Psychology of the Villain

Villains. We love to hate them, and at times hate to find we love them. Last Tuesday’s Aussie Writers post looked at the possible motivations behind a villain’s actions, but what in their psyche allows them to make the choices that lead to these villainous deeds? To help me answer this question, I thought I better enlist an expert, so I teamed up with PsychWriter author, Tamar Sloan, to explore a villain’s psychology.

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A complex villain in most books isn’t your run of the mill sociopath with fifteen bodies in their basement. Yes, these individuals exist. We’ve seen the documentaries and read the books about them, but the broken characters we love to hate have greater depth than that. The villain of our masterpiece is usually a wounded human with the capacity for empathy, guilt and remorse. A human who makes choices that violate ethical, legal and moral boundaries.

What ultimately makes them a villain is that they reach a point where they’re okay with their choice, maybe even delight in it, and it’s the progression to this point that is valuable to tease out as a writer. Either in the planning or in the aftermath, your villain moves through a series of psychological steps that allows them to live with their choices and sleep the sleep of the guilt-free (or mostly guilt-free). Capture this process in your book and you’ve got a realistic, authentic villain your readers are going to be fascinated by, and possibly even understand on some primal, psychological level.

So what is this psychological, possibly subconscious, process your villain goes through before or after their villainous deeds?

The starting point is often a discrepancy between your villain’s beliefs and their behaviour. We each hold many beliefs and thoughts about the world and ourselves. Most of the time these beliefs, and the choices we make, coexist happily in the folds of our grey matter. Sometimes though, discrepancies arise. Like when we eat chocolate cake even though we know we should be dieting. Like saying family comes first, but then having an affair. Or like saying we value humanity, and then sacrificing thousands in the name of a cause.

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Image credit: Ryan McGuire http://www.gratisography.com

When our beliefs and behaviour clash we become uncomfortable. Nervous. Distressed. And if there’s one thing our brain doesn’t like, and has evolved to avoid, it’s discomfort. So it will do what it needs to do to achieve harmony and balance. Since the behaviour has usually already happened, or is committed to happening, the brain needs to do some cognitive gymnastics, and your villain will probably do one or more of the following:

  1. Change their belief: The ‘I don’t really need to be on a diet’ reasoning.

Saruman in the classic Lord of the Rings uses such reasoning. Originally a powerful Istari entrusted with guarding Middle Earth like Gandalf, Saruman’s belief—and allegiance—changes when he comes to believe that Sauron’s victory can’t be avoided. His love of power drives him to abandon his order and convinces him that he’s better off on the side of evil.

  1. Minimise their behaviour and how they perceive it: The ‘I hardly ate any chocolate cake at all’ reasoning.

From Middle Earth to Creekwood High and Martin Addison in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It’s not often the class clown is written as the villain, but when Martin stumbles on a personal email of Simon’s, he threatens to out him unless he helps Martin get close to Simon’s friend, Abby. When Simon asks if Martin is actually going to make him do this, Martin deftly minimises his behaviour:

‘Make you? Come on. It’s not like that … It’s not like anything … I was just thinking you would want to help me here.’

  1. Rationalise their behaviour: the ‘Chocolate cake is a good source of calcium’ reasoning.

The Hunger Games series offers us a slow-boil villain in President Alma Coin. She is all about freeing Panem and making it a better place, but her desire to take President Snow’s place as ruler at any cost, including killing Katniss’ sister, Prim, reveals her for the power hungry sociopath that she really is. Whether an act or her true belief, Alma Coin’s ‘for the greater good’ reasoning continues to the very end:

‘Today, the greatest friend to revolution will fire the shot to end all wars. May her arrow signify the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era.’

  1. Reduce perceived choice: the ‘I didn’t have a choice. It would have been rude not to eat it …’ reasoning.

Twilight’s Aro is a villain with very clear cut, black and white principles. His primary objective as head of the Volturi coven is to keep the existence of their kind hidden. When it’s rumoured that Bella and Edward have created an immortal child, Aro argues he ‘has no choice’ but to destroy the infant who poses a threat of exposure for the vampires. Only when Aro sees a vision of his own death as a result of him trying to kill the child does he back down and let her live. Even a vampire sleeps easier at night when he’s convinced himself he had no choice.

Disclaimer: no chocolate cake was harmed in the writing of this article! Well, not a lot of it anyway, and our hands were tied. We had to eat it … for research purposes.

