Posted in Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Preparation and Practice for Public Speaking

practice-615644_1280.jpgLast time I wrote about different ways of presenting:
1. A speech
2. An interview
3. A conversation
4. A reading
5. Show and tell
6. Acting it out
The most important part for any of these methods is preparation, practice, and personalization.
Prepare what you are going to say, how you’ll answer questions, the section of your book you’ll be reading, what you’ll show, what images and/or text you’ll use on a PowerPoint, what scenes you’ll act out. Whatever you plan to use, preparation is essential.
Here’s how I do it:
First, I either write an outline of what I want to talk about or create a PowerPoint which is affectively an outline. This helps me organize my talk/interview/conversation in a logical order. My outline or PP are not full sentences. Instead sections look like this:
• ATTRIBUTIONS – said, asked
• TAG LINES – She gulped her lemonade.
Or like this:
• Age I was first hooked on books
• Limited pov
These are reminders of what I want to say. Not word for word text to read aloud.
However, if I have a quote by someone I want to share, that is written out completely in my notes. E.g. “Use adverbs as if they were rationed.” -Juliet Gardiner. If I’m reading from my book, I might make enlarged copies of the pages (or retype them) so they are easier to read aloud.
Make sure your outline includes personal details. Share when/how you learned something, or why you have such and such opinion. People want to get to know you. Why you do something is interesting. What motivated you to write this particular story is interesting. People like what they perceive as secrets–those things that someone reading your book and/or bio won’t know. Let them in on some secrets.
Second, I play with my outline until I’m happy with it. If I’m doing a PowerPoint, I build it and add images, etc.
Third, I practice out loud. This is where I discover:
• Things I’ve left out or should leave out
• Awkward phrasing
• Where I need to pause or hold up a prop
• A better ordering of the subtopics
• Perhaps a better story to tell to illustrate my point
• An approximate “runtime”
During this stage I may make reminders to myself, such as smile, or pass out a handout. Note: even adults can’t listen while papers are being passed around, so don’t talk during this time. Call them back to attention when ready. During my out loud practice I may realize I’m trying to cover too much for my allotted time. Rarely do I find I have too little.
I make my changes and go over it again. This time I make sure I’m not speaking too fast. And I practice again. And again until I’m not making changes but just rehearsing. It’s not memorizing per se, but it’s definitely familiarizing. And it means I won’t be reading directly from my notes, but glancing down at them or looking at what I’ve chosen to include on the PowerPoint slide.
If I get the chance, I practice with a small audience. This person (or several people) can point out where he wants to know more, where she was confused, where he thought something was too basic, etc. Even if you receive no feedback from your audience, you’ll hear problems. If something was supposed to be funny, did your audience laugh or grin? If not, the humor is not working. Watch for expressions of boredom.
Practicing for an Interview
But how does this fit with an interview? If you ask, an interviewer can give you the questions ahead of time, or at least you’ll know what topics will be covered. Prepare answers to the exact or possible questions, such as “What are your favorite books?” or “What’s the best part of writing?.” Practice those answers until they flow off of your tongue. On the day of, if the interviewer asks a question that stumps you, use some stalling techniques to let yourself come up with an answer. E.g. “That’s a good question.” “I’ve never thought about that.” Or even “No one has ever asked that before.” If you can come up with an answer, well and good, give it. If not, there’s no shame in saying something like, “I really don’t have an answer for that.”
Practicing for Acting it Out
If you are using the “act it out” method, how are you choosing volunteers? A show of hands? The teacher selecting? Award for answering a question first? If you plan ahead, you’ll be more comfortable. Will you need/want props for “act it out?” Gather them and put in a handy container. Will you lay them all on a table ahead of time or will you be pulling them you’re your container as you go? The latter is often more affective. Write out your instructions ahead of time and practice those as well.
Microphone Handling
Will you be using a mic? If so, practice with a real one if you can. Schools, churches, and other organizations may let you try one. Here are a few basic microphone rules:
• Don’t tap a microphone to see if it is on. They usually have a light. Or you can blow across it.
• Speak into the microphone to test it.
• Hold the microphone near your mouth.
• Don’t be afraid of the microphone. If the sound is too loud in the room, whoever is controlling the speakers should turn it down versus you pulling the microphone away.
• If you get feedback, make sure you aren’t standing in front of the speakers.
• If you get popping, put the microphone below your mouth.
• Don’t freak out at the sound of your voice–it only sounds odd to you.
If you can’t practice with a real mic, at least hold something that is a similar size to your mouth when practicing. And when you arrive early, test the real mic at your venue.
Making Mistakes
Okay, I’ve prepared and practiced, but during the actual presentation I’m afraid I’ll make mistakes. Of course you will. We all do. Correct the mispronounced word and go on. Don’t anguish about it. If you leave something out, you can always say something like, “Oh, and I meant to mention earlier . . .” or “One last thought on the topic of . . .”. If you get lost, pause and say, “I’m going to check my notes and make sure I haven’t left something out.” If you get sidetracked, you can even say “where were we?” and someone will probably answer.
Remember, the audience doesn’t expect you to be perfect. What they expect is to be entertained or learn something. People like being in the know and when you tell something personal, they’ll enjoy it. Be who you are, be prepared, and practice, and I’m betting it will go well.

