The Number One Thing You Need in Your Author Talk

Tuesday, May 21, 2019
School is almost out for summer! If you live in the United States, you probably have anywhere from one week to one month left of the school year. (If you live other places, I’m not sure how much school time you have left. Let us know in the comments.) But, I digress. I’m writing about school getting out because this post is about writers who are also teachers or writers who are also parents with kids coming home for the summer or anyone who loves the long hours of daylight in the summer and gets a lot of writing done! (Plus, I just attended my stepson’s graduation from high school on Friday, and I wanted a chance to share this photo with you of him and my cute daughter, his sister. I’m super proud of them both.)

 Some of you who are teachers and writers under the same hat use summer to catch up on your writing that might have taken a backseat during the school year. I know when I was teaching in an elementary school, I also used the summer to attend workshops and go to writing conferences. For those of you who are children’s writers or young adult authors, you may also be taking time to create new school visit workshops. Part of being a children’s or young adult writer  is finding opportunities to get in front of those audiences, and this is often done at schools. (By the way, you could also do it at Bible schools and summer camps, depending on where you live and what your book is about. I have done all of these places.)

 I know it’s not always the easiest speaking event—a gym full of zK to 2nd grade students, for example. So I will tell you what I believe to be the number one element you need to have in your workshop. Really, this could be for any writer who has to give any workshop or presentation. But I think it is especially true if your audience is 18 or under.

That number one element is… Connection. That’s right, connection. Connection is what every presentation that you give to kids needs to have. The problem is that it’s not easy to connect with kids who are not the same age as you, who may not have the same interests as you, who may be attending your workshop because they are being forced to by their teacher, or who may have never heard of you or your books when you step in to their school. But it will be completely worth it if you figure out some way to connect with your audience and to make yourself relatable to them before you share your message—whether it’s about your books, your writing career, or your illustrations.

Here are three ways that children’s or young adult authors can look for ways to connect with their under 18 audiences:

1. Start your presentation with a personal story from your life when you were a kid. Make yourself vulnerable. You can use humor. You can be serious. But find a universal story about your childhood or your teenage years that will let your audience know that you can understand some of the issues they may be facing as a young person.

2.  Get to know your audience before you start selling to them. Even though you will not be hard selling at a school visit, you are realistically still trying to get these kids to like and read your books. Before you do this, have an activity where you are asking questions to find out about your audience. For example, you can ask kids to stand up if they like a certain baseball team. You can ask kids to raise their hand if their birthday is in the summer. You can ask kids to raise their hand and tell you there favorite foods. You will have to revise this activity, depending on if you are talking to a classroom of kids or a gym full of kids. But you will know plenty in advance before you get to the school. And if you are a teacher, then you will know what kinds of activities relate to many of these kids already because you are around kids every single day.

3. Just be real! It’s not as easy as it sounds. But kids can spot someone who is not sincere and genuine 100 miles away. So don’t try to be funny if you are not actually funny. Don’t try to be hip. Just be yourself—whatever that is. You have a message to bring to these kids. You wrote a book for them. Now you are there; and in order to connect with them, just be yourself.

If you are a children’s or young adult writer, and you have a tip for school visits, let us know in the comments below. If you give a lot of author talks to all ages of audiences and you have some tips, let us know below. Or if you are a teacher looking forward to getting out this summer to do some extra writing, let us know that, too.

Margo L. Dill is teaching a new class for WOW! titled School Visits and Author Talks for Children’s and YA Authors: , and it starts on August 6! Check it out at the link!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I always use humor. Usually it's self-denigrating humor because I KNOW I'm not hip or graceful or poised. So I make jokes about myself.

I can only think of one thing to add: give-aways. Perhaps bookmarks, that advertise or tease the author's book. And as far as the connection, I would think it'd be important to share some of the obstacles, struggles and failures involved in writing a book. I think some kids (and adults) feel like a book just writes itself... that it's an easy task for those talented few. Anecdotes that tell of the perseverance required would help the writer connect with the audience, and perhaps would help a young person believe that they too could write a book.

You DO look like a proud mom and step-mom. Congratulations to the smiling young man.

Margo Dill said...

GIving away bookmarks is a great thing to do too--the kids can take the bookmarks home and to show parents who came to their school that day. So the bookmarks should definitely have book and/or website information on them! We could probably write an entire post about bookmarks!

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