In my last blog post, I talked about my experiences with K-2 school visits. In this post, I share what I have learned from visiting grades 3 - 6.
I guess it's more the older kids that scare me the most, although that fear is slowly being replaced with confidence that comes with each school visit.
The older kid's sessions are where you can really let your passion for your craft shine.
My presentations for grades 3 – 6 are more of a workshop, where I take components from my younger presentation and blend them together with more hands-on activities such as drawing with their non-dominant hand and getting them into groups to rewrite a popular story. These sessions run between 60-90 minutes. The older kids love to hear the stories behind the stories, so it is a great way to discuss the marriage between an illustrator and an author in more detail.
More in-depth questions such as: How do you get your ideas? and Are you rich? are frequently asked. Be ready for anything, because if they can ask it, they will.
Here are my tips for grades 3 – 6.
Grades 3 – 6
These age groups will be more familiar with books than the younger ones. They will be learning story structure and characters. Here is your opportunity to discuss in finer detail, all that goes into making a picture book from story concept, editing & illustrations, to working it through with a publisher and finally the finished product.
I like to talk about the 'What ifs' with the older classes; eg. What if my character Lulu was an astronaut, a chef, a superhero? What could her story be? This gets the creative thought process working and you can hear their imaginations working overtime. It promotes discussion and collaboration.
We also talk about the all-important story arc. When doing a writing exercise, I encourage the kids just to write. Editing can come later, so don't worry about full stops, commas or any punctuation for that matter. Just let the writing flow.
Kids love a secret. I like to share information about my upcoming books using the disguise of a secret. I build the suspense and have the kids whisper so none of the other classes can hear them. I ask them to promise, by a show of hands, to keep my secret and not share it with their friends. I know they do because I have had parents come and ask when that book will be released and they refer to it by name. It's just another way of getting the kids attention and have them hanging off your every word. It's fun watching them lean in towards me as I start to reveal the secret.You could hear a pin drop. Using the magic secret can also be incorporated in your younger presentations.
I use visuals and sound effects during the 'secret reveal' through my slideshow. Beginning with a 'top secret' slide, I then move on to a slide revealing my next book cover, however it is obstructed by chains and a padlock so they can't see the full cover. Through a series of interactions the kids they help me knock down the chains. It's effective and the kids love it.
You don't need to have an upcoming book release to include this into your presentation. It could be as simple as testing out your WIP. How do they respond to your plotline, characters etc?
Always let them see how passionate you are, don't hold back. You are the perfect salesperson for your books, weave your magic.
Remember when presenting don't speak too fast, as it can stress your audience. Relax! This is where the 'shaking off the fidgets' is also good to shake off your own nerves. I really had to work on this one. Anyone who knows me, knows how fast I talk.
Don't be over the top or too animated. For the younger ones, it can be scary and the older ones won't be fooled. Be yourself, sell yourself, and enjoy yourself.
Make eye contact with your audience and don't forget the teachers in the room too. Remember to smile.
Props are another great way to connect with your audience. I incorporate a Lulu hand puppet and dress-ups in my presentations.
How do you secure school bookings? You can try a speakers agency, such as Greenleaf Press, The Story Crowd, Creative Net or Booked Out, just to name a few. Check with your local writers centre for recommendations in your local area. You might also like to market yourself directly to schools. This is a great way of getting to know the teacher librarians personally and building long-lasting relationships with them. If you would like to cover a wider market why not contact the teacher librarian association in your area and see if you could give a brief presentation at their next meeting. If you are successful in securing an invite, ask if you might present at the last session before lunch. This was you can hang around and mix and mingle at lunchtime to work on those relationships.
If you do choose to represent yourself, remember you are the product and you need to really sell yourself. Include your bio, book information, what your presentation offers, interesting facts about yourself or your books. Include testimonials from previous schools you have visited.
When confirming your booking, don't forget to send the school a copy of your book order form; should you have books to sell on the day. This is potentially where you can make a lot of money from your visit. The librarian or teacher can take orders and have the correct money. You may need to take a small float with you so be prepared. Be sure to confirm numbers before your scheduled date, to ensure you take enough stock or giveaways with you.
I always try to leave every child with something from my visit. Depending on numbers it might be something as simple as a colouring sheet, a post card with my book information on it or for older kids I take novelty erasers and pencils as giveaways. I also gift a book or two to the class and the school.
Remember, when the kids go home and tell their parents what fun they had at your presentation, the parents then compliment the school. This can potentially mean more bookings or book sales from the school, so everyone is happy. The snowball effect.
You will need to have completed a Working with Children check. This can generally be done through your local Motor Registry/RTA and is free. Another thing you will need is insurance for you and your belongings. I use Duck for Cover, they have a variety of covers available and are cost effective.
I hope reading about my experiences will help you when preparing your school visits.