Posted in Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Public Speaking Phobia

cartoon-1300891_1280.jpgRecently I’ve seen a number of writers almost panicking about being asked to speak. I understand. I am an innately shy introvert. As a kid I wouldn’t call the library to see if they were open. (Obviously before internet days.) I didn’t take debate or go out for drama in high school. At church as an adult I remember reading a portion of a letter in front of the small congregation and afterwards being afraid I wouldn’t be able to return to my seat as my knees were shaking so hard.
I think we approach public speaking all wrong. We’re all storytellers. Who hasn’t been with a group of friends, or at the dinner table, and told a funny story of something that happened that day? Or when someone else tells a story of a kid/pet/work, been able to contribute a story of your own? We share what excites us, amuses us, annoys us all the time.
Think of a funny story right now and tell it! Ack. The pressure’s on. I’m writing this and I can’t even come up with one! That’s because it is a command performance. We think about public speaking as command performances. What if instead we thought of it as talking to friends? A conversation. A conversation with a focused topic.
No one knows your book(s) better than you. You know your process, your struggles, your successes, your mistakes. You know what motivated you to write. Those are things the friends in your prospective audience want to know. Those are things you can share.
“But I hate speeches!” So don’t do a speech. There are other options. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have someone interview you. Ask someone to collect questions from the audience ahead of time. Or create questions yourself. Or find a list of commonly asked author questions on the internet. In either case, take the questions, decide which ones you like and put those on your list. Order the questions in an order that makes sense to you. If there are questions that can be answered with “yes or no” mentally add “why?”
  2. Have a conversation. Ask the group a question or two. Answer too. For example, I started out writing magazine pieces, so when I went into a classroom, I asked, “Do you like to read magazines?” Of course, some of the students said yes or raised their hands. “What magazines do you like to read?” I called on specific kids. I told them magazines I like. Then I told them what I like about reading magazines. I explained the different ways magazines get their stories and articles. I might ask “What’s the difference between a story and an article?” A student or two answers. I agree. I tell them what I like to write best. I might show them some of my stories or articles. Read one. I might ask if they’ve ever gotten a grade they weren’t happy about on their writing. I tell them writers get rejections and explain how that feels like a failing grade.
  3. Do a reading from your book or a wip. Follow it up with an interview or Q&A.
  4. Do a show and tell with slides or PowerPoint. You can start with your bio. Students like seeing pictures of you when you were young, where you lived, where you write, your pets, etc. If you did research for your book, show pictures of places you went, stacks of books from the library, people you interviewed. Show them rejections. Read portions from discouraging ones and encouraging ones. Show them a stack of manuscript pages. Show them a critiqued page with writing all over it. Show them an editorial letter.
  5. Act it out. Have you ever acted out a scene from your story or done an action trying to figure out how to write it? Show the audience that process. Encourage them to try writing some action so others know what the action is. Or in a classroom have students act out various actions and see if the others can guess the action. (I’ve provided actions on strips of paper for kids to choose from.)

