The job title for writers is a bit misleading.
You’d think the majority of the job would be writing, but it’s a pretty even split between writing and promotion. After I finished writing my first book, I dreaded the promotion side of things. Not only was I uncertain where to begin, but I also wasn’t looking forward to the social side of being an author. I was perfectly happy to stick to the keyboard.
Then I started doing classroom visits. Suddenly the social side of writing wasn’t so bad.
Classroom visits are great for children’s authors on multiple levels. For one thing, it puts us face to face with our audience and gives us valuable insights. We get to see firsthand what makes kids laugh, what they’re interested in, and what they’re looking for in books.
Last week I made two visits to McKinley Elementary School in Ottawa. I had particular chemistry with the fourth-grade class I visited, which included many avid readers and writers. During the question and answer session after the presentation, one student asked me to name my favorite book. After I named a few of mine, they shared several of their favorites as well. (I especially enjoyed the kids who prefaced their response with, “You ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO read this book …”)
School visits also offer the benefit of being an ego boost. One McKinley fourth-grader proudly displayed the “book box” she made for “Sarah & Katy and the Book of Blank.” It was a humbling moment to see a school project based on one of my books.
The project required students to decorate a box themed to the books they read, then fill it with items related to the book. Some of the items in her box included a bottle of sand to signify the quicksand the Narrator sank into, and a paper airplane to symbolize the one at the end of the book.
A pattern has developed during classroom visits, and it has become my favorite moment of each presentation. At the end of every visit, before I pack my bags, a cluster of students builds around me. Usually the group consists of four to seven students who are eager to squeeze in a couple of last questions or share anecdotes of their own. During the last two visits, the kids who gathered ’round were eager to share their own story ideas and writing experiences.
There’s nothing quite like the eager excitement of children with new ideas to share.
There’s also no better audience than young readers. The excitement they show is genuine and heartfelt and endearing. Classroom visits re-energize me to write every time I start to question myself as a writer. Meeting the readers reminds me who I’m writing for and why.
And for the times in between school visits, the kids make sure to send me home with mementos to decorate my writing space and serve as a reminder of them.