How to present at a Festival or School
An insightful presentation by Jenny Stubbs a Teacher Librarian and Story Arts Festival organiser shared some insightful tips for authors considering talking at festivals or schools.
Before you are booked:
TIP 1 - Find out what they want!
It could be educational or curriculum based. It might be about how you inspire children to read, how writers write and create or it might be how your book has links to the curriculum. They could book you for a special week such as Under 8’s, Book Week or Science week. Whatever you believe your talk can deliver; ensure your promotional flyer and website portray the same message.
You can have a YouTube video of yourself presenting your book and a bit about you. Make sure you have an introduction to what book is about and why you wrote it on your website.
Ask the age of the children and duration of sessions as well as the number of sessions the school requires. Is it to one small group or to a large cohort e.g., all year 2’s. It is important that you set times limits you don’t want to be at a school all day for the cost of a teacher’s wage but it needs to be value for money. So ensure your flyer details length of session and what they can expect in the session. Make sure you add something about the audience participation and how you intend to do that, e.g. young kids love humour or puppets, older children might be more engage with drama or power point. All children love music, so if you can play an instrument or your book includes music in some way then ensure you bring your music or cd player.
“There’s nothing worse than not being prepared!”
The size of the group dictates where will it be held, e.g. classroom, library, hall and this will determine how you present your session. A small picture book might not work with a large group, so you need to consider how you can enlarge the book for example copy it onto A3 pages to create a Big Book or scan as a pdf and share it as a slide show on a projector as you read or talk about the text and illustrations.
TIP 2 - Timing is very important!
It needs to be right; not too short and not too long for young children. Find out how long each session will be 30 min or 45 or Ensure that you don’t go over time either, children have a busy school curriculum they might have staff waiting for them for other lessons, lunch and play time are all important routines that are scheduled in the school day.
You should know the amount of time each section of your talk will require, so you can schedule each activity in time increments. Regardless of whether you are reading the entire book or just a chapter; time it and make sure that you have the page marked. How long will your audience participation task take? If you are doing a quiz and are awarding prizes at the conclusion, ensure that you set time limits for the quiz or your Q & A session might become rushed. You want to end your presentation talk on a high so make sure it runs smoothly.
If you get the timing right it could secure you more referrals to other schools and result in more bookings.
TIP 3: Practice.
Find a friendly school, perhaps one your children attend, or friend’s children attend so that you can do a FREE practice run to check your timing in return for honest feedback from the staff.
TIP 4 How do you stand out from the crowd?
What you wear can make an impact with the audience or children; whether it’s a wig, coloured hair, character clothing, or masks. You need to be interactive and involve the audience, you could have; props, puppets, or something that the children could act out or say in the story, where they help with sound effects or acting out one of the images in the book. Children love drama so a reader’s theatre might be easy if the text could be turned into a script or use the dialogue to make it into a play. If you’re an author/illustrator draw something with the children to engage them. If you can play an instrument that’s a bonus as you could get them to sing the chorus of a song with you that relates to the book.
Humour is also good getting the children to laugh makes it a memorable experience.
TIP 5 Make sure you ask if there will be a bookshop at the event. This is a good way to generate sales. Never underestimate the cost of an author autographing a book, take a few copies of your book with you and promotional material e.g. a flyer or a bookmark with your website. If they want autographs, make sure you stipulate autographs are only available with a purchase of your book.
Do you need a lot or equipment?
Well that’s entirely up to you but if you don’t have the equipment such as projectors then you need to ask if the organiser is able to supply it. Specialised drawing visual boards might be difficult to source at short notice, so you might have to provide your own. Check that the school or library has your book in its collection, so that children can have had a chance to read it prior to your visit.
After you’ve been booked what’s next?
Ask if they will be promoting your session and offer to send them an image for promotion which would include the copy of the book or books. You might write a short article for school newsletter or local paper.
Tip 6 Ask for feedback from the teacher’s & the kids, questions about what did they like? Ask if you can use any of their testimonials on your website or your promotional material. You could have a follow up activity for the students that compliments the book in some way, a handout, colouring in sheet or writing task.
Jenny has shared a document “Author in schools Guide it’s in the Write Links Folder.
Luise Manning grew up in Brisbane and began her career as an Early Childhood teacher. She has been teaching for over 20 years and is passionate about children’s literature and making books come alive. In 2014 she wrote her first children’s book “Hold My Hand” to help teach children about driveway and car park safety. In 2015 she wrote and produced a play “For Sophie’s Sake” about domestic violence and its impact on young families. Luise has received a number of awards for projects to raise awareness of issues affecting our society and in 2017 received an Australia Day Citizen of the Year Award for her city of Ipswich.
