WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR

KIDS AND THEIR QUESTIONS

When I visit a school, I am often amazed at and amused by the questions children ask. Kids ask questions based on what is important to them, and their questions range from age to money, from children to pets. A few of their questions even hit on the topic of writing and reading. Librarians and teachers often caution children not to ask personal questions–but they do anyway. Some of the questions I’ve encountered over the 30+ years I’ve been visiting children in schools (and maybe a few answers) follow:

What genre do you enjoy writing most, fiction or nonfiction? (A: I’m partial to fiction, but I enjoy them both. I need fiction to allow my imagination to wander and to provide a change of pace from the research that my nonfiction requires. I love doing research and tracking down information, but every now and then I need to communicate with the puppies, bears, armadillos, and others that live inside my head. My head is a busy place.)

Where do you find your ideas? (A: Everywhere.)

How do you create tension in a story? (A: Make your main character’s life difficult. That is, give him or her a problem and make that character struggle to find a solution.)

I notice you’re not wearing a ring. Does that mean you’re not married?

Do you have any children and, if so, what is her name and is she cute?

Does somebody MAKE you write? (A: No, I actually enjoy it. Well, most of the time.)

Are you famous?

Are you rich?

After being cautioned by a teacher not to ask questions about money, a young man asked, “So, what’s it like living in a mansion?” Another asked (same audience): What kind of car do you drive? (A: I drive a Toyota. <noticing his disappointed look> Did you think I was going to say a Lamborghini?)

I am really interested in becoming a writer. What is the best way to go about getting published?

Do you know any famous people?

What is your favorite kind of book to read? (A: Mysteries.)

When you go to a restaurant, do people stop eating and stare at you?

Do you have to be a certain age to be a writer? (A: No.) Can a kid like me get published? (A: Yes.) How?

How old are you? (A: A quarter of a century times two, plus the set of…)

Happy Writing!

 

 

Me, Myself and I

Writerhood

new-year-resolutions1I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.   They’ve always felt to me like daily reminders of my lack of discipline and perseverance. So when my daughter asked on January 1st what my New Year’s resolution was, I gave a speech from atop my soap box. She nodded, listened patiently, and then responded,

“My resolution this year is to be selfish.”

Not only was I appalled that she obviously hadn’t listened intently to my speech about the failure of resolutions, she forged ahead with her own. And from where I stood, it was brazenly self-centered.

“You want to be more selfish in the New Year?” I nearly screamed. Who was this narcissistic, prima donna I had spent twenty one years grooming to be kind, compassionate and selfless?

“Sometimes,” she continued, “ I feel like I put other people’s needs in front of my own.”

Is that a bad…

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YOU WANT AN AUTHOR TO VISIT (Part Dos)

Nobody, especially me, said that organizing an author visit to a school is easy-peasy. It requires time and planning. The sooner you ignite enthusiasm among your faculty, the easier it will be. Contacting the author you hope to catch early in the process will also help because then you’ll be able to collect his or her books and share them with your students. Some librarians do this by passing a collection among the faculty, who in turn share the titles with their students and begin planning their own Author Day celebrations. Others hold the books in the library to share when they are teaching the classes of students that come in. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to hosting an author visit is budget–especially in times when school and library budgets are tighter than a whale-bone corset. So, too, are the budgets of authors. Authors work hard and contrary to the popular notion that all authors are rich, most aren’t. Their compensation for writing is, in large part, getting to hold a published book. Speaking–or often some other job–is part of their business model. That said, let me share with you what some schools I have visited have done.