About the author:

Tamar Profile Photo

Tamar really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination for psychology. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both. Tamar is the author of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers.

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Tamar is also a passionate writer of young adult stories of finding love and life beyond your comfort zone. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com

 

 

 


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Tell Me Why? Villainous Motivations

As readers we are eternally curious about the characters who populate stories. But it’s not the surface stuff that intrigues us, is it? It’s the stuff underneath that has moulded them, formed their perspectives – the stuff that drives them. These deeply buried things are what makes a character intriguing.

Villains by definition often top that ‘intriguing character’ list.

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Villains do bad things and sure, we want to know ‘who?’ and ‘how?’ but that fades to insignificance beside the question ‘why?’. Why did he poison the cat? Why did she try to destroy Anya’s reputation? Why is he determined to terrify her to the point that she believes she’s insane? The answers to those questions are what will allow us readers to sleep well after closing the last page. We will be sated, satisfied, content.

So, is it ever enough for an author to brush that question away with a cavalier: ‘He/she is just a bad person’?

Short answer? No. Long answer? Never, nil, nada. Hardly ever. 🙂 

Why? (See? You wanted to know ‘why?’ 😉 ). Short answer: Readers want more. They’ll feel cheated. And, just quietly, be really, really ticked off with the author.

villain 3Long answer: True psychopaths are the scariest people ever. And yes, successful books have been written featuring them. But, at the risk of lighting a fuse under any psychopaths reading this, in the literary sense they’re kind of boring. Kill or torture for the sake of killing or torturing? Not going to hold my attention for long. If I’m not wondering ‘why’ then I’m out. You see, very few people are born bad, so the whole psychopath thing can often be a bit unrealistic and harder for the reader to relate. In fact studies back from the 1980s to the present all agree that a fair equation is that around 1% of western world people are true psychopaths – people who act without empathy or conscience.

Okay, so a more favourable equation would be nil%, but I’ll still take 1% over anything higher. Relatively speaking, it’s a low number. (Actually it’s terrifying if I say it in numbers – but it IS low really. Like 13 million psychopaths in 1.3 billion people. Whaaat!!! No, wait. Honestly, rest assured, despite that scary figure you’re unlikely to meet one walking down the street today. Or maybe not. Feeling lucky? Um, excuse me while I just nip out & lock my doors.)

So, what about all the other people – let’s call them villains –  who continue to star in our villain 2news reports or populate our gaols?  The non psychopaths. These people weren’t born bad. For the vast majority, things happened in their lives that affected their perspective and culminated in poorly made decisions to cause havoc and break laws (sociopaths). Or regular people who’ve got some kind of issue that burns them or has turned them.  These ‘things’ are called motivations. I.e,  a motive or reason for their decisions or behaviour.

Like everything else in life, villains come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, they come in all manner of villainy from the sneaky troublemaker to the morally bankrupt multi murderer/serial killer. Some are charming (in their own evil way). Some slip into the shadowy background and exist in that disregarded no man’s land ‘under the radar’. And some will make our skin crawl. As authors and readers, we’ve met them all because fiction has an unfathomably higher percentage of villains of all kinds than real life. Thank goodness, yeah?

To recap that: In real life, ordinary people will do bad things. Just as in fiction, ordinary people will do bad things. The one thing these non psychopathic villains have in common is motivation; the reason that drives their actions.

Let’s look at some. Caveat: The list below is not comprehensive and there are heaps of lists on the net. However these are all motivations – and all open to your own twists and interpretation –  that I have either used or read, where used successfully, in YA novels.

  • Romance/jealousy.
  • Revenge for a perceived injustice
  • Repayment of past treatment.
  • Desperation
  • Peer acceptance
  • Peer domination
  • Need for Power (based on villains own suppressed power by others in his life)
  • Rivalry
  • Grief/Loss
  • Fear of Discovery
  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Greed

Don’t forget your villain can also have noble motivations – or motivations that began as noble. Most superhero villains were once good guys with noble motivations who somehow got off track. A villain with a noble/likeable side is most intriguing.

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Mix up your villains motivations to add more interest. Maybe your villain can’t help being a villain because he’s trapped?

Motivations are one of the major keystones to your story. They:

  • Reveal & distinguish character
  • Drive plot
  • Build drama
  • Give your story authenticity
  • Provide the impetus for character growth arc.