Illustrations by Inda Ahmad Zabri
Mini fest – 3 authors, so different but with so much to offer their transfixed audience.
Shaun dished out the treasure from the passionate and brave Isobelle Carmody.
Rebecca tamed the hilarious ideas flooding from the gregarious Dave Lowe.
Lucy will spill the beans on what's under Peter Carnavas’s Cap!
The authors all shared their different paths to full time writing. While Isobelle has a Batchelor of Arts and experience in journalism, Peter and Dave were teachers before they became full time authors and in Peter's case an illustrator. Their motivations however, are similar.
When asked, Peter Carnavas revealed that his motivation was an urge to be creative, to tell a story and to be heard.
Well your audience was certainly listening and we loved everything we heard … even when you made us cry!
Peter put together a new masterclass for us as he knows many of the Write Links members have been to previous workshops. He even wrote two stories for us to practice with. Just like that! Sigh. One of which, Maggie and Frank, made many of us just a little bit teary.
Peter wasn’t precious about his stories. He just wanted to share with us how to make them better. It was fascinating to hear Peter critiquing his own story and invite suggestions from us. Published picture book author, Jacqui Halpin, bravely suggested that the ending was too long and breathed a sign of relief when Peter agreed.
Peter challenged us to think from the perspective of an illustrator. Using planning tools such as a story board. He really believes this will pay off in the long run. Peter asked us to be mindful of how illustrations will help to tell the story. Remember it’s OK if your story doesn’t stay the way your story board it. Tinkering is part of the process.
Peter loves the jigsaw process of putting the pieces together. For example he feels there is a great opportunity to lift the spirits after the 'blue page'. He urged us to think about the layout of the pages, make sure that we have suspense on the right hand page to encourage the reader to turn over.
Peter certainly doesn't have any trouble getting his readers to turn the pages of his books!
What is under his cap? Peter is just like his books, sensitive, generous and genuine with a subtle humour to delight.
Thank you for sharing so much with us Peter, especially Maggie and Frank.
Lucy McGinley lives in a house where dinosaurs roam the bathroom, chess pieces invade the dinner table and drawings of the weird and the wonderful carpet the floor. Words wrap around her like possums clinging to telecom lines, plop onto pages steadily like koala droppings and dart into the grass like blue tongue lizards! She spends her days captivating kindergarten children and her afternoons marvelling over birds feathers, seedpods and occasionally snake skins, with her son.
Photos of Peter Carnavas by Lyn Halliday
Dave Lowe on Middle Grade Humour
Dave Lowe is the author of several funny series, such as Stinky and Jinks, Squirrel Boy, The Unbelievable Dadventure and The Mumbelievable Challenge. During Dave’s masterclass at the Write Links Mini Fest, he generously walked us through the world of middle grade humour.
Dave explained the difference between early middle grade and middle grade.
Early Middle Grade Middle Grade
Reader aged 6-8 Reader aged 9-12
Main character is 9-11 years old Main character is 11-13 years old
Shorter chapters (around 800-1200 words) Longer chapters
Often illustrated Sometimes unillustrated. Black and white line drawings.
Series is very common Standalones / series
Word count: 4000 – 30000 words Word count: 30000 +
Stinky and Jinks books are 7000 – 9000 words
Nevermoor is 30000 words Example: Harry Potter
He gave 15 helpful tips for writing a middle grade book.
1. Grab the reader at the start.
2. You must know the cast of your characters really well.
3. Your main character needs a strong, authentic voice.
4. Middle grade is high paced. Think of your character entering the scene late and getting out early.
5. End each chapter on a cliff-hanger.
6. Dialogue must advance the story or character. Keep it short.
7. Read your book aloud to find the rhythm.
8. Show, not tell.
9. Humour can work in all stories.
10. Be a ruthless editor.
11. Keep descriptions short, to match the fast pace.
12. Read widely, beyond middle grade.
13. Write a lot.
14. Be persistent. Dave’s first book published was his fifth finished manuscript.
15. Get help and get involved in the writing community.
Dave shared many funny anecdotes, his knowledge of the industry, got us working on some fun group activities and answered our many questions.
It was a pleasure to have Dave come along to Write Links to share his experiences and we all had a real hoot! Thank you Dave and we’d love to have Dave back another time.
Rebecca Sheraton is a primary school teacher and children’s writer. If she was allowed, she would teach English all day long and she loves sneaking books into her other lessons.
Rebecca writes picture books, junior fiction or middle grade and short stories. Her articles and short stories have been published in The School Magazine, anthologies and websites.
