Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hold the school bus!

by Suzanne Young Cordatos

Many authors would rather write an essay than get handed a microphone to speak in front of a crowd. With a little prep work, you might enjoy it.

Word-of-mouth is still alive and kicking in this digital age.I found myself donning a Hawaiian lei at a middle school’s “Literacy Luau” after selling a couple stories to Highlights magazine. The stories have yet to be printed, but my excited kids told their teachers, who turned around with invitations to speak.

After the thrill of being a writer in someone’s eyes--besides my own--passed, panic set in. What do I do with a class full of kids? The following information comes personal experience and from sessions at conferences of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

 1. Don’t go empty-handed. Kids like free stuff. Create bookmarks (cheap and easy to do online) with your contact info, website, blog, email, book titles if any, publisher store, etc. Even if you don’t have a book yet, you can use a photo of yourself, a few lines of poetry, photo of your story's setting, etc.

 2. Leave lectures to their teacher. As Katie Hines pointed out in her great 4RV blog entry in March about library visits, make your time interactive and fun. Forty-five minutes can drag. Mix it up. Be creative. Ask them to close their eyes and listen to music for 2-3 minutes, then make up a scene that the music inspired. Dramatic? Dangerous? Spellbinding? Hand the kids the microphone and watch them glow.

 3. Skype visits Many successful authors offer free Skype visits instead of traveling out of state. They might offer a free half hour and arrange with the teacher ahead of time to order books for the classroom so the kids are familiar with it before the visit.

 4. Ahead of time  Arrange with the teacher or school to distribute a flyer (that you copy and provide) to make kids aware of your upcoming visit. One prominent author spoke at my daughter’s school. A flyer came home about three weeks in advance with a tear-off order form, asking for the money to cover the cost of a book that the author would sign in front of your child. It was optional but a no-brainer. The school ordered many books in advance and the author gave them a bulk discount. She sold hundreds of copies in a day.

 5. What topics are students covering in school? A class I visited was in the process of editing. I brought the first page of my new novel and said, truthfully, I was having trouble with the beginning. I could use their “expert” help since it was a book for their age level. Teach kids how to give “friendly” critiques. (1) say something you liked (2) say something you would change if it was your own work (3) did it raise a question? The kids did a fantastic job and offered great solutions to a real problem.

 6. Use math. Multiply your presentation opportunities. If you arrange for a school visit, call area schools, libraries and bookstores to add stops to your itinerary. Ask the classroom teacher who invited you for names of other teachers, nearby school districts, etc. who might be interested in a visit.

 7. Offer extra value.  Teens might be curious about the journey to publication. Younger readers might like a craft, song, or snack that goes with your story. My dragon character, Willard, loves pepper jelly. I could offer a bowl of pretzel sticks that kids can dip in a jar of pepper jelly—if they’re brave like Willard. Visit Suzanne's blog Ideas Tingle and Bite at


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Vivian. These tricks worked to make time fly in classrooms and keep smiles on all the faces -- including this nervous writer!

  2. Great post, Suzanne!

    Chock-full of advice I can use.

    Thanks for the ideas.

    Kristi Rhodes

  3. Love this article. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Go get 'em, Cheryl and Kristi!

    Does anybody have other tips that worked for your public speaking or promotion efforts? I'm all ears!

    :) Suzanne

  5. Suzanne,
    I loved the suggestions of bringing freebies and using music to set mood with kids naming what scene it brought to mind. Interactive wins over big! If you read your published stories, perhaps you can project them on a large screen and have students read parts or make sounds/noises that support the story. Maybe a few volunteers could wear simple costumes you provided and roleplay some. Have fun. I'm glad to hear that magazine authors were included too! Sounds like a great event. I hope it's an annual one.