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I just got home from my first ever high school visit as an author.  I was terrified (my teaching experience with middle schoolers and college students has a gaping high school shaped hole, and I didn’t want to bore them), but it was SO much fun. 

A young writer I’d met in one of the workshops I’ve taught at the Arts Center in Carrboro invited me to speak to her writing club today during lunch, and I was thrilled to have the chance.  Even though I have limited “performing” experience with this age group, they are my primary readers, and it was great to meet such a passionate group of young writers.

I wanted to share my experience with you, in case you are similarly nervous about connecting with your YA readers face to face.  Admittedly, teens who love writing and reading are a very different audience then, say, a full student body assembly, but honestly, their passion made me more nervous beforehand.  What if I didn’t tell them the right things?  What if they asked me for way more advice than I could offer?  What if I dressed too much like a stuffy adult?  With all these thoughts swirling around in my mind, I still managed to cut through the confusion and loosely plan my visit.

First, the clothes. 

It probably doesn’t matter as much as my inner teen thinks it does (plus, half the kids were in togas today for spirit day), but I felt better taking time to pick an outfit that made me feel confident, professional, and fun.  (Actually, I ended up wearing my author photo outfit, chosen then for the same reasons).  Being in clothes I felt comfortable and confident in helped me to relax (bringing a steaming mug of chai to hold onto if I got nervous helped, too).

Second, the swag.

I have slowly been accumulating swag for my upcoming releases, and I took a handful of pens and bookmarks with me today.  I spread the stuff out on my desk, and as each student came in, I just pointed and said “I brought goodies!”, and it was like I’d offered them candy or jewels; they were so excited!  I had been starting to wonder if the swag would be worth it, or if I’d just end up with unused promotional materials taking over my house, but today totally convinced me.  School visits = swag.

Third, the talk.

Since I’d been invited to attend an informal writing club during a lunch meeting, I hadn’t really prepared anything.  I brought my most recent revision notebook, and printed out the first page of DAUGHTER OF CHAOS to read to them if I needed a time filler, but when I got there, I told them to just ask me questions.  We easily filled an hour; they asked some awesome questions, and I had so much fun talking about craft and process with them.  It was so easy to be natural with them; their passion and energy was contagious, and I loved the chance to answer their questions.

Plus, they made me feel like a rock star. 

If you have any school visits planned (and I really hope you do), remember to be genuine, confident, and above all else, have fun! Even if you’re nervous, I bet the experience will be better than you expected. Just remember to be yourself; you’re passionate about your work, and if you write for teens, you’re probably passionate about your audience, too.

Oh, and bring goodies.

I can’t wait to start lining up more school visits in the coming months before ISOBEL and DAUGHTER launch. 

What has your experience been with school visits?  How do you reach out to your readers?