She is a member of SCBWI, Write Links Children’s writers group and several other organisations.
When she’s not writing, you’ll find Rebecca exercising, reading, drinking tea or waiting in her car for the audio book chapter to finish.
Photograph of Dave Lowe by June Perkins https://gumbootspearlz.org/
Other Worlds and Book Promotions with prolific author George Ivanoff and Penguin Random House publicist Talie Gottlieb
A spotted bow-tie. A big grin. A blood-curdling scream.
George Ivanoff had just wrapped up a tour of schools in Queensland, and had obviously kept a bit of that magic for us. We were thrilled to have him at our August Write Links meeting where he took us on a tour of his career as a children’s author, which includes several successful middle grade series. Accompanied by Penguin Random House publicist Talie Gottlieb, they also gave us pointers about promoting books.
Although George started his career authoring a collection of YA short stories, he only hit his stride thereafter, spending a decade writing almost exclusively for the education market, amassing a staggering 86 titles, and counting!
In 2009, he found his way back to the trade market with the Gamer’s Quest trilogy, published by Ford St. Though it performed well, it was mere an inkling of the success that would come with the incredibly popular ‘You Choose…’ series, published by Penguin Random House.
It was interesting to explore the interactive format of the ‘You Choose…’ books, written in the 2nd person point of view, allowing the reader to direct the course of the story by choosing one of 2 options when they faced with a conundrum or a fork in the road. Their chosen path is assigned a page number further along in the book, and they navigate their way through a progressively exciting plot, or end up in a dead end.
On the author’s part, it requires complex planning by way of plot points written out on cards, pasted on a white board and connected with different coloured markers. I did see George grinning nervously at a picture of one of his storyboards, strung together with bits of string and looking suspiciously like a crime investigation.
The ‘You Choose …’ books cover a range of topics from dragons to spiders to footy, and have shortlisted and won R.E.A.L awards based on nominations from avid readers four years in a row.
Series seemed to agree with George. He went on to produce the RFDS series in conjunction with the Royal Flying Doctors. Having been a history major, he relished the intensive research of medical conditions and locations of his stories, many of which he visited during an extended family road trip.
He followed this up with the picture book ‘Meet the … Flying Doctors’, illustrated by Ben Wood.
It was surprising to learn that George was not a voracious reader as a child. He agreed with teachers in the group that some students are such reluctant readers that just finishing a book would give them a huge sense of achievement. George says that it motivated him to write books that were immediately engaging, rather than intimidating.
His newest ‘Other Worlds’ series explores the concept of portal fiction in some of favourite sub-genres. ‘Perfect World’ is set in a utopian future (or dystopian, depending on whose side you’re on), ‘Beast World’ holds a cast of steampunk animals, ‘Game World’ is his video game alter ego let loose, and ‘Dark World’ is his take on a zombie apocalypse.
Once again, he was exuberant about his research, and clearly revels in casting light on a subject in a way which enriches the story, his own life and the experience of the reader. Even the characters’ names had been imbued with significance, such as the name Keagan to symbolise holder of a key, and a sidekick whose name in Vietnamese means ‘to conceal’.
George is an advocate for diversity, and he has weaved it beautifully into his stories without ostentatiously planning to. Aside from ensuring that the main protagonist in his series are alternately male and female, his books also feature characters from other cultural backgrounds and include a protagonist with a physical disability, recognising the importance of young readers being able to identify with characters in mainstream media.
Both George and Talie gave us helpful advice regarding book promotions. Talie advised communicating regularly with the publishing house publicist, as there is no single formula that works for every author. Blog posts, launches, reviews and school visits do help, as well as engaging directly with bookstores and libraries, as hand-selling is so important. When answering a query about book trailers, they both cautioned against length and DIY!
‘Capitalise on anything that’s slightly unusual about yourself,’ George added. He reported that earlier in his career, many publicity pieces focused on his role as a stay-at-home dad, and I am guessing that his self-acclaimed Doctor Who obsession may have worked into his promotional persona as well.
We gained a lot from this session, and a thread that ran through George’s myriad achievements was the passion for his stories and the great connection with his readership.
By Inda Ahmad Zabri
Inda Ahmad Zabri believes in a world of wonder. She lives in Brisbane where she writes and illustrates for children. Her stories are inspired by natural and cultural gems curated from her travels and lovingly added to her Malaysian heritage. She is also a surgical doctor, swapping her writer’s hat and paintbrush for scrubs and scalpel when duty calls. You can find her at www.indabinda.com where she regularly blogs about the treasures of nature and her love of books.