Friday, February 13, 2015

What I Learned At My First School Visit

I've worked with and around kids, for most of my life so that fact that my knees were shaking and my stomach balled up into a big fat knot surprised me.
 Show no fear, I told myself over and over again. I whispered that mantra even as the first group of pint sized critics filed into the school library. I was scheduled to do four, forty- minute presentations, to groups of children from forth through sixth grades, all in one afternoon. This was my first school visit as a guest author and I was terrified.
 I took a deep breath. “I’m going to read a few excerpts from my book and then we are going to talk about the writing process.”
I chose three places in the book that I’d hoped would pique their interest.
I gave them a little background on the beginning of the story, and started at chapter four.
I read.
I pace back and forth in front of my computer, compelled to check my messages again.
A jolt of excitement rushes through me when I see the little exclamation point that means I have a message. As I move the cursor to open it, I realize I’m not as angry with Annabelle as I thought. I’m more curious to see what she has to say.
Sandy, I know you came to my house. I watched you from the window. Was that your sister with you? I tried to get your attention. I’m trapped up here. They won’t let me leave. I hoped she would let you in, but she sends everyone away. Please try again, I need a friend.
The kids gasped at the end of the first reading.
“Read more!” they said.
I read another section.
“Let’s go to the front door,” I say.
We follow the tall green hedge around the corner. The front of the house is so intimidating that I’m glad we didn't see it the first time we were here. There is an elaborate wrought iron gate that is flanked by stone pillars. Sam examines the way the stones are stacked on top of each other. I imagine she is thinking of her old rock collection.
The latch on the gate is not locked so I push down on the lever. It swings open with a loud squeak.
The gable in front comes to a tall point, resembling a witch’s hat with a small shuttered window in the center. I wonder if Annabelle is up there watching us.
They were hooked.

Next came the presentation.
Let me just say, I know myself. I knew, that as soon as I was in front of an audience I’d forget. I’d forget what questions to ask, what witty, (author like) things I’d planned to say. The things I thought the Dalai Lama of authors might say. All of it had flown out of my head.  But you know what? It didn't matter.  I’d made index cards with notes on them in case we ran out of things to talk about. Guess what? I didn't need them.
 Kids these days, they’re so smart. They asked the most wonderful, intelligent and interesting questions. I’m not gonna lie, there were a couple of moments when the conversation veered off course. Luckily the librarian was wise to the ways of school aged children and helped me bring them back to the topic at hand.
So for those of you out there who are wondering how these things go, here are a few tips that helped me out.
1.       Make sure you check in with your contact person a couple of days before your visit.
2.       Be prepared. Even though I didn’t use my index/cue cards. I was glad I had them.
3.       Look the kids in the eye when you talk to them and answer honestly.
4.       Type up and send an order form for your book to the school about 2 weeks ahead of time.
5.       Bring extra copies of your book if possible .I’d sent an order form to the school a week ahead of time, but out of 80 or so kids that attended only 2 brought their order form back, but I was able to sell the few books I had on hand to the kids who brought money. I also extended the order date another week so that the kids who forgot or lost them would still have an opportunity to place an order through the school and get the book at a discount.
6.       Bring a hand out.  I brought bookmarks so all the kids could have something with a picture of my book and my author information on it. The kids were so excited to get a little something from their visiting author.
These are a few of the questions the kids asked.
How long did it take you to write the book?
How many pages is it?
What gave you the idea for this book?
Did you write it by hand or on the computer?
What do you do to get from the middle of the story to the end? (There were a few future authors in that audience.)
Do you know Jeff Kinny? J.K. Rowling? Suzanne Collins?  Do you know anyone famous? (Sadly no; but they didn't hold it against me.)
How long did it take to get published?
Will it be a movie?
And my favorite
 Is there going to be a second book? This question alone made me realize how important this type of marketing can be to obtaining loyal readers. These kids had only had a taste of this story and were already anticipating a second book.
Here are a few things I talked about.
Story structure. Beginning, middle and end.
Characterization. How to make your characters real.
The importance of revision. (This one was a biggie with the teachers.)
Well that’s it, my first experience doing a school visit. I had so much fun. It was both encouraging and inspiring.  I got the word out about my book and gained a few more fans, but really, I became a fan of my new readers.