Writers visit schools to give talks and lead workshops for a number of reasons: as a side hustle to supplement their income, as another way to sell their books, and as an opportunity to hone their public speaking skills. .
ArtsHub interviewed three authors about their experiences, including tips for the first-time lecturer in school, as well as what a booking agency looks for before sending writers and illustrators to class.
Ailsa Wild, who wrote the popular Taylor Squishy series, says what she does is often dictated by the schools themselves. “I often read an excerpt from something I’ve written – most children always like to have it read to them and it gives them an idea of who I am and what I do.”
“I have a 10-minute PowerPoint where I go over my process and show messy drafts and edits, along with images of some moments in my life that inspired my stories. Then I often co-create a story with the group. My favorite thing is having a room of kids throwing ideas at me while I scribble messy notes on a whiteboard and then tell them their own ridiculous story,” a- she declared.
Christine Keighery, who writes under the pseudonym Chrissie Perry for her come on girl series, focuses on motivating children to create interesting characters.
“There seems to be a lack in existing programs, which otherwise focus on ‘rocket beginnings’ and ‘explosive endings.’ explained Keighery.
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Like Wild and Keighery, Mick Elliot first began his author tours to capitalize on the interest generated by his first middle-level book, The Turners.
“I cover a lot of topics ranging from what it’s like to work as a book and TV writer, how I come up with stories and characters and also some of my influences. I’ll usually do a short read of one of my books and I will often do an illustration demo,” he said.
“I try to make the sessions as interactive and entertaining as possible. I’m not here to teach them, but to engage and excite them about reading and storytelling. So I have a structure for my talks that I can change on the fly if the kids are really interested in a particular topic, or if they get a little restless I can move on to the next one.
What are the benefits of speaking to a younger audience?
Elliott noted, “Children of primary school age are a really enthusiastic audience. They are so grateful to be entertained and engaged. And they like to hear funny stories. For many students, this is the first time they see an author in real life.
Wild added: ‘The young children haven’t had their creativity hammered so making a story with them is a really joyful and raucous explosion of ideas and ridicule and I get so much fun from that process. I like to say that they are storytellers.
Keighery agreed, adding: ‘With children, you have to be reactive. A class level does not always correspond to a skill level. I have a number of activities with me, so if one isn’t working I can move on to a more appropriate activity.
‘But – children are brilliant. They are funny and want to be involved. Although it can be exhausting to be so ‘active’ and pique their interest, I rarely get nervous talking to kids because they are non-judgmental,” she said.
Tips for talking to kids at school
Wild advised: “Ask kids questions – they’re smart, and the more interactive your conversation, the more engaged they’ll be. Whole sections of my author speeches tell me: “Who knows what my work is? What does “author” really mean? How long do you think this part of the process took me? Once I’m done with my first draft, I’m done and my editor says it’s perfect, right? Is this what you think is happening?
Elliott emphasized that “the most important thing is to remember that students want to hear what you have to say. They are happy to see you! You took them out of class for an hour so there’s already a lot of goodwill before you even say anything.
“It’s really handy to have props that can also inspire your speech.” For example when I talk about my series The Turners – which is about a teenager who accidentally discovers that he can transform into an animal – I often bring stuffed animals as visuals. My favorite is a giant Komodo dragon. I also have a massive tarantula that always gets a great response.
Use visuals! Some PowerPoint or Canva slides can really help keep the audience engaged and can be used as visual cues for yourself during the lecture. Remember that you are addressing the most visually literate generation in human history, so they will appreciate your use of slides and images.
Author and illustrator, Mick Elliott
“But, always check the technical setup of the school in advance. I always bring my laptop along with a variety of cables and also a USB backup of my presentation, just in case,” Elliott added.
Get your own “clicker” too. They mean you can control the speed of your slides without having to be near the school computer.
“And be ready for anything. I’ve been asked so many fun questions over the years by curious kids, including “Are you rich?” Are you famous? “, he added.
Keighery does a lot of role-playing with dialogue from his books. ‘Present sessions where children can be actively involved. It should be fun and different from regular class sessions,” she suggested.
What is the booking agency looking for?
ArtsHub also reached out to Christina Cox of speaking agency Booked out, an organization that handles the paperwork (logistics, marketing, billing) of sending authors and illustrators to schools, and asked her what they were looking for when accepting authors. The agency currently has around 100 names on its list.
Cox acknowledged that writers aren’t meant to be performers, but reiterated that preparation and enthusiasm are key, and trust can be built over time.
“We are looking for speakers who have thought through their sessions and understand why a school might want to book them. Do you offer fun and informative sessions that allow students to take a break from their usual classes? Is your book about the program or something about your work that draws on the themes of the program? she explained.
“Speakers who offer a range of lectures, writing or illustration workshops and residencies are very easy to recommend to clients. For example, poets who can host a poetry slam are very popular with our customers! »
Keighery sums up the takeaway message from speaking in schools. The ultimate reminder, she said, is simply for authors “to promote a love of books and of reading.”