  • Some librarians are lucky enough to have a budget that INCLUDES an annual author visit. They have fought for this, arguing with Administrators that author visits can help inspire a love of reading (and writing), which in turn can help those all-important-to-administrators test scores. Reading and writing are the basis of critical thinking and of all education and life-long learning.
  • If you don’t have an author visit already built in to your budget, don’t give up hope. If your school has a PTO/PTA/Parent Association, you might suggest to the Cultural Arts Chair (or its equivalent) that an author visit might be of more educational value than a juggler, magician, or dog-and-pony show.
  • IN ARIZONA, schools lobby for parents and residents to make school donations via a tax credit available to them when they file their state income taxes. Although many librarians don’t realize it, this tax-credit money can be used to host a cultural activity that will benefit students–i.e., an author visit. Several schools in Arizona have told me that this is where my fee came from.
  • Title I funds and those for Gifted and Talented have been used to bring me in. As it was explained to me, these funds may be used as long as Title I or Gifted and Talented children are included in the presentations. While I can’t vouch the legality of this or that it still applies, it might be something to investigate.
  • Many schools have an assembly budget. This is money set aside for the principal to use for a school-wide assembly. Most authors, myself included, present to the entire school when making a visit. Ask your principal about it, and see my juggler, magician, or dog-and-pony comment above.
  • Would the ASB (associated student body) have funds it could donate? I have been to some schools where the ASB, through various avenues of fund-raising, has money available for programs that will benefit the entire school. It might be worth looking into.
  • Most states have a Cultural Arts Foundation, which provides grants to art-related activities. Writing is both a craft and an art. Getting a grant requires the librarian or “sponsor” to request funds by writing a proposal. These groups and their proposal forms are usually found online, and often the form doesn’t require a Ph.D. in grant-writing to fill out. They usually want to know how much you’re asking for, what the money will be used for, if granted, and why you think it’s important (or how will your students benefit from an author visit).
  • Local businesses often are willing to underwrite an author event at a local school. In one small community I visited, local businesses kicked in $50 to $100 each to help a school bring me in. At another, large businesses–like Target, which has a foundation through which it offers grants–brought me in. In Michigan, Lilly Pharmaceuticals brought me in to visit three or four schools over a week. Nike brought me in to Ecuador, while a parent with oodles of sky miles donated my flight. Another school visit was funded by a local Lions Club. Things can happen, but it takes a librarian, a teacher, or a school administrator who thinks author visits are important to knock on doors, to ask.
  • In another instance, local doctors were asked for donations, and this inspired them to set up a permanent endowment which in time will generate enough income to be self-sustaining.
  • When I was in town for a book festival or educational conference, a librarian found out and I was able to reduce my school visit fee substantially because my expenses were being met either by the publisher or by the conference/festival. If you stay alert to what’s going on locally, you’ll know who might be coming to town. Then with a quick web search, you’ll be able to contact authors to see if a visit might be arranged.
  • One of the most common ways that author visits are funded is through book fairs, bake sales, and craft fairs. Also, the sales of an author’s books, when ordered from the publisher(s) at a discount and re-sold to students can help generate funding for future author visits. If you do this, be sure to ASK FOR THE AUTHOR VISIT DISCOUNT.
  • Many authors, myself included, let schools know when they’ll be in an area (either state-side or abroad) to conduct research, visit relatives, or even for a little R&R. This is an ideal time to invite an author to visit for a day or two. But typically it must be done before flights and/or tours are booked so the visit can be worked in to the author’s schedule. Some even announce travel plans on Facebook, so if you’re not following an author’s Author Page, perhaps you should. (https://www.facebook.com/LarryDaneBrimner/)
  • In last week’s post, I suggested that you should negotiate if the fees for your preferred author are problematic for your budget. Some authors charge a thousand dollars or more for a visit, but are more than willing to negotiate if you can bring in another school or two. Some have a local- or in-state fee and an out-of-area fee, which is usually higher. You’ve heard the term, “Shop locally.” But don’t think that you’re limited to authors in your immediate area. Many out-of-area authors keep their fees reasonable by offering “bundling” deals–i.e., multiple schools booked consecutively in an area might be discounted, or perhaps the author will cover his/her own travel and lodging expenses for visits longer than a single day. My school visits in New York or Texas or Oklahoma are as reasonable as a local author’s, given the right circumstances. Visit author websites to see what is being offered. (brimner.com)
  • Don’t be taken in by the “FREE” author visit. These often are offered by self-published authors in exchange for sales (often guaranteed sales) of the author’s books. Often the authors of “FREE” author visits have little or no experience presenting to children. This doesn’t mean that all such author visits lack quality or that self-published books lack quality, but approach with caution and do your homework.
  • Perhaps the most touching way a school paid for an author visit was by saving and cashing in aluminum cans. The librarian contacted me a full year ahead of my visit to find out my fee and to reserve time on my calendar. At that point, the children and their families began collecting cans for cash. A parent with a truck took the cans to a recycling center. What a way to get kids, their families, and the community to buy into a program. Three months before the date we had settled on, the librarian phoned to say they were close, but still about $300 short. I booked my flight, and we had a special, special day. And an anonymous donation meant they had a healthy start on an author visit the next year. Six years later, this school is still collecting cans and hosting an author each spring. It has become a community-wide effort.

