do ask for an author’s visitation fee, in addition to book sales. I waive the fee if it’s a school that I have a personal relationship with. It can be a touchy subject as many schools are unable to pay the author. Maybe they can at least purchase a few copies for their library. It’ll be up to you.
Wear a lanyard with a plastic badge holder and your business card. You can slip the school’s Visitor’s Pass into the other side. If they give you a peel-n-stick pass, just stick on the back of the holder.
Get to the school early. Trust me. Assume technology will fail you, so have a back-up plan.
The Big Day:
Right before you start, check once more with teachers about how you can support their curriculum. Also, if it is possible, ask one of the teachers to give you a five minute warning. You want to end as scheduled as schools have their days timed down to the minute.
Start out with a funny story. Or a story when you were the fool. People love that and laughter builds an instant rapport. The students will be more interested in what you are sharing.
Or teach them a series of goofy claps (clam clap, shark clap, golf clap, around-the-world clap, standing 0 clap, etc). Fun for them and gets them moving a little bit.
Speaking of moving: Do it. Yes, it may be a bit of a challenge in some situations, but proximity does wonders for crowd control and makes for active listening. Look them in the eye and smile while you’re talking. High five them when they ask good questions. Tell them that all humans are story tellers, which makes them story tellers, too.
Even though you have a set presentation, allow for students’ questions to send you in a new direction. It’s a balancing act between sticking with your agenda and taking side journeys.
The three things I always emphasize in my talks:
- Revising is the most important part of writing.
- Writing takes times and practice, and there are no shortcuts. I tell them that writers are “word warriors” and being a warrior takes practice, practice, practice.
- Writing is hard. Good hard like learning a new musical instrument or playing a new sport, but still hard.
Be prepared for these questions:
- “How old are you?” I always tell them the truth. I mean, why not?
- “Are you famous?” I tell them I’m working on it and they can help.
- “Are you rich?” I tell them “rich enough.”
- “Do you know JK Rowling?” I say yes. (Until they ask me if I know JK Rowling personally, I can say yes without lying. Hair splitting at its finest.)
At The End:
Even if you may not be able to use pictures of students for publicity (due to legalities), take pictures anyway. Ask the students to make the goofiest/saddest/happiest faces they can, then click away. Your publisher might have a photo release form you can hand the teachers afterwards, so make sure you ask.
Have something to give to every student. I order two-sided postcards (Vistaprint is a favorite of mine and very affordable) with my book cover on one side, and the blurb and my contact info on the back. Autograph them ahead of time. Students who didn’t purchase your book will still get a nice reminder of you.
All this may sound intimidating. It sure did for me when I first started out. And I had fourteen years as a 7th grade social studies teacher under my belt! But know this: you are planting seeds in ways you may never realize in your lifetime, either through your books or your visits. Powerful seeds that may grow into something mighty.
Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy wrangling words. Her latest book (lucky number thirteen), DEL TORO MOON, released October 2 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at www.darbykarchut.com