If you’ve never done an author visit at a school or library, it can seem a bit scary. Being prepared helps boost your confidence.
Remember the old cartoon Felix the Cat? Whenever he got in a fix, he’d reach right into his bag of tricks!
A bag of tricks is good for authors to have on hand for public speaking, no matter what age you’re addressing.
In the last two posts, we covered tips for reading aloud and props for school visits. Basically, props are part of your bag of tricks, whether large or small. You can use them as an ice breaker or throughout your presentation.
When you schedule a visit, be sure to ask how much time you’ll have and what ages you’re dealing with. If you’re going to talk about writing in addition to reading excerpts of your book and sharing a little about your personal journey, ask if there’s a certain topic they want you to cover, such as plot, figurative language, the importance of reading, etc. That will help you prepare ahead of time. Usually I’m free to discuss whatever I want, though.
So, what should you talk about?
- Introduce yourself. Explain what genres you write and what ages your write for. If you use the word “genre,” ask the kids if they know what it means.
- Share a little about your writing journey.
- If you did a lot of research, explain how you researched your book.
- Engage your audience by asking questions. (Before I read my short story “Cyclops Clyde,” I ask if anyone has had their computer do weird things. There’s always a show of hands. Then I explain how my computer does so many strange things, I think it’s haunted, so one day I wrote about a monster that lives in it. After I read it (with tons of animation and drama), I tell them they can write their own computer-monster story.
- Have backup material in case you’re there longer than planned. If your book is about animals, have a list of interesting and amazing animal facts. If you wrote a historical piece, have extra trivia about that time period handy to share. You can ask the kids if they think they would have liked to live back then. If you write sci-fi, you can come up with all kinds of cool questions to engage your audience.
- Promote literacy. Encourage reading and writing. I always tell them, “If you want to become a writer, you need to read as much as possible.” Stress how important it is to practice to become a better reader and writer. “Athletes work out for hours every day to perfect their skills. Writers must do the same, and reading is part of writing.”
- Teachers love it when you talk about how important it is to revise. Jaws drop when I tell the kids some of my books were revised 50 times.
- Toward the end of the session, allow time for questions.
For more great tips, check out Heather Kelly’s June 1st post. It’s all about author Jackie Davies and the wonderful presentation she does at readings. She uses props, reads short, entertaining excerpts, and interacts with the kids. You can also view her two very cool book trailers.
My co-authors (Kathy Sant & Maria Toth) and I put out the word to family members and friends that if they know any teachers or librarians who wanted us to do an author visit, to let us know. We provided business cards and/or a flyer with our bios and website. Unfortunately, the schools are short on money and most can’t afford to pay authors right now, but they usually allow us to sell books (we don’t do high-pressure sales), and we let the kids and teachers know who the school contact is for orders and also what bookstores carry our books.
Once you start doing visits, word of mouth is your best advertising, and you’ll start receiving invitations not only for school visits, but all kinds of community events. The first week in March, most schools hold a Read Across America celebration in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, so that’s your best time to set up an author visit because the schools are looking for guest readers to visit each classroom. No, you don’t have to read a Dr. Seuss book. My co-authors and I prefer 4th through 6th grade classrooms, and we read excerpts from our scary stories.
If you have a Cat in the Hat hat, wear it for Dr. Seuss week!
It’s your call as to how much time and energy you want to invest in author visits. I’m more likely to return to the places where I felt appreciated and received a warm welcome. I average about one author visit per month so that’s quite doable for me.
Here’s one of my favorite incidents during an author visit. I had lots of props set out for visual aids. A class of 4th graders were dying to see me put the werewolf mask on. “Are you sure it won’t be too scary for you?” I asked.
“Noooooo,” they all chimed in.
“Okay, as long as you won’t get scared.” I just held it up to my face and asked them if they could see my eyes through it. Yes, they sure could. I kept the mask in front of my face and asked, “Well, do you guys want to see something REALLY scary?”
“Are you sure? It’s REALLY, REALLY scary.”
They got antsy with anticipation and assured me they could handle it.
“Okay, then . . . get ready. . .” I whipped the mask away from my face, raised my arms and hollered “RRRRAH!” while barely jumping in my seat.
It startled them silly, and they loved it. Their reactions were priceless. So, I pulled that trick on some of the other classes and got the same great responses. Even the teachers cracked up.
You learn something new each time. I’m looking forward to many more adventures doing author visits.
Some of you might have other ways to connect with schools. If you do author visits, how do you go about booking them?