Thursday, March 7, 2013

School Visits -- Pros and Cons

Young Adult fiction author John Green is famous for his brilliant fiction and his VlogBrothers video blogs. This week, he talked about traveling to sustain his career with speaking fees and book promotion.  And while we write different kinds of books for different kinds of kids, we have that in common.   We both travel – a LOT.

So let's discuss the pros and cons -- in this case, the cons and pros -- of school visits. 

A GREAT hotel in Boise, ID.

I can’t define what “a lot” means for my friend John.  But I can define it for myself.  I have spoken to between 50 and 75 schools and conferences a year for the past five years.   A few are within driving distance.  Most require airborne transportation.  And both kinds of travel can be really tiring.  Con. 

Ground transportation mix-ups are a frustrating after a full 10 to 12 hours in airports. It's cold on those curbs, waiting for a stranger to pick you up.  But waiting is all that works, with the flight delays of modern times.  So you wait.  LITTLE Con. 

Hotels and hotel beds can be if-y.  Not all neighborhoods are welcoming.  And some beds should be in sleep deprivation museums.  Enough said.  Con.

Hungry?  Sometimes that's a problem.  If your host forgets that authors eat, and your hotel is not within walking distance of a restaurant, those Southwest peanuts you stuck in your bag start to look pretty appealing.  Temporary starvation.  Con. 


Before I start to look really whiny, hold on.  Am I complaining?  I am NOT – not even for a fraction of an instant.  These CON things don't happen very often, other than the long airport hours.  And I am grateful for the chance to connect with the kids that read my books.  Pro. 

Hanging out with kids keeps me on track to write true stories they care about.  I do this for my financial gain, sure.  But that’s not the real reason.  I do it for those kids.  And when I listen, they confirm my published books were worth writing.  They evaluate my new story ideas and show me where I should go to write the next one.  BIG Pro.

Photo by Roxyanne Young
Then there is research.  When I travel to a new city, I can do research for my future books.  In San Diego, I visited two haunted houses and investigated with a paranormal team for four twilight hours to prep for my ghost book.  Does it get any better than that?  Pro.

I also supplement   my writing income with speaking fees.  And those fees allow me to work well, not quickly.  With school visits, I can take four years  -- two years of research prior to sale, two years after -- to write a book that only paid enough to cover two months,  if I’m frugal; one month upon signing, the other after acceptance two years later.  Thanks to the generosity of parent teacher organizations, I can do serious nonfiction research, even if my topics are non-traditional.   And that is important to me and to the kids that read me.  HUGE Pro. 

Let’s not forget book sales.  I sell more books doing school visits than I could without school visits.  In 2012, I visited 19 elementary schools in February, thanks to the Literacy Connection, a group of retired educators in central Washington that organizes author visit tours each year. I was one of their authors in 2012.  I talked to hundreds and hundreds of kids and sold more than 2,000 hardcover books , along with earning my fees.   The organizers said we sold more books than had ever been sold before – most to reluctant reader boys, aching to love a book.  They loved mine. Pro! Pro! Pro!

Girls like my books, too!
That brings us to my last reason for loving (and enduring) school visits.   Every time I walk into that gym, that library, that commons room, that auditorium, that cafeteria, what I do is plentifully reaffirmed. 

If ever I've wondered if I made the right choice to write 25 years ago, if I've wondered if anyone cares about my books, if I've ever grieved not winning awards, or the pain in my knees, or the flus and viruses I get on the road, the uncertainties vanish the minute I see those smiling faces.  Doubt is replaced with joy, without exception.

I have a genuine passion for writing, and I’m good at it.  But it pales in comparison to my passion for young readers.  “You are my favorite writer.”  “This is my favorite book.”  “I want to do what you do when I grow up.”  Sentences like those discount the con columns.  They wash the cons away. 

I do school visits because they are a part of who I am. I am never more completely myself than I am when I’m with those kids – or the grown-ups devoted to helping them. 

Travel in post 9/11 airports may feel like hell.  But once you get to a destination that feels like heaven, what difference does it make?   

I AM lucky to do what I do -- even when it includes a 6:00 am departure time. So onward! 

And to all of you brilliant, generous hosts out there, thank you for being the angels that you are.  You are not just my hosts, you are my friends. 

Kelly Milner Halls


perfumebee said...


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Jill said...

100% true, Kelly. Great post! (And how could kids not LOVE your books?!) :)

Jill Esbaum

Cheryl Harness said...

The night before I must travel afar to a school visit I wish I were dead with my back broken [my favorite line from the classic Sabrina, spoken by Humphrey Bogart]. When I'm up talking with kids, drawing a picture for them, signing their books, reveling in their smiles & laughter, I wish every day I could be the visiting author. The BEST part of the job.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I can't imagine doing as many visits as you do, Kelly, but I do understand. And for the reluctant boy readers especially - your visits must be life-changing! :) e