Last Thursday I got to meet one of my hero authors, Brandon Mull, who wrote the FABLEHAVEN series. Brandon isn't one of my hero authors just because he's on the New York Time's Bestseller list, but because he's one of the authors whose stories got my kids into reading. I think my sons have read just about every book Brandon Mull has written.
I've been to school author visits before, but this time I was watching not just as a fan or as a mother, but as a to-be-published author. I was watching to learn what makes a great author visit. I was impressed, Brandon kept a whole gym full of 3rd-6th graders interested and engaged while he talked for over a half hour. (I sometimes struggle to keep my church kids engaged for ten minutes.)
Here are some of the things I learned watching Brandon Mull's presentation:
1) Be real. Brandon Mull engaged the students by telling them things about himself, even a "most embarrassing moment" from his childhood. He showed them pictures of his family. He was himself, and the kids could see that he was a real person. He said later that one of the reasons he does author visits is so kids can see that authors are normal people and that writing is something they can do.
2) Make it a two-way communication. Instead of just talking for the full time, he asked the kids questions and encouraged them to participate. He brought a few kids to the front and they worked together to come up with a magical world:
How do you get there? (A secret door at a hospital.) What kind of creature do you see? (Cyclops.) What does the world feel like? (Bouncy.) What does it smell like? (Pancakes.)
3) Be funny. I'm not sure this is something that can be taught, but one thing the kids I talked to remembered was that he said the witch on the German cover of FABLEHAVEN made him think it was Yoda's awkward cousin. (Maybe I can practice telling jokes with my kids.)
3) Visuals are Important. Just about everything Brandon talked about had a slide to go with it, from a map where arrows crisscrossed the country, to his book covers, to a picture of himself with a dog sled team. He ended with a fantastic book trailer for his new book and new series, THE BEYONDERS, and I know that left an impression on everyone who was watching.
4) Teach something. Don't just try to sell books. One of my favorite slides was his comparison between what he had originally written and what his editor said about it. (I can relate to that.) He talked to the kids about how a teacher making corrections on a paper was like an editor helping you to tell the best story possible. His core message was for the kids to stretching their imagination and be creative in whatever they liked to do.
5) Build a connection with each kid/reader that you meet. This was my favorite thing that Brandon Mull did and the thing that impressed me the most. Every kid that came through for an autograph got his complete attention. (Even the adults had to wait their turn.) He asked the kids about what they were interested in. He looked them in the eye. He took a few minutes to answer their questions. I don't think any kid felt rushed or slighted when they came to have their book signed. He got down on their level and showed them that he cared.
I enjoyed listening to Brandon Mull's presentation and I know the kids at South Bay did too.