I hope the ideas above will spark your own ideas about hosting an author event and how you might go about funding it. It is time consuming, but I think the excitement your students show will make it well worth the effort. Authors work hard, not only to produce their books, but also to make their school programs relevant to what’s happening in your school.

YOU WANT AN AUTHOR TO VISIT

Many authors, myself included, rely on school visits to make ends meet. An author typically earns 10% on the cost of a book. This is called the “royalty.” In other words, each $15.00 book will generate about $1.50 in royalties, once the book has earned back the advance. Think of an advance as a loan to the author from the publisher. Now if the book has an illustrator, the author splits the royalty. Suddenly, that $1.50 becomes 75-cents. Writers–authors–write because of love, or lunacy. While our reasons for writing are likely a combination of both, I prefer to think we do what we do out of love–love of words, love of story, love of our chosen audience. That said, it is necessary for most authors to turn to other things to make writing possible. Some teach. Some sell real estate. Some make bagels. Some speak in schools.

If you are hosting an author to your school, there are a few things you can do to make sure the visit is a success:

  1. Contact the author (or illustrator) well in advance of the planned date. Three to six months ahead is not too soon to begin reaching out to your preferred guest.
  2. When contacting an author, make it personal. Show that you’ve done some research into what the author has written. Go to his or her website. Avoid mass letters or emails addressed to “Dear Author” or worse, with no salutation at all. Like everybody else, authors like to feel special.
  3. Realize that the bulk of author visits occur during February, March, April, and May, and the calendars of many authors fill early. Consider hosting an author event in the fall. I guarantee authors will appreciate being able to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas for their families.
  4. Have a budget in mind. The fees that authors charge might seem outrageous, until you stop to consider they have to provide for their own medical insurance and retirement, and still keep a roof over their head. They have no sick days to rely on. I read somewhere that the average author earns less than $5,000 per year. (Love or lunacy? You choose.) Some authors publish their speaking fees on their websites, but realize that most are willing to negotiate. If their standard fee is problematic for your budget, suggest something that will work for you. What about asking a neighboring school to piggyback onto your visit?
  5. The best, most successful author visits result from creating buzz about your guest. Sponsor a door decorating contest. Decorate bulletin boards. Keep a calendar and count down the days until Author Day. Share books the author has written with your students. Create a book display of the author’s books. Brainstorm questions they might like to ask the author. Have a writing contest. Perhaps the students could perform a skit based on one of the author’s books. Some of my fondest memories are of schools that made the day a special one–a pizza lunch with winners of a writing contest, lunch with the kids who volunteered in the library, and lunch with the book club. While I love having lunch with students, be sure to clear it with your invited guest. Believe it or not, some children’s book authors do not like children. Go figure!
  6. Encourage the faculty to be active listeners during the author’s programs. Many authors, myself included, have teaching experience. Sometimes we toss out a bit of information or a strategy that may be useful in the classroom as a teaching tool or extension activity. Besides, it’s good manners.
  7. It’s a lot of work, but you might consider working with a local book vendor to sponsor a book sale. Authors are always happy to personalize and autograph books for children. If there isn’t a local book vendor, contact the publishers of the author’s books. Publishers usually offer a discount to schools hosting an author event–around 40%–which might be passed along to students or used to add to your budget.
  8.  Take photographs, and be sure to share some with the author. Make an “after visit” display.
  9. If there are any faculty or student comments, please share them with the author. Many of us rely on word-of-mouth to book future schools. Supportive words from people who have actually seen an author’s programs are wonderfully helpful.
  10. Finally, enjoy the day.

