April 12, 2016

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Freelance Flashback: School Visits

Welcome to a new Author Amok series: Freelance Flashback.

For many years, I was a freelance feature writer for the Baltimore Sun and  Baltimore's Child. The deal was this: I wrote an article;  I got paid; the publication owned the rights for two weeks, then they reverted back to me.

Except that's not what happened. My articles are archived by both publications. Sometimes other websites, instead of linking to an article of interest, will run the full thing on their page.

Even though I am not paid for these "reprints," I don't mind the practice so much. It gets my name, as an author, out there. However, I do own the rights to these articles. Why not repost my favorites on my own blog?

Let's start with a feature I wrote for Baltimore's Child about author school visits. There is advice here -- both for schools and for authors -- from two wonderful Maryland children's authors, Michelle Y. Green (A Strong Right Arm) and Lois Szymanski (Out of the Sea: Today's Chincoteague Pony). 

But my favorite part of the piece is remembering how I got to see Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) messing with tweens' heads.

Bring a Children's Author to School: It's an Open Book Affair!

From Baltimore's Child March 2005
When a Children’s Author Comes to Visit, It’s an Open Book Affair
By Laura Shovan

I’m standing in the back of a crowded ballroom. The room is cavernous, but every chair has been filled. 

A throng of mostly preteens is talking with rock-star awe about the person they’ve come to see—children’s writer Lemony Snicket. Snicket is the alter ego of Daniel Handler, author of the popular books A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Howard County Library won his visit in a contest sponsored by publisher Harper Collins. To his fans, Handler is a superstar.

A Baltimore Sun photo of Handler's visit.
Libraries, bookstores and schools often sponsor author visits to promote exactly this kind of excitement among young readers. If you’re considering scheduling a children’s book writer to come to your school or community, there are ways to ensure the visit gets as positive a response from kids as a bestseller like Handler receives.

Maryland author Michelle Y. Green explains, “Many children’s only experiences with a book are negative. A book is something you read so you can take a test. And so, what an author or an illustrator can do is make the connection that reading is fun, reading is enjoyable.”

Author Lois Szymanski is the regional adviser for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia. She adds, “Writers get kids fired up about writing, about putting their ideas on paper.”

Green, who wrote A Strong Right Arm, an award-winning biography for children about Negro League pitcher Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, says that when planning an author visit, schools “should see children’s book authors and illustrators as resources and partners in the education process.”

Michelle's children's biography features a woman
who played in the men's Negro League.
And the clearer your goals are, the better you will be able to communicate them to your visiting author.

“Share with the author what points [the school] wants to get across to the kids,” says Szymanski.

In addition, many writers use audiovisuals in their presentations. Ask the author if he or she needs any equipment. Szymanski uses Power Point when talking about
Patches, A New Kind of Magic and her other books about horses.

Lois is well know for her books
about horses and Chincoteague ponies.
“If the kids see wild horses galloping across the screen, it keeps their attention,” she says.

Read the rest of the article at Baltimore's Child.

I hope all of you NaNoWriMers are busy getting your words in today. If you write every day, you'll need 1,666 words per day to reach the 50,000 word finish line.

Interestingly, 1500 was the word limit for my Baltimore's Child features. Articles for my local edition of the Baltimore Sun were shorter, 750 words. If you're interested, both paid about $250 per piece. If you were writing articles, instead of a novel, you could earn $8,300 to $16,000 at that rate!

'Tis the season to Vote. Help choose my next Freelance Flashback post. Would you like to see:

Meditation for Kids (Baltimore's Child);
The Dodge Poetry Festival (Baltimore Sun);
or Destination Imagination (Baltimore Sun)?


Irene Latham said...

Laura, I vote for the Dodge Poetry Festival! And yay for author visits. Love how much fun the audience appears to be having in the Lemony pic. :)

Author Amok said...

Hi, Irene. You've got the only vote so far! I hope to get the Dodge article up next Thursday.

If you *ever* have a chance to go to a Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket event, jump on it. Not only is he hysterically funny, he knows how to work an audience full of kids. It was the best author talk I've ever been to.