Wow, I’ve gone on much longer than I had intended. So next time, I’ll talk about preparation and practice.

Posted in Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Authors in the Classroom

gender-1459661_1280.pngAckk, I’ve been asked to do a school visit! What do I talk about?” Often there’s some panic or anxiety to the question.
The amazing thing is I’ve talked about the same topics and done the same writing exercises for a variety of ages for school visits. Yes, of course, the wording or detail is simpler for younger kids than for older kids; the exercises less complicated, but it’s the same material.
I like showing my first book to a group of children and asking them, “How long do you think it took since I started writing this book to when it was published?” They’ll guess a month. I point up. They guess three months, six months, a year. I keep pointing up. The students are shocked when I finally tell them seven years! I talk about why it takes so long: writing, rewriting, critiques, rewriting, submissions, waiting, rejections, acceptance, contract, editing, time for the cover to be created (or the illustrations to be done), printing. I also tell them, “No, I didn’t do the pictures.”
I’ve done the same thing with short stories. Talked about how after I wrote it, I had it critiqued (explaining what that means), rewriting, submissions, editing, time till publication. My first story for Highlights for Children took three years to be in print after I signed the contract! I’ve told them things my editor said on this short story and how I fixed the problems. In this story’s case, it took two rewrites with the editor. Since kids think writing a piece once is good enough teachers love this.
So what can YOU talk about? Here’s a list of ideas:

  • What writing the book was like.
  • When you write.
  • Where you write. (I write at home, sometimes in my pajamas, on my laptop. Or at my desktop where I stand. I like meeting other writers to write in coffee shops.)
  • What inspired you to write in general and this specific book in particular.
  • The hardest thing for you to learn about writing.
  • Number of rejections on this book.
  • If you have an agent, what that person does for you.
  • Rewrites and edits.
  • Read various drafts of a paragraph or page so they can see the difference writing makes.
  • Funny writing mistakes you’ve made.
  • Titling your book.
  • Naming your characters.
  • Why you decided to write from the viewpoint of your main character.
  • Why you included humor, or romance, or facts about science or baseball.
  • How you came up with the personality of your main character.
  • How you chose the setting for your book.
  • The unique factors of your book.
  • The skills of the main character and where you got that knowledge (experience, research, interviews).
  • Plotting your story.
  • Big problems you had writing this particular story. E.g. I couldn’t figure out how my main character was going to . . . And then . . .
  • Your favorite part of the book.
  • Read a scene from the book and ask the kids what they think might happen next. (If they haven’t read the book.)
  • Q&A – but I strongly recommend having some starter questions that are on the topic you want to discuss or having the teacher work with the kids to prepare questions ahead of time. Kids will go off topic, will make statements instead of asking questions. If they read your book ahead of time, they may have “why” questions.
  • Your education to prepare for writing, if any. Or that you attended lots of conferences and workshops, read books, etc.
  • Money! Tell students how much you earn per book or explain advances and royalties. (They’ll often think authors are rich, so you may have to put it in some kind of context.)
  • Ask them about their favorite books or authors and tell them some of yours appropriate for their age level.
  • Book genres.
  • How many copies of your books have sold and what that would look like if they were stacked or laid out end to end.
  • Your book an ebook? Make sure they know what that means. Talk about how those books can be read. Ask if any of them (or their parents) read books electronically. (One safe way to ask some questions is to say, “raise your hand if . . .”
  • What you cut out of your book and why.
  • Why you wrote it in first person or third person or from different viewpoints.
  • Did you go somewhere and do research? Show pictures!

You can also do activities. I like to do an activity related to something I talk about. Some writers mostly do activities. (Remember two things: have kids raise their hands to answer or ask questions, and plan very simple writing for under fourth grade. You can do a lot of the writing on a white board for younger children.)