Assembly

Next week we’ll explore funding sources.

TED GEISEL’S TREES

I was moving along on my San Diego jogging route the other morning–between bouts of rain–and began thinking about Ted Geisel’s trees. Readers have commented that he drew weird, imaginative, and unrealistic trees. I never thought much it, because he lived in San Diego where the trees really do look weird, imaginative, and unrealistic. There are palm trees, of course, looking a bit like lanky poodles, their clips gone awry, and bay laurels with their arms outstretched to an impossible length–sometimes so far they need to be cabled or propped up. But the trees I find most like Geisel’s are the coral trees, when trimmed.

sdtrees

I still have one or two days this spring that need to be filled by a school visit. You can reach me via the form below.

 

JOIN US

tale_ann

ROAD TRIP

School visit today, so I’m on the road.

JANUARY BLUES

Despite beautiful morning skies, this one taken on January 9, this is my least favorite time of year. It’s that time when the days begin to grow visibly longer. Clearly, I’m a child of autumn and the dark days of winter. Nothing pleases me more than early darkness, because then I feel fully justified in cocooning with a good mystery or a dvd, turning the phone to “off,” curling under one of the afghans my mom made for me, and losing myself for a few hours. It’s a guilty pleasure, one I don’t allow myself when the night hours are brief. Whichever is your favorite time of year, make the most of it.

 

2017

So far, it looks as if the new year is off to a good start. I hit send on four easy-read manuscripts–a mini-series–on Monday. My lovely agent already is circulating those, so I’m hopeful they will land in the right editor’s inbox. Meanwhile, I think there are four PB manuscripts circulating that haven’t found the right editor yet. I’m finishing up the dreaded Source Notes and Index (especially dreaded/hated) for the major nonfiction project I’ve spent the last year and a half developing. Revisions on that saw me cutting about 15,000 to 20,000 words–so don’t ever tell me that every word is vital to a story. My expert reader helped me to see I had all this junk that could be summarized in a paragraph or two. (Thank you, Barbara.) I should be able to hit send on that by early next week.

PuppyAndBear_Cover.jpg

As for what lies ahead, I have two nonfiction proposals I’m working on. Thirteen easy-read titles (The Corner Kids series) will see new life as ebooks. A new picture book–Puppy and Bear: The First Day of School–will be released in July. Also, Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 is coming in the fall. I’d post a cover picture of Twelve Days–it’s stunning (Thank you, Barbara Grzeslo!)–but I don’t have one in a format I can share yet. (Hint!) I do hope one arrives in the near term so I can include it on next fall’s postcard mailing, which is being designed as we speak.(Hint! Hint!) Besides the usual school appearances, I’ll be signing books at the Scottsdale (Arizona) Public Library on Saturday, January 21 (10:00 – 2:00) and joining Cynthia Levinson and David Rice in Corpus Christi (Texas) on Saturday, February 11, to speak at the TALE conference. I hope our paths cross somewhere along the way this year. And for those who’ve asked if I’ll be at the conference of the American Library Association in June, I haven’t heard yet. Finally, I’ll be part of a stellar faculty line up–https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/workshops/master-class-in-writing-nonfiction-for-children-and-young-adults-2017/ –for Highlights Foundation’s Master Class in Writing Nonfiction from July 16 to 20. You don’t want to miss it.

WAO

P.S.: Schools interested in booking an Author Visit with me this spring or next fall, my calendar is filling fast. Contact me by email to secure your slot: ldb@brimner.com.

 

 

 

 

Mantis

On the Winter Solstice poet David Harrison declared it to be “Couplet Day.” The day before a praying mantis somehow managed to get itself between the window and outside screen. Hence . . .

Dear Mantis, perched between window and screen,

What meal awaits unaware, unseen?

© Larry Dane Brimner, All Rights Reserved, 2016

mantis