Part of the How They Do It Series
JH: One of my favorite things to do as an author is school visits. It's a blast chatting with younger readers (especially for a middle-grade author like myself), and getting them excited about reading. But almost any author can do a school visit and talk about books, writing, and publishing. Today, Scott Reintgen returns to the lecture hall to share some excellent tips of having a successful school visit. Scott is also joining the Fiction University faculty in 2017, so look for his articles the second Tuesday of every month.
Scott is the author of a science fiction trilogy that is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. The first book in his series, NYXIA, releases next fall. It features a group of ten teenagers who are offered million dollar contracts to go into space. As they prepare to launch, however, the contestants are informed the offered millions are not guaranteed. Their flight functions as a competition. Glory must be earned, it must be won, it must be taken. Emmett and the other contestants quickly discover one, undeniable truth: every life has a price.
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Take it away Scott...
One thing every author wants: to get our book in the minds and hands of more readers. Most of us are more comfortable with the digital forms of advertising. Pay some money, click a few buttons, and send a few emails. But there are opportunities to log facetime with our potential readers that shouldn’t be ignored. One of the best ways that I’ve found is through school visits.
As a former educator, I’ve spent the last eight years speaking in front of teenagers. I know that these engagements are on the radars of many writers. Below, I’ve written up some informational tips about the process, from touching base with teachers to getting your book in the hands of young readers. I hope you’ll find these ten tips helpful:
1. Getting in touch.
A lot of people just want to know how to make first contact. Research is required. I have a network in place already (as I was a teacher), but most of the time I’m reaching out to new schools. My usual route is visiting the school website. I find the email address of the English department chair and the emails of the school’s librarians. I’ve got a “form” email that is short, effective. Remember that teachers have very hectic email accounts. You want to avoid the overload, in-your-face email. Mine is about two paragraphs long. I usually share a few things:
a. Who am I? Why should they want me to talk to their students?
b. What can they expect? What is the format of visit?
c. Resources and materials for them to choose from.
2. Make it easy on the teacher.
Right now, most of my talks focus on individual class sessions. I have prepared six different mini-lessons (Example: Opening Image Exercise). I’ve formatted these so they are easy to copy. Never more than a front and back one-pager. I also have a half-sheet document that introduces me. One side has my book summary, contact info, etc. The other side has an excerpt from my first book. I make it very clear that the teacher simply needs to provide copies for me. They don’t have to do any other actual work besides choosing which lesson fits their class best.
3. Find a format that works.
My lessons run about an hour and fifteen minutes. In our district, that’s almost a full class period. There’s no one size fits all. Figure out what works best for you. My format:
Introduction – I describe my book, share funny stories about becoming a writer, and try to make the students laugh a lot.
Question and Answer – Request that the teacher have every student come up with five questions to ask an author. Request that they have those out when you come in. Q and A is super awkward if the three kids ask a question and then you stare at each other.
Mini-Lessons – Remember this is not time for a lecture. That might work at the collegiate level, but you’ve already been talking at the students for about 20 minutes by now. This activity should get them doing some writing, or discussion in groups. Something that breaks the dynamic of you speaking and them listening.
Final Questions/Message/Info- This varies. Sometimes the lesson excites students and they have all kinds of new questions they were too shy to ask before. Sometimes I deliver a standard, prepared message about being the best WHATEVER you want to be.
4. Invite their interests into the process.
During my typical mini-lesson, students do some writing. I always invite them to share, but I also ask them to say their name and what kinds of stories they write. Engagement rises when someone is given ownership.
5. If possible, be funny.
I know this isn’t everyone’s bag… but I get silly and stupid up in front of teenagers. Sometimes the jokes don’t work. Sometimes they’re huge hits. I’ve noticed the number one correlation, though, with students remembering me or following up with me on social media is humor. The second is the desire for me to read their work.
6. Talk to and engage with the teacher.
They’re the one who might remind students of your book. They’re the one who you’ll want to follow up with the next time you come in. Do they write? What kind of stuff do they like to read? Are they having a good semester? It helps to build rapport for ongoing relationships. They teach 120 students every semester. Those students might benefit from your books!
7. Repetition is your friend.
I’ve taught a lesson called Gardeners vs. Architects about 30 times now. It’s pretty old to me… but it works and students really respond to it. So I get over my slight boredom because it makes my life easier and it engages students.
8. Sneak your own work in.
The example writing in most of my mini-lessons are mostly from my book or future books. First, it’s a great way to showcase your writing. Second, it’s a great way to praise how they take your ideas and make them your own.
9. Find ways to engage the whole class.
You know what kind of personality you have and what kind of writing and all of that. If you know that your style misses a few student groups, consider adjusting some of your examples and stories to reach other folks. I realized early on that my entire talk misses out on engaging athletes. I changed that by adding an example to one of my normal stories that touches on basketball. It’s simple, but it works.
10. Bring water.
Just trust me on this one.
Again, these are my personal guideposts. Take whatever works for you. Leave what doesn’t. Always remember that students need you. There’s so much to be gained when creators engage with young students and remind them about the creative side of life. And you might just sell a few more copies in the process. Good luck and have fun!
About Nyxia (to be published in 2017)
Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why Babel recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family, forever. As he and nine other teenagers wormhole their way through space, Emmett discovers the promised millions aren’t a guarantee. Each recruit must earn the right to travel down to Eden. There, Babel will use them to mine a substance that’s quietly become the most valuable in the world. Emmett’s year-long flight will act as a competition. Every training session is measured, every point matters, and Emmett will do anything to win. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. Secrets about the volatile substance they’re hoping to mine, about the reclusive humanoids already living on Eden, and about their true intentions for the kids that don’t win their competition. As Emmett uncovers the truth, he realizes he’s not fighting for wealth or glory, he’s fighting for his life.