I mean, not just a school visit, but a whole week of them? and travelling? and packing? and author-imagining-long-list-of-things-that-could-go-wrong?
If you've got a book out soon and the words publicity tour have been mentioned by your publisher, if you're anything like me you were just a little terrified...
School one of ten...!
I'm just back from the publicity tour for Shattered, book 3 of the Slated trilogy (reported on here): ten schools in five days, all over England. Having survived my second tour now I've come up with my top tips:
If you're lucky like I was, you'll have a publicist organising things; if you're doing it yourself then of course this is more of a deal. But it is helpful to be involved a little in the logistics even if things are being planned for you. For eg. when I saw the draft schedule, I asked to stay home Weds night instead of in London, even though this meant getting up at 5 am the next day (not everyone's cup of tea, but I appreciated a night at home in the middle of it all).
The talk: how much you prepare these things is an individual thing. For me, I find it goes better if I don't practice it over and over, and have a list of points rather than a whole speech. If I focus too much on the talk ahead of time, I get nervous, and if I practice too much, I start memorising it and it loses personality. Also even if they all say an hour long...they won't be. You need to be able to adjust the length on the spot. This is easier if it isn't rigid. Also have some extra stuff ready to talk about, just in case.
3. Stuff to take
Print and take more than one copy of your talk, and your schedule. Don't keep them in the
same place. Post it notes can be great to have on hand for names to be written down when you're signing books (more than likely, your publicist, the bookseller or the school will have them, but good to have a back up supply). Take signing pens and extra ones, bookmarks if you have them, and bookplates are handy for students who forgot their money but want a signed book (or blank labels if you haven't got any bookplates). They should have water there and lunch scheduled, but emergency snacks and a spare bottle of water are a good idea.
Pack light. Lugging heavy stuff on and off trains at speed is never fun, and a small bag that will fit in the overhead on trains is good for peace of mind (I hate having luggage down the other end of the train where I can't keep an eye on it). I love my little trolley case! It's got wheels that'll roll in all directions! Speaking of which...
5. Roll with it
Be flexible. Stuff happens. Things like the power going out, books running out, pens running out of ink, trains being missed, time being less than expected, will happen. Likewise, travel issues could affect your publicist if they are meeting you somewhere, so be prepared in case they're late or don't make it - know where you're going etc.
6. To read or not to read?
I used to get really nervous about reading - I've started to get more chilled about it, but it used to be if time was tight or I was rattled, the reading was the first thing to go. Not anymore. I've found students always listen the most intently by far when I'm reading than when I'm doing anything else.
Of course, choosing a reading is key: something exciting, intriguing, that doesn't have loads of characters or presumed knowledge behind it. Not too long, not too short.
One of the opportunities of a tour is to vary what you are reading and watch audience response.
7. E-books can save you
If I carry all three books of my trilogy around with me, they're heavy! I've got into the
|3 gorgeous books vs. 1 e-reader: tough call!|
8. It's ok to say 'no'
I don't sign Roald Dahl books (or anyone else's, for that matter!). I don't sign hands or arms. I'm happy to sign planners, scraps of paper, bookmarks, posters etc. You don't have to answer every question, either, if there are areas of your life you want to keep private.
You shouldn't ever be left to find your way around a school on your own, or left with students on your own. It is fair to object if it looks like it will happen.
9. The naughty step
Schools will vary in how well students will sit and listen, and in how much the staff will intervene if they don't. I've worked in schools so am probably more chilled about this than some - but even though I don't get upset if kids act up as they do now and then, it is still distracting. Refer to point 5, above. It is fair to stop and wait for teachers to get things under control if that is needed.
10. Enjoy yourself!!
Meeting readers and potential readers is so much fun. A tour is a unique opportunity to reach a wide range of schools and students, some of whom may not have had the experience of meeting an author before, and wouldn't any other way. The questions they ask and the things they come up with can be funny, touching, impressive, inspiring. I love writing for this audience, and I love meeting them.
And if you're really lucky, you might be given some of these:
Thanks so much to my publisher Orchard Books, Victoria, Rosie, Corinne, Lizz, Caitlin, Authors Aloud, and all the librarians, teachers and booksellers involved in making the week happen.