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.
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:
- 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.
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 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!