  • Create samples of poor versus good writing to read. Ask them which they like best. Ask them why they like it better? Talk about those reasons. E.g. They say it is more exciting. You explain about action, suspense, details, etc.
  • Have them draw something from your story.
  • Do a simple story outline as a group. First, decide on a character, then this person’s problem, discuss possible solutions, etc.
  • Give a simple scenario about a kid with a problem and have the students write for five minutes as if they were that kid. (Give very specific guidelines.)
  • Explain about the five senses. Ask the kids to write a description of their favorite place using as many senses as they can.
  • Think about activities related directly to your book. Your main character collects words. As a group create a list of interesting words. Your mc makes wishes, each student could write down three of their wishes and share a top wish with the group.
  • Your next book is about a specific age gender who lives in a specific place. Make a group list of what hobbies this kid could have. Does she have older, younger siblings? How many? Does he have pets? What kind? This is showing them the kinds of decisions authors make all the time.
  • Give each student (or small group) a verb or noun and have them come up with more specific verbs or synonyms. Everyone will get to share and you may add suggestions. This can lead to a discussion of a thesaurus.
  • Have volunteer students read a scene from your book as if they are the different characters. They have to act out what the characters are doing, so you’ll provide some appropriate props. You can be the narrator.
  • Ask what kinds of problems they’ve read about in stories and/or know about from real life. E.g. someone sick in family, wanting to win a contest, earning money for something special. Write them down for all to see and pick two or three to combine into a new story idea. Talk about how you’d get ready to write that story.
  • Tell them how writing was your dream and ask them what dreams they have? Think how you can turn that into some kind of writing activity. Would you have them write about the steps they need to achieve their dream? The kind of education or training they’ll need? Or why they want to reach that goal? Of course, you’ll make it age appropriate.

Remember, kids of all ages like it when adults are interested in them. They also like the novelty of special guests in the classroom. That means that most of them are happy you are there. Listen to them as well as talk and you’ll probably have a satisfactory visit.
If this was helpful, you may also want to read these older posts: Dragged to the Podium and Going Back to School.

Posted in Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

School Visits, the Extended Version

After sharing my last post with others I got great feedback from other writers, so asked their permission to share their wisdom, too. Of course, as usually happens, what they say makes me think of other things, too.
Affordable Rates
Trudy Ludwig also recommends, “due to lack of public school funding, authors can make their school visit rates more affordable for schools by recommending schools in close physical proximity join forces in co-sponsoring an author visit. That way, the two neighboring schools can share the author’s travel expenses and author visit fee.”
Cost Cutting Ideas
“Sometimes I offer to stay with a teacher or administrator at their home to save them lodging costs,” says Trudy. “Another way to help out schools with tight budgets is to ask if there are any school parents who would be interested in using their frequent flier miles to obtain an airline ticket for the author to save the school the airline expense. A public school in NYC actually approached me with this suggestion and I gladly accepted.”
“I’ve written/had published 19 NF children’s books and have struggled with getting school visit gigs in these tough economic times,” Mary Meinking says. “I recently did a school visit at a neighboring town’s elementary school (I live in rural Iowa), which I do for free since they’re in my community. Anyhow, since I didn’t charge them a fee, I sold books and kept the profit instead. I ended up selling 94 books, which actually made me more money than my usual $300/day fee. So it ended up being a win-win situation for everyone.”
School Visits via Skype
Rachelle Burk shared Skype an Author Network created by author Mona Kerby and Library Media Specialist Sarah Chauncey. Under “Author Visits in Your Library or Classroom” there are directions for authors and directions for teachers and librarians. Authors can ask to be included in the list. There are also Illustrators on this list.
“I’ve just started doing school visits,” Helen Landalf told me, “but one thing I’ve come across recently is schools canceling a scheduled visit. I’m not charging for my visits right now, since I’m a newbie, but when I do start charging, I’ll have to think about adding a cancellation fee to my contract.”
This reminded me of something I’ve had happen–as the teacher turned the class over to me, she said, “They don’t know why you’re here.” Aaugghh! She hadn’t even told the students they were having a special speaker. At least ask the teacher or librarian to introduce you. But better yet is if the kids are anticipating your visit! It’s worth giving one of your books or magazine stories/articles to the class ahead of time and asking the teacher to read from it. I’ve also sent printable-ready “about the author” flyers to help teachers/librarians have something tangible to share with their students. One school’s technology department had the student’s visit my website. That teacher used facts in my bio for the kids to figure out how old I was. So include something in your letter or contract about the school preparing the students for your visit. -Sue
Still worried about what to do for school visits? Or have some issues or concerns? Deb Lund, author, teacher and coach, will be speaking about school visits at the Oregon SCBWI conference this May. Plus Deb is offering a free webinar in May to those who subscribe to her blog. Meanwhile on her blog there’s a chance to win a school visit coaching give-away by Deb. Drawing is April 1st!
Author Kim Norman runs a site called Author School Visits by State. You can ask to be included by emailing Kim; see the directions on the site itself.

