Thursday, September 8, 2011

September Theme: Publishing Changes…or Not—Connecting With Kids the Old-Fashioned Way by John Claude Bemis

In the fast-paced world we live in, there’s always talk about what’s next and how we should adapt in order to survive. As writers we hear this all the time regarding the publishing world: Should I be doing Facebook or Google+? How can we build fans through social media sites, blogs, Twitter, websites? How will e-books affect readers and writers? What’s the next hot thing to promote books?

These are all important and fascinating discussions. However when it comes down to children’s book promotion, I’ve found the best avenues are old-fashioned ones. Of all the various ways I try to promote my books, I think the most successful venture has been school visits. I should preface this by saying I love getting in front of audiences, and I’m not big on doing things on-line (simply because when I have that time to myself, I need to be writing!). That said, nothing beats a good old-fashioned school visit.

For my school visits, I’ve put together a combination of performance and instruction. Often I begin the morning with an assembly presentation where I talk to the kids about how to generate story ideas. This is something many kids—and adult writers too!—struggle with. I tell them about how I wrote The Nine Pound Hammer drawing on my personal passions and quirky interests in American folklore, traditional music, and myths.

But I don’t just lecture or drone on. I play guitar and sing. I read a passage from my book with excitement and drama. I get kids on stage to act out the legend of John Henry (a critical piece to my Clockwork Dark trilogy). I involve the kids by making it as interactive and memorable as possible. This sets things up nicely for getting into classrooms for the rest of the school visit to lead writing workshops on characters, plots, and story-mapping.

The key seems to be getting the kids excited about writing their own stories, as well as getting them pumped to read my books. And the perfect thing about school visits is that you have these huge audiences of potential readers: the students, their teachers, and even parents. I love doing book store readings, but parents (sadly) don’t bring their kids out very often to these events. I don’t think it’s on most families’ radars. With a school visit, you’re guaranteed a big crowd.

Of all the things I do—posting on Facebook, participating in blogs like this fine one, going to book festivals, doing live chats on-line with parent groups, book store and library readings, building a strong website and web-presence—I hear the most from kids who picked up my books after a school visit. I’ve won many more fans this way than any other thing I do promotion-wise. And I’m proud to say, I’ve helped inspire young writers to pursue imagining and writing stories of their own.

(Click here to see a video of students in Jackson, Mississippi performing the legend of John Henry.)


  1. Thanks for the reminder that the personal touch makes all the difference, John.

  2. I want to go to one of you presentations! FUN! :)

  3. Very helpful to hear, as most my writing friends are promoting to teens and adults. Now if only I could play the guitar... ;)

  4. Great post, John, and I totally agree with you about how important school visits are (both to kids and authors)!