School Visits

This is a post that's long overdue.

School visits. It's something many who write for teens and kids do--but if you've never done one, they can be daunting.

My very first school visit was to my old high school, for some of my old teachers. I was terrified. I asked the teachers in advance what they wanted me to talk about and what the kids were reading. In some ways, speaking to kids at my old school was easy because my favorite English teacher had just retired so they;d all had him. I could crack jokes about me being a band nerd, tell embarrassing stories about having my romance novel taken away during class and how I actually used Allegory of a Cave in graduate school.

I asked a lot of advice along the way from my author friends. Some make powerpoints, some have particular "lecture" topics, others see their job as to entertain, not inform. I realized that school visit processes vary as much as writing processes. Also, what you write and who you write for will guide your school visit. I probably couldn't ask teens to crow like roosters and decorate spoons with glitter the way a picture book author might (okay, I actually think with the right class a glitter craft could be fun).

I had to find what works for me. Powerpoint, where I like to use it for conference workshops, it doesn't work for me for school visits. I tend to be more on-the-fly, tailoring my talk to the class. If they look interested, I'll continue, if they look bored, I'll move on to something else. Every group is different, sometimes I'm in a classroom with twenty kids, sometimes it's an auditorium with a hundred.

Unless the teach requests it, I try to make it more than just a craft talk. I talk a little about my process and my books and craft. I ask a lot of questions to make it interactive. I talk a little about what I learned in high school what was relevant to what I do now. I tell silly stories about the famous authors I've embarrassed myself in front of.  I leave lots and lots of time for questions. I get a lot of interesting questions, from very serious ones about fan-fiction and plotting to things like am I a natural blonde, have I ever failed English, and am I Team Jacob or Team Edward. (yes, no, I plead the 5th)

I also bounce around a lot and throw things (which is probably one of the most entertaining things because I'm not good at throwing things.) Yes. I have bribes. Whenever someone answers my question (or asks one), I throw out a button. (They're little things, that say things like My Other Car Flies, and Why Be Normal When You Can Be Paranormal and my website, I like buttons because they often put them on their backpacks). I always preface my talk with (I throw things and I'm bad at it, so I apologize in advance if I hit you in the head with a button). I bring book marks and magnets, too. (I actually get asked for magnets  so I've been bringing them. I used to save them for conferences.)

I also dress up -- I don't wear full-on steampunk gear unless they specifically ask, but I do wear a "steampunk lite" outfit, usually with really cute boots. I have a readers guide, so I usually give it to the teacher in advance, just in case they want it.

Where my book is for high schoolers, and I prefer to speak to high schoolers because of that, I recently spoke to a 3rd grade class. Yep, Missy's teacher asked me if I could talk to them about what authors actually do. This was interesting, because I couldn't promote my book to third graders (nor would I want to. I actually had to tell Missy that no, she couldn't lend her copy of Innocent Darkness to her friend (and she hasn't read it, but it's on her bookshelf for when she's older).)

For them, I tried to use examples from their world, also, the talk was on both the lifecycle of a novel and what authors actually "do." They had just learned about manuscripts and rejection letters. I was asked if I'd ever gotten a rejection letter so I read them one of mine. About half the class want to be authors. When I asked them to name genres, they listed so many. It was one of the most entertaining author visits I'd ever had and where I did get some odd/rambling questions, I got some very good ones ranging from where ideas come from to wherever or not I feel Zombies are overdone. It was pretty fun to see that some of the authors that influenced me as a pre-teen (Ann M. Martin, R.L. Stein) are still being read today.

So, do you have any school visit questions for me? Ask away!


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