This week I had two wonderful opportunities to talk to kids about my books and being an author. In all my dreams of making it big and whatnot (ha), I have never really thought much about interacting with my audiences. If I ever think about it at all, it’s usually about book signings and how miserable they are if no one shows up to buy the books.
Despite not having a household name or a bestseller under my belt, I was chosen to speak at two schools. One was a preschool, the other a junior high school – quite a difference. It just so happens that I write for both age groups.
Pre-school, I figured, would be easy. I’m most comfortable with this age because 1. they’re a lot smaller than me; 2. they’re still huggable; and 3. I teach that age all the time. I knew pretty much what to expect when walking in. They might be unruly, and I may not be able to understand everything they say, but at the end of the day, they think people who write books are cool. Plus, I did this event with my co-author and friend Karen Saltmarsh, and we ad-libbed a very over-the-top version of the moment we decided to write a book together. Even the adults loved it.
Karen and I wrote a non-fiction book for ages K through 12. It’s not a sit-down-and-read-it-during-circle-time kind of book; it’s all about encouraging the creative writing spark to thrive and spread. And even though I wasn’t sure if the older preschoolers would get it, the four- and five-year-olds we visited wanted to write their own books right then and there. Then I read my book to them, and they were the perfect audience. Even the little three-year-olds listened and interacted with me. I left feeling energized and wondering why I don’t do more of this kind of thing.
As for the junior high, it was their literacy week. They had a book fair and everything, and I was the guest author. Kids who were interested in talking to me spent their lunch period in the library, listening to this nothing author talk about books and the writing/publishing process. I’d had it on my calendar for a couple months, and every time I thought about it, I reminded myself that there was no reason to worry yet. Just save that for the night before, and go about life as normal.
Of course, I was still nervous. Not incapacitated or sick to my stomach, but it was the kind of thing I couldn’t dwell on much because then it would make me sick. Despite writing for this age, I don’t spend all that much time with 12- to 14-year-olds. To be honest, when I was that age, I didn’t want to be that age. I interact with them from afar, usually from the pages of adolescent fiction.
I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised when the kids were very receptive to what I had to say. They loved it when I talked to them about how they can publish books on-demand (and without waiting for a major publishing house to discover them). And when we talked about the books (and books-made-movies) that we like to read, I had a wonderful moment of wow-we-actually-get-each-other. They were even polite enough to listen to me read my children’s book, although the reactions (as expected) were much different than what I get from little kids.
There weren’t many silences at all – and when there were, it was because the kids were nervous about talking to me. Afterward, when we had some one-on-one time, several kids hung around long enough that they were late to their next class; we could’ve talked all day. In fact, I wished that they didn’t have to go so soon.
Two completely different groups of kids, two completely different situations, two great experiences. I still don’t know if my books will ever attract the interest of a so-called “real” publisher or any of those lists that seem to matter so much. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t care. But still, what I found was respect and joy – and gratitude for myself that I haven’t given up, that I keep writing when publishing and promotion are so difficult. I’m doing what I love, and it turns out that part of what this introverted author loves is spending time with her audiences.
Check out my children’s book Hero here.