Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reaching Readers: Engaging Kids at Book Events

Let's say you've got a book out. Yay! Now let's say you book a school visit or you're accepted to a book festival or you're participating in an author fest at your local library. You're sitting at your table or you're slurping down water after a 45 minute presentation to half the school and . . . a kid comes up to you. And -- yikes -- they want to talk to you. Now what?
Photo by superkimbo. Used under a
creative commons license.

This isn't a big deal to a lot of authors out there, but to some of us, it's downright terrifying. We don't have kids ourselves or we're just not all that great in off-the-cuff social situations, and the idea of having to talk one-on-one with a kid is kind of scary. Some of us aren't fazed by chatting with kids, but aren't entirely sure what to talk about. Some kids are naturally chatty, and you'll find yourself barely getting a word in, but others? They might be shy or in awe or not all that comfortable talking to adults. So what do you do?

Photo by pinprick.
Used under a creative
commons license. 
1) Ask them the basics. This sounds obvious, but it's super easy to forget when you're in the moment. First name, grade, school, and pets. Kids love to talk about their pets. And you can always branch off from there -- ie. "Oh! Your name is Kelsey. There's a character in one of my books named Kelsey. I love that name." or "What kind of dog do you have?" (Sidenote: this gets really fun when the child has the same name as your antagonist! I've apologized to so many girls named Addison that I've lost count. Although it does make for a good inscription if the kid buys your book.)

2) Ask them about their favorite book or a recent book they read. If the kid is coming up to you, chances are he's a reader. It's so wonderful to see a quiet kid light up when you ask him about his favorite book. If you've read it, you can chime in. And if you haven't, you can talk about similar books.

Photo by Jack Lyons.
Used under a creative commons license.
3) Engage the kid in something creative or a small game. This isn't for everyone, but if you have any talent in drawing or origami or something small and creative or game-like that you can bring with you to a book festival, kids absolutely love it. I've seen authors draw quick sketches for kids. Author Mike Grosso brought a Rubik's Cube to a recent book festival -- it was a hit with the kids. Other authors bring short, fun quizzes.

4) Ask the child if she writes. A lot of kids are budding authors, and they love nothing more than to tell you about their stories.

5) Pull in something from your presentation. This works especially well at school visits. You can ask the child about specific things you mentioned in your presentation. Things like, "What was your favorite part?" or "What would you do if ...?" work really well.

6) When all else fails, talk about your books. Seriously. But keep the pitches short and sweet (like, a sentence or two). Then you can ask the kid a question related to the book. For Out of Tune, I'll say something like, "This book is about a girl who wants to be a singer, but her family sells everything to live in this ugly trailer and travel the country. She has to find a way home to try out for a singing show. Do you like to sing?"

Do you have any tips for talking to kids at events? If so, leave them in the comments. And happy chatting!

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