Motivations apply to every character, not just the villain. They drive the story. Dare I say they are the story. Every action and every reaction of your characters will be the result of their reasoning. And all reasoning is tempered by motivation.

Good Luck and Happy villaining!

kaz-profiles-022Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.

5 tips for a memorable villain

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking about the bad guys of the story–the villains.

When it comes to writing villains, it can be easy to fall into some bad habits. Here are my top tips for creating a worthy opponent to your fabulous lead character:

  1. Give the villain strong motivation: Why is your bad character a bad character? Sure, you could fall into the all-too-easy “because he/she is just evil”, but how realistic is that? There are true psychopaths in life, but truly memorable villains tend to have reasons for their bad behaviour. Did they suffer during their childhood? Perhaps they don’t have a support network and have battled mental health? Or perhaps again, they’re not really a bad person, simply someone who wants something that puts them at direct odds with your protagonist? Whatever the reason, make it clear to help enhance your villain as a character and make him or her a real person/creature.
  2. Give him or her at least one redeeming quality: Just like your villain should have a reason for his or her bad-assery, he or she should also have at least one redeeming quality. How many people do you know without at least one positive personality trait? Whether you only give us a glimpse of this or you show the quality in its full glory, this can make your villain not just lifelike, but possibly the tiniest bit likeable, creating a very memorable villain indeed.

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    Is your villain a real person or just a shadow in the dark? Photo: Stock.Adobe.com

  3. Avoid the villain reveal: We’ve all seen it. It’s the climax of the story. The bad guy has the good guy trapped, tied up in rope, and he’s about to slit our hero’s throat! Calamity! The end is in sight!
    And what better thing to do when you have the hero completely in your clutches, ready to die a slow and painful death, than launch into a monologue, explaining your motivation to date and exactly why you did what you did? This is a cliched action performed by many villains, and outside of scenes in Inspector Gadget (where they also use the infamous “I’ll get you next time, Gadget” line) I don’t think it flies. It’s not realistic. And not only that, but there’s no motivation for the villain to tell the hero all that information, making the villain less life-like and therefore less scary in a time when you want him to appear all powerful and ferocious.
  4. Offer up a worthy opponent: Is the villain in your story all powerful, the strongest man in the universe–but a bit low in brainpower? Often, we can get carried away creating a heap of braun to combat our good guys and leaving our villains lacking in one major department–mental strength. This doesn’t just apply to villains involved in a physical showdown with our hero–whether your bad guy is a land developer with cold, hard cash to your hero’s tree hugger, or an opponent vying for a job at the same company, fighting your hero by dismantling his or her computer and leaving her stranded at the copy machine, you want to make sure your villain has the smarts to help create believable and truly deep drama.
    Yes, some villains are perhaps unintelligent, bumbling idiots. Yes, these sort of people do exist in real life. Do they make a worthy opponent for your fabulous lead character, however? And are they helping to create the maximum amount of tension between your hero and themselves by giving readers the notion that perhaps they could win? I don’t think so.
  5. Bring the villain into your home: Bringing your villain into the “safe” place of the hero can up the tension and raise the stakes. This can work in multiple ways: you can physically bring the villain into your hero’s home ground, or you can take someone close to your hero and turn them into the antagonist. This is particularly useful in contemporary reads. Think of things like the child putting the mother in the nursing home; the parents telling the child they can’t run riot in the rain late at night; a loved one not believing the hero when he or she tells about the fantastical thing he or she has seen. Having someone close to your hero display villainous traits or become a villain by offering an opposing viewpoint he or she feels passionately about can sometimes result in the most tension-filled novel of all.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel, as well as an editor of fiction. You can get in touch with her via her website or Facebook.

Are villains just misunderstood heroes?

Welcome to May, lovely readers, and welcome to a new theme here on AO&R. This month we’ve decided to take on villains and I’m going to kick that off with a chat about the awesome craze of villains getting their own story.

We all know that any good villain is just a poor misunderstood soul, right? Bad guys (Dr Evil excepted) don’t think they’re the bad guy. They have their own agenda, which they run to because they believe it’s right. All of their dastardly actions have reasons and these baddies are just people, merely heroes flipped on their heads so that they’re the only ones who think of themselves as heroes. But what if we flipped it back the other way, looking at the story from a whole different angle? What if the villain was actually a hero? Great idea! Let’s take a look how easy it is to turn things around.

