Being an author brings frequent opportunity to engage with readers and the community. Engagement can take many forms, from e-forums, school and library visits, signings, to writer/reader specific events and festivals. As a YA author, I’ve also learned never to assume who will be in each audience.
Writing a book is a very different activity to presenting a practical writing workshop or delivering an encouraging theme related talk. Given the YA tag, for general author visits I often see a high proportion of children attending, along with older young people and their parents, which is really cool. There’s also an equal likelihood that a range of adults up to (or beyond!) eighty may be present. This also is fantastic, as I have a lot of adult readers too, but it presents me with the challenge of engaging a vast range of reading levels, attention spans, and interests.
So how does one prepare for a child friendly event that will appeal to adults, while holding the attention of young people? I wish I could give you a simple answer. My approach has been very much trial and error. Thankfully I’ve had mostly positive experiences (mostly …), but I’ve found something a teacher friend told me once has been sound advice.
Prepare well, take charge, and don’t be afraid to look silly.
I took this to mean I should target my sessions at the more distractible ages, whilst including elements that can go a little deeper, and ensure I have fun—because if I’m having fun, so will they. This rang true with what I’d learned from many years in tertiary education, with frequent community and school engagement. Over time, this is pretty well how my sessions have developed.
The beauty of having young people at an event is no one thinks it’s unusual if you do a few crazy things. We’ve had scavenger hunts, dressing up with main protagonist look-alike masks, relay-type team competitions etc. (You should come to my book launches!) My most recent author visit was a game show style event with learning on select writing topics, interspersed with related challenges and giveaways. An interactive audience always helps.
Even if people look at me like I’m an alien at first (hey, you can’t please everyone), they generally get used to me by the end. Sometimes they even join in. Yay!
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned from all these shenanigans is to own the session. As my friend advised – prepare, prepare, prepare. But also, have the conversations you need with associated teachers or event organisers in advance regarding crowd management, available resources, timing etc. The other important thing I’ve learned is to have a backup plan. (I’m still developing this skill.) If something’s not working, have an established escape hatch that will lead to a potentially more engaging option.
There’s much more I could share, but if you’re a writer and you’ve not yet launched yourself on some unsuspecting audience (I do mean in a positive way …), be encouraged to put yourself out there—and have fun. It’s a great experience and one that can lead to really positive interactions, for yourself and the community.
Adele Jones is an award winning Queensland author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fictional short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or firstname.lastname@example.org