Greetings from Hong Kong, where I’m doing school visits this week as part of their annual Young Readers Festival. Afterwards I’ll be on my way to Shanghai for a spell to visit family. I’m drafting this letter from onboard the plane from Detroit, currently hovering, according to the inflight tracker, just outside of Yakutsk.
Last week was an eventful week: on Monday I turned in a draft of the novel I’ve been referring to here as GRACE. I promised you I wouldn’t mention it until it the draft was done. Well, it’s done … almost. There are a number of yet-to-be-written … let’s call them interludes, that act as mortar between the two storylines. Still, my editor and I agreed it’d be better for her to have a TK-laden draft now than a completed one later, as she has to decide whether we’ll be ready for their big seasonal launch in May. (For more about how these internal launch meetings work, you can listen to this episode of the podcast I recorded about See You in the Cosmos.)
But: back to school visits. School visits are, to me, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a children’s author. I have a presentation that I can stretch anywhere from an efficient half hour to a more-jokey full hour (with room at the end for questions). And boy are the questions great! One I got recently was: “What if the dog in your book was a gerbil? How would you have written it differently?”
Sometimes you can tell who right away the writers in the audience are, and you want to give those kids as much additional encouragement as you can. Other times, there’ll be a student sitting slouched, arms folded, who probably doesn’t read many books, not through any fault of their own, but just because they haven’t met the right book yet. And maybe, if you’re lucky, by the end of the talk, their arms will have unfolded.
For children’s authors, school and library visits are also a source of income. This, however, poses its own dilemma: often, the schools that bring you in (or that even ask to bring you in) are the ones who can afford to bring you in the first place. You, the children’s author, want your time and effort to be valued, but you also don’t want to worsen the resource gap between wealthier schools or districts and lower-income ones. I try to do everything in my power not to turn down schools who don’t have the speaker budget. This is significantly easier if the schools are within driving distance, but if it involves air travel, overnight stays … it gets more difficult. I’m also balancing tour time with novel-writing time, looking at the former to help sustain the latter, without getting in its way. But on a couple occasions so far, I’ve had to say ‘no’ despite wanting to do the visits, mainly because I couldn’t make the numbers work.