Thursday, June 07, 2012

Write for Children? Here's What You Can Do for School Librarians--and What School Librarians Can Do for You

School librarians don't just help kids find great books. They help  children's book authors find readers too.

Last year at the New Jersey SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) annual conference, I attended a class called “Minding Your Own Business.” The class was on the one thing all of us who write for children want to know: how to make money as a children’s book author.

The instructor, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, explained that the real money isn’t made by selling children’s books, even if you’re lucky enough to get a couple of picture books traditionally published every year. No, the real money is to be made by doing other things, particularly school visits.

Sudipta--who has written numerous picture books, including Pirate Princess and Chicks Run Wild--informed us that she went to two conferences for educators every year, one in New Jersey, the other in California. Getting just two school visits was enough to pay for her entire trip to the Golden State.

After hearing her speak, I put out a new school and library edition of Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey, with discussion questions in the back. Because bullying is such an important topic in schools today, I focused my questions on bullying, peer pressure, friendship and individualism. 

Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey uses humor to show that friendship and respecting our differences can help kids overcome bullying and peer pressure. The bullying isn't sugarcoated, but it also isn't exaggerated. I wanted to show all kinds of bullying, but I also wanted to focus on the kinds of bullying most kids encounter, so that they would be able to relate to the main characters, Dan and Sandy.

The school and library edition of Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey has questions in the back to help teachers and librarians start a discussion with students about what they can do to prevent bullying.

Of course, success like Sudipta’s doesn’t happen overnight. She worked her way up to get into the position she’s in now, while most writers have to start at the bottom.

So where exactly do you start?

Sudipta told us that she charges differently depending on the school and its situation. It’s best to start with a few free visits to work out what you’re doing and what the best way to do it is.

 The first thing that will pop into most writers’ heads is that they should contact teachers they know, particularly the teachers who have taught their own kids. That’s not a bad idea. But there something even better that you can do: contact your local school’s librarian or library media specialist.

I met school librarian Valerie Dewhurst online, and she was eager to answer my question. As a school librarian, she wants to help children’s book writers promote their books. Valerie works in a school in Blackburn in the UK, but I think most of her answers apply to schools in the United States and other countries as well.

Here are my questions and Valerie's answers:

Q. How does a writer find out who the school librarian is, and what's the best way for the writer to contact the librarian? 

A. Writers can email or write to schools, asking for their introduction to be passed on--my personal view on this is to send to the librarian, because sometimes mail does not get passed on. A good way is to find their local SLA (the School Library Association in the UK) branch and get in touch with the secretary. She can inform all members of your work or new book. She can even ask you in to one of their events--getting you a big intro with members. I do this. 

Q. What's the minimum the writer can send? What are the best things a writer can send to make it as easy as possible for the librarian to promote the writer's work? 

A. There is no minimum--I would welcome one book or even a box of books. But again, it's down to each librarian's personal view on this. Finding and asking the branch secretary of groups is always best. 

Q. Should a writer send materials just once, yearly, or more often? What is the best time of year to submit material?

A. Termly, I think--my personal view. We can never get enough material in

Q. Should a writer send a lesson plan if he/she wants to get an author visit?

A. Oh yes, good idea—I would welcome this. I have just had an author in, and he emailed me his lesson plan after the event. We are using it now in library lessons as a follow up.

Q. Does a writer need a website? 

A. No, but it's a good idea these days to have one. 

Q. Does a writer need recommendations from other schools? 

A. Not always. If you’re good, anyway, you'll soon get recommended. I welcome new authors too, everyone deserves that chance to get out and get their work noticed. 

Q. Should the book have discussion questions in the back? 

A. I think this is a really good idea. I wonder if other authors have thought of this. 

Q. If a writer used to be a teacher or has a teacher's certificate, is that something that should be mentioned? 

A. Yes, of course. Why not? Kids love to sit and listen to authors talk and love to know about their past. They are always fascinated when the author says "I used to be a librarian." This goes down very well. 

Q. Does the book need to be on particular topics that fit the curriculum? 

A. No, all good books are welcomed. 

Q. What can writers do to make it as easy as possible for school librarians to promote our books as fully as possible? 

A. Send them their new books or even sample copies/reviews. Get their publisher to send out posters and bookmarks. Librarians are busy each day and don't always have time to make that contact. There are so many new books being published that it's hard to keep up. Hence I do lots of work from home in my own time.

Thanks, Valerie, for answering my questions. There's a lot that children's book writers and school librarians can do to help each other. Thanks for showing me--and my readers--the first steps. 

If you found this helpful or if you have any questions or suggestions you would like to make on this topic, I hope you'll leave a comment below.



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