About the authors/illustrators interviewed in this piece:
Rachelle Burk is a magazine and picture book author and a children’s entertainer. Read more on her blog.
Helen Landalf‘s new YA novel, Flyaway, is recently out from Houghton Mifflin. It sounds fascinating! Read what else Helen has done here.
Trudy Ludwig is an award-winning author who specializes in writing children’s books that explore the colorful and sometimes confusing world of children’s social interactions. Read more about her and her books on her website.
Deb Lund is a picture book author and a writing coach. See all she does on her website.
Mary Meinking is an author/illustrator who does nonfiction books and magazine pieces. Check out her work on her website.
Kim Norman writes fiction and nonfiction for children. See what she has coming out this year here. Plus Kim has a blog about school visits and writing.

Thanks to Clarita on for the above image.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Going Back to School

kidsinclass.jpgHave you ever thought of going back to school? To elementary, middle or high school that is? Many authors and/or illustrators supplement their income by doing school visits. But money definitely should not be your only reason to go back to school.
Why else do school visits?
You like to share with young people
A desire to learn and grow
To be encouraged – there really are kids out there who read!
Connection with your audience
To gain speaking experience
For inspiration and ideas
How do you get connected with a school?
If you have students (your own children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews) in school, volunteer to talk to their class about your art and/or writing.
If you live near a school, talk to the librarian, a teacher or a PTA member, about the school and ask if they have any special programs to encourage creativity. They may have, or participate in, the following and be looking for help:
– – – Young author programs
– – – PTA/PTSA Reflections
– – – Art programs
– – – Reading tutors
– – – Career days
If you’re visiting or live in your hometown, call or write to the schools you attended and ask if they’d like to have a “homegrown” guest speaker.
Talk to librarians and bookstore owners; they may know of schools looking for authors and illustrators.
Check with local writing organizations; many have speaker lists they provide to the community as a service.
Ask friends, business associates, and acquaintances for information about their children’s schools. Tell them why you’re interested.
Look on the internet for information about local schools.
How do you plan a program?
Start by asking yourself questions, such as:
– – – “What is one thing that excites me about creating?”
– – – “How did I get started down the creative path?”
– – – “What was hardest for me to learn, but when I got it, it was like the proverbial light bulb coming on?”
– – – “Where do I get my ideas?”
– – – “Is there something I do that is unusual or few others are doing?”
Plan and prepare for your talk…
– – – Pick an area or two from your starter questions–something you feel strongly about–and outline what you could tell a class.
– – – Consider whether you need to expand your knowledge with research or narrow your topic more.
– – – Think of examples and personal anecdotes to illustrate what you are talking about.
– – – Adjust outline accordingly.
Think about activities you can do with the students that would relate to your subject:
– – – question and answers
– – – brainstorming
– – – writing or illustrating exercises
– – – sharing illustrating or writing exercises
– – – reading a section of a story
– – – having students act out a story
Think about visuals – what can you show during a talk?
– – – Resources/tools you use when working
– – – Pictures
……….Content: personal pictures (you as a child or your studio/office now); stages of book production or illustration; information you researched doing your book
……….Format: slides; overheads; videos (often classrooms have televisions);PowerPoint presentations (you may need to provide your own computer and hookup to a television)
– – – Artifacts
……….Objects that inspire you
……….Objects used in a story
Practice. Planning done, you’ll obviously want to practice (outloud!) what you’ll say, how you’ll say it and how you’ll use your visuals to best effect.
