As the publication date for my first children’s book, The Dandelion’s Tale, grows nearer, I can’t stop thinking of all the things I’m going to have to do to promote the book. I’m a ‘first-timer’ after all, so I really have to kick things into high gear.
I was with my agent last week and she talked about school visits. She’s already working to set some up for me where I get to talk to different grades about different topics. For example, because my book is geared to 7-year olds, I would read the book to the younger grades. For older grades, I’ll talk about what it’s like to write a book or give a glimpse into the life of an author.
I know the kids will all be happy to have me there – any break from day-to-day school stuff is always a welcome distraction. But the whole thing kind of terrifies me. I like to write because it’s a quiet profession. Just me and my keyboard. If I wanted to perform in front of people, I would have taken up acting instead of being a stagehand in high school.
When I went to college, I majored in broadcasting because I wanted to work behind the scenes in radio or television. I never had dreams of being the ‘on air talent’. I was happy to leave that for the folks who were born hams or seekers of the limelight.
All of that is about to change. Somehow, between now and then, I have to learn to become a public speaker (which, by the way, is the #1 phobia in the country). All of the what ifs flood my mind when I think about it. What if I stumble and totally mess up reading my own book? What if the kids hate it? What if I can’t answer a question? What if I bomb? What if, what if, what if?
Past experience has taught me that I have to expel the what ifs. If I don’t, they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, what do I do? Well, here’s my plan, and it’s based on talking to people who excel at public speaking.
Prepare. I know if walk into a school cold, I have no chance. What does it mean to prepare? First, I have to get comfortable reading my book aloud. That means my family is going to have to sit through little readings constantly between now and then. That also means I have to write down what I plan to say about writing and being an author and speak it, then rewrite it, then speak it again until it becomes second nature.
Make it fun. I don’t want to be the boring teacher from Ferris Bueller, leaving kids drooling on their desks. I have to make it exciting, funny, interactive. For the little ones, I’m making like sparrow and dandelion props so they can help me tell the story. I have to get prizes to hand out to kids who ask and answer my questions. Maybe I’ll even get some music in the mix. The event is mine to create, so it’s time to get creative.
Toastmasters. I’ve been told by more than one person to attend some Toastmasters meetings and get comfortable by speaking in front of people under their tried and true guidance. Hey, it can’t hurt! Sounds like I have a holiday project.
Visualize success. I know it sounds corny, but it works. If I know my stuff and imagine it going well, time after time, it will. Athletes pay a ton of money to sports psychiatrists to understand this concept. There, you now have it and you didn’t need to play sports or shell out a dime.
Ok, that’s how I plan to tackle my school visits. What are some of the tips and tricks that have worked for you? I’m far from an expert and I want to learn just as much as the students I’ll be seeing.
Now, before you call social services on me, this post isn’t as bad as you think.
When I say ‘kids’, I’m referring, in this case, to the children’s books I’ve written. My agent hates it when I call my work my kids because she’s always asking me to delete parts and change them and trash sections that don’t work well. As a man, though, this is the closest I’ll ever come to giving birth.
Why am I stashing my kids…books…in a drawer? Simply, because not everything I write is pure gold, or ready for the world at this time, if ever. Writing for publication is a hit and miss game. My golden idea that sounds perfect in my head may not sound so wonderful to my editor. Or, the idea may be similar to something that was recently published, or is on the docket (that I can’t see) to be published within the next year.
Writing in any genre is about skill, luck and timing. All three have to come into play at the exact same time to lift your book from your laptop to the printed page on a book shelf. And even after you’ve landed your big fish, that doesn’t mean you’re going to pull up a marlin every time you drop your line. (and if you’re fishing for marlin, make sure you have a crew ready to help!)
Over the past 2 years, I’ve written several picture books and 2 middle grade novels. Where are they now? My drawer. Some aren’t just right…yet. Others need some tweaking. One may never see the light of day. So what’s the use of writing these books and sticking them in your drawer? Because that drawer will become your portfolio somwhere down the line. That book that your editor passed on may be just what another is looking for.
So I have a drawer full of kids, waiting to come out and play. Until then, I look in on them from time to time to make sure they’re well fed and happy.
If you want to increase your drawer, I mean portfolio, you may want to look into Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 course, where you work with experts and other authors to write 12 picture books in 12 months. These are 12 first drafts, mind you, but it’s invaluable to have them at the ready.
How many kids do you have in your drawer? How many have gone from the drawer to publication?
My actual kids were not harmed in the making of this blog post. In fact, they were out getting their nails done. 🙂
A friend of mine who is a talented, aspiring picture book writer, recently turned me on to an audio podcast that I have found to be chock full of so much information, it should be mandatory for all kid-lit writers. It’s called Brain Burps About Books and is as much fun to listen to as it is informative.
Host and author Katie Davis dedicates each episode to different aspects of writing and promoting your work, from building believable characters to how to market your work, blog tours, making the web work for you and so much more.
Each episode has interviews with authors, marketing tips, readings, helpful hints, listener Q&A and anything else you could possibly need, all delivered with Katie’s down-home, easy going style.
There are over 90 episodes available and more every week. I strongly urge anyone who is serious about writing for children to make Brain Burps part of your weekly routine. You won’t be disappointed.
The number one question all writers get asked is, “Where did you get the inspiration to…” or “What made you think of…”
It’s a tough question to answer because many times, we’re not sure ourselves. It could be a dream, a memory, a desire, a mispronounced word, a story in a paper, and on and on and on. When you think of it, the world around us when we’re awake and the internal world we visit in our dreams are all endless fountains of inspiration.
When writing for children, it’s especially fun to get into their mindset, or recall your own when you were young. Children haven’t developed cynicism or mistrust or learned that life isn’t always what you pictured it to be. Everything they see is a wonder bordering on the magical.
As an adult with a family and a job and typical big-person worries, it’s not always easy to tap into the innocent awe of a child. When my agent asked me to write a new book in the voice of my to-be-released The Dandelion’s Tale, I have to admit that I struggled for a bit. Like quicksand, the more I fought to find my muse, the deeper I sank, until I was good and stuck.
A week ago, I went out for a long walk. I started taking pictures of nature in slumber around me.
Midway through my walk, a story began to unfold. A half hour later, I was almost sprinting to my car so I could get the words out of my head and onto the page. In the course of a one hour walk, the story I had been struggling to find found me instead. I was literally shaking with excitement.
So, on that day, a stream, a pond, some ducks and leaf-less trees were my inspiration. I can’t say what it will be for the next story, but I can’t wait to find it.