(spoiler alert for Wicked, Maleficent, and Jesus Christ Superstar)

The Wicked Witch of the West is a mean, green hag who chases poor Dorothy across Oz until she catches the young girl, who she then imprisons before trying to steal the child’s magical shoes. Yep, she’s a villain alright. But … what if the Witch, let’s call her Elphaba, enchanted a pair of beautiful ruby slippers for her disabled sister, allowing the other woman to walk. Amazing! In blew a whole house and landed on Elphaba’s beloved sister, squashing her to death and leaving her red shoes free for the taking by a little girl. Suddenly our witch doesn’t sound so horrid.

The Wicked Witch of the West as portrayed in the Wizard of Oz.

Then there’s Maleficent, the horrible witch (there’s that word again) who curses Princess Auroa, so that a pinprick to her finger after she turns sixteen will send her into a deep slumber. Wow, these witches sure are mean! But … what if Maleficent was actually a poor wronged soul, who’d been betrayed by her one true love in the name of fear and personal advancement? Would she be so horrid then or would we feel a little sorry for her?

Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Photo credit https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32836217

 

Then there’s Judas, who betrayed Jesus by dobbing him in to Herod ultimately leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. What if that same man was worried about his friend’s recent actions and only went to the king because he feared his mate was now at risk of doing harm instead of the good they’d always preached together? Would we then have some understanding for misunderstood Judas?

Yes, I am taking all of my references from musicals / Disney. Thanks for noticing. 🙂

My point is this: a good hero needs a goal; something they want to achieve. And to make this believable they need a motivation for reaching the goal. If we give these attributes to our villains too then they become the hero of their own stories.

If you’re interested in reading books that turn villains upside down I recommend; Fairest by Marissa Meyer: A story from the perspective of Snow White’s evil stepmother. Never Never by Brianna Shrum: A Peter Pan retelling from Hook’s perspective. The Mists of Avalon: A King Arthur retelling from Morgaine (and some others) perspective.

Have you read any books that make the reader view a villain as a hero?


Stacey Nash loves musicals almost as much as she loves a good villain. She’s even written a few herself. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries not to only talk about bad guys and broadway), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

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Five totally legit outside-the-box ways to market your book

This month at Aussie Owned we’ve been talking marketing. The others have written excellent posts covering everything from school visits and marketing plans to Facebook advertising and ways to go viral. Their posts have been comprehensive and, if you’ve missed them, are definitely worth a read. They’ve given me a ton of ideas.

They’ve also meant that I, as the person posting last in the month, have had to really rummage around in the old brainpan for other ideas. Luckily, I have huge ideas. The very best. (I am also drafting this on cold and flu medication, so … there’s that.)

Here are my five top totally legit ways to market your book (that the others haven’t already covered).

Book cover tattoos

Get a tattoo of your book cover somewhere visible on your body (or — with their consent — on someone else’s). Your upper arm would be a good spot for a summer release tattoo, but for winter releases I’m afraid it will have to be your forehead or cheeks, especially if you live somewhere cold. Don’t forget to leave space on the ol’ noggin for the next book in the series.

As an alternative, tattoo your website URL there instead. This is a good alternative for those planning a LOT of books. Just make sure you don’t let the domain name expire.

Sky writing

Sky writing — the scrawling across the sky of words by an aeroplane — is limited to, well, words. You won’t be able to emblazon your book cover across the heavens or anything. Think of what you’d put into a 140-character tweet and then go with that. For example:

Hot new urban fantasy <YOUR TITLE> out now! My mum gave it five stars! #aussie #ebookonly <YOURURL.COM>

Sky writing is about as temporary as a tweet is, and is a LOT more expensive. But you love your book baby, right? Besides, you will generate enough buzz that people will be talking about it for days. Or maybe minutes? Who knows?

Stock from pexels.com

Convince your friend to name their newborn after your main character

Speaking of book babies…

This idea works particularly well if you’re writing in a speculative fiction field where the names are made up, such as sci-fi or high fantasy. If your main character is an “Isla”, like mine, that isn’t quite as distinctive and will generate less word of mouth. (“Melaina” is more unusual, but people keep misreading it as “Melania” these days. Sigh.) It works even better if your friend’s child is the first one born in the new year or on Mother’s Day — or if they were born in the back of the car on the side of a freeway. The newspapers LOVE to write a heartwarming story about those kids.

Look at all the babies out there named Bella and Edward. It worked for Stephanie Meyer.