Don’t over commit. Agree to speak to one class and see how it goes. You may decide you need to make changes in your program before trying it out again. Learn from each time you speak. Feel free to ask teachers for feedback and recommendations on what you can improve.
How to keep control in a classroom
Require a teacher to stay
Be prepared for smart remarks, students talking while you are talking, items being dropped, and other interruptions. Here are a few ways that work for me:
– – – Saying an obvious joke myself, rather than leaving it to the class “show-off” to spout off, seems to keep the student’s attention.
– – – Stop talking and wait for the room to quiet.
– – – Ask someone talking out of turn to answer a question.
– – – Move close to students talking.
In elementary classrooms, student’s names are often on their desks, making it easy for you to call on students by name.
Be prepared with answers for questions students often ask. Typical questions include:
– – – How much money do you make?
– – – How long did it take you to write or draw the pictures for your book?
– – – How old are you? (It’s not rude–adults ask them this question all the time!)
– – – Why do you illustrate or write for kids?
How much should you charge?
Until you have a bit of experience, you may want to charge nothing, or consider an exchange such as “may I observe your students for an hour if I speak to them for an hour?”
Speaking fees vary based on a number of factors:
– – – How well known you or your books are
– – – Your speaking experience and how well audiences receive you
– – – What schools in your area typically pay
– – – Length of presentation (Is it an hour presentation or will you be presenting all day? If presenting all day, how many times will you speak?)
– – – What other authors/illustrators charge in your area
– – – Travel requirements
– – – Audience (one classroom or the whole school in an assembly)
Don’t forget prep time when thinking of fees. A day spent in a school can require a day or more of preparation.
If possible, have schools pay for supplies used in classrooms (i.e. photocopies of a handout, drawing paper) or include the expense of these items in your fees.
If you need to travel for a visit, you may want to get reimbursed for mileage, have airfare, hotel and food costs covered, or charge more.
Be sure to specify how many presentations you’ll do per day and how long each presentation will be when discussing your fee.
Should you have a contract or written agreement with the school?
YES! This will cut down on painful misunderstandings.
– – – Even if you are volunteering, a letter confirming your agreement which includes what you’ll be doing, length of program(s), date(s), time(s), etc. is a necessity for a successful visit.
– – – If you are getting paid, some schools provide a written contract that each signs. Others won’t, so be prepared to provide a contract that spells out ALL details. You can get sample contracts online, from books or from other experienced speakers.
What if you feel you’ve failed?
Consider these thoughts.
Was your audience the right age group for what you wanted to teach/share? An older or younger group may be a match when this one wasn’t.
Does your talk need more pep? Or do you need more audience participation? Take what worked well and try it again. Change what didn’t work.
Perhaps you merely need more practice. Try it out on someone you trust. Volunteer again.
Consider providing a feedback form to the teacher so you’ll know what someone else thought of “what you did.”
Remember, kids are sometimes “too cool” to show they’re enjoying themselves. One author reported speaking to a class of seventh graders who were slumped in their seats throughout her talk. She thought they were bored stiff. Fortunately, when the class was dismissed, she overheard one student say to another, “That was really interesting.”
Going back to school as a guest speaker is challenging and is not for everyone. But many who have given it a try have found joy in communicating what they know with the next generation. Plus it is a way to augment your writing income.

School Visits Experts is a great resource by author Alexis O’Neill. She also writes articles for the SCBWI Bulletin on the topic.