Serialise your book on Twitter (or in chalk graffiti)

This idea has the benefit of being free, if somewhat time-consuming. I just did the maths, and my Lucid Dreaming — which is a total of 407,501 characters (including spaces) would require 2911 tweets. And that’s if I don’t include any hashtags or links.

Unlike a lot of marketing ideas, this one has LEGS. That’s months or years of fresh content, and people will get so impatient to find out how the story (or sentence) ends that they will totes buy your book.

As an alternative for those who don’t like Twitter, consider serialising your book in chalk graffiti at the local pedestrian mall. I’d suggest using chalk rather than anything permanent as you can reuse the same space every time it rains. Besides, you don’t want to do anything illegal, right?

Sneak your book into the local bookstore; leave a fake “staff picks” five-star review

There are some drawbacks to this idea: if the bookstore then sells your book, you won’t see any money for it (unless you lurk near the till and wait to demand your cut, which can be … tricky). But this is about raising customers’ awareness of your book, right? And what gets more notice than a jaunty little note praising a particular work? I know I always read those things!

For bonus points, take a photo of the lovely review and share it on all your social media platforms so your grandma can “like” it. Maybe then she’ll forgive you for the facial tattoo.

Leave your other ideas in the comments

Book marketing is a tricky business, and the book community is a supportive place that loves to share its ideas. In that spirit, if you have any other totally legit, legal ways to market your book, please leave a comment!


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer who doesn’t actually endorse any of the above ideas. Tattoos are kind of permanent, you guys, and book covers can change over time, what with new editions or changes in publisher. 

Still, if you want one, you do you!

Five Book Marketing Tips You Can Try Today

We’re talking marketing for April and I immediately panicked and flailed. Then, I decided to consult an expert. When I think of YA authors who’ve done marketing well from the ground floor, I think of THE YA GIRL, Jennifer Bardsley.

I asked her for her 5 best Marketing tips… And as luck would have it, she was happy to share!

Five Book Marketing Tips You Can Try Today By Jennifer Bardsley
It would be fun to have a bank account stashed with cash, a nanny at the ready, and a private jet to shuttle me off to book conferences all over the world, but the reality is that when it comes to marketing my books, I need to concentrate on free things I can do on my phone while my kids are taking swimming lessons. Here are five strategies I’ve learned to help connect my books with readers:

Start a Facebook Page
Here’s how.
Post a couple of times a day.
Be brief and witty.
Provide entertainment and encouragement.
Don’t constantly sell yourself or your book.
Only do a “buy my book post” once every twentieth post.
Respond to every comment.
See my article in SCWBI: Tips for Building up your Facebook Author Page.
Read my article for Adventures in YA Publishing Facebook Rules are a Must Read for Authors.
Join the Bookstagram Community on Instagram
Heart as many posts as possible.
Leave as many comments as possible.
When a new account follows you, give that person lots of hearts.
Tag your location in every picture.
Watch for new hashtag trends.
Don’t share another account’s photo without permission!!!!!!!!
Read my article for Adventures in YA Publishing: Great tips for writers using Instagram.

 

Join the #YAlit Community on Twitter
Post a few times a day.
Retweet to make friends.
Only use two or three hashtags.
Organize your followers in lists.
Uses lists to engage with targeted audiences.
Use Manage Flitter to unfollow people who don’t follow you back.

Build a Newsletter Mailing List
Have a sign up form on your website.
Include a sign up at the back of your book.
Run a Rafflecopter to encourage subscribers.
Stay with MailChimp until you hit 2,000 followers.
Switch to Mailer Lite when your list grows beyond 2,000, because it’s cheaper.
Shoot for a 50% open rate.

JB

 

About the Author
Jennifer Bardsley writes the column “I Brake for Moms” for The Everett Daily Herald. Her novel “Genesis Girl” debuted in 2016 from Month9Books, and the sequel “Damaged Goods” came out in 2017. “Genesis Girl” is about a teenager who has never been on the Internet. Jennifer however, is on the web all the time as “The YA Gal” with over 21,000 followers on Facebook, 19,000 followers on Instagram, and 11,000 followers on Twitter. Jennifer is a member of SCBWI, The Sweet Sixteens debut author group, and is founder of Sixteen To Read. An alumna of Stanford University, Jennifer lives near Seattle in the United States of America.

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Website Twitter Instagram Facebook Goodreads

 

I love these tips and can’t wait to try them out! Thanks so much for visiting today!!

🙂

Beck

beck nicholas_ bec sampson

I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

7 Tips to Ace Your School Author Visit

April has seen Aussie Owned and Read talk about all things marketing. So far, the focus has been on online marketing strategies, but today I’d like to take a look at a face-to-face strategy particularly useful for YA authors – school visits.

IMG_3261 by Kian McKellar via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qzBhBH

Image by Kian McKellar Flickr CC

“Word of mouth is the best kind of marketing there is”

In my role as a high-school teacher librarian I have been lucky enough to attend numerous school author visits. Authors LOVE to talk about their books, BUT there’s no quicker way to send a class of teens into a coma than to wax lyrical about every detail of your publication journey and current book baby. There’s a good chance most of your audience haven’t even read your book, so your mission is to make your story sparkle brighter than Edward Cullen on a cloudless midsummer scorcher and give them good reason to give up six to nine hours of watching funny cat videos on YouTube to want to read it.

So, how do you grab their attention, you ask?

Make connections. Establishing a relevant context for students by drawing connections between your experience and the students’ can leave them with a more rewarding experience. Try these ideas:

1. Tie into the syllabus content covered in class. Speak to the group’s teachers / teacher librarian before the visit and ask about the units the class is currently studying in different subjects. You’d be surprised where you can find crossover content to help make your novel’s subject matter relevant. English, yes, but also, History, Science, PDHPE.

2. Talk about your research. High school students are familiar with different research strategies for school assignments. Ask about their surprising / funny / unexpected research experiences then tell them about yours:

  • How did you go about your research?
  • Did you go anywhere special?
  • Did you meet / interview anyone in particular?

A visiting author I once saw had a hall of ninth graders in the palm of her hand when she told them about the time she was set on fire (under controlled conditions!) in the name of research.

3. Unpack the revision process. Talking about the evolution of your manuscript and all the challenges along the way can be effective if discussed in the context of the students’ creative writing.

  • Bring visuals of marked up pages – scrawls and scribbles of red by you and suggestions by your editor.
  • Show students the different stages of editing, allowing them to see all the work that goes into the finished product. If nothing else, the English staff will love you, because you’ve vindicated them in their constant mantra of ‘writing is re-writing’.

Image by Laura Ritchie via Flickr CC

Now, all this talking is fine and good, but to make your author visit a success you’ll need to balance your gabbing with something else, namely …

Less words, more action. One repeated negative piece of feedback I hear from students and teachers is that the author spent most of the session talking at them. To mitigate your audience tuning out, try the following:

4. Break up your presentation into segments. Five to ten minute segments are best, each with a different focus but with clear transitions linking one to the next.

5. ‘Activity’ is king. Involve your audience as much as possible!

  • Got a YA fantasy involving martial arts? Have students learn some basic martial arts moves.
  • Got a YA contemporary featuring dance? Get the kids grooving with a ten second dance routine.
  • No martial arts or dancing in your novel? No problem. Pick a bunch of students to act out a short scene from your book while you read out the excerpt.

Anything that involves the audience will make for a better experience. Even something as simple as …

Props and visuals. Everyone has a dominant learning style, be it visual, kinesthetic or auditory, so it’s good to include visual and hands-on material in your author talk, such as:

6. Slide-shows.

  • If you’re reading out a passage from your novel, have a slide-show ready to help set the mood or introduce the physical setting.
  • You could show pictures (hello Pinterest!) of your ‘cast’ of characters using actors.
  • Share images or video related to your research – people, places, activities.

7. Relevant props.

  • So your novel features martial arts, but your attempt at a roundhouse kick is likely to land you in emergency? Bring in a mannequin dressed in a dobok instead and show some video footage you came across during your research.
  • Is your novel a YA historical? Try to source some replica artefacts linked to your story that students can touch and examine.

The idea is to bring alive aspects of your story world to spark your audience’s interest.

Black Beauty by Carol VanHook

Image by Carol VanHook Flickr CC

If you include props and visual media, make sure your audience has plenty of opportunity to be involved, and you draw connections between your writing and their experience, you’re set for a successful author visit.

But how exactly is one successful author visit a marketing tool, you ask? Teachers and teacher librarians have wide reaching professional networks and word of mouth is the best kind of marketing there is. One successful author visit will likely result in invites from other schools.

Let us know what has and hasn’t worked for you when visiting schools. Leave your comments below.


Kat Colmer AuthorKat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!