Thursday, March 20, 2008

Next Stop--New Orleans

One of the great things about being an artist and writer is that I get to set my own schedule. My husband had a conference in New Orleans at the end of February so naturally I went along. I asked Taylor Rogers if Charlesbridge could arrange a bookstore visit while I was there and she made arrangements with Maple Street Children's Book Shop. Whenever I mentioned that name to anyone from New Orleans they knew just which store it was.

I did not want to repeat my reading to one child experience, educational though it had been, so I emailed the two people I know in New Orleans. One is my neighbor’s son, who has worked there for the last 9 years or so and the other is my cousin Becky who runs Audubon Yoga Studio. I emailed them each a flyer attachment like I had made before and asked them to spread it among their friends and acquaintances.

I also emailed the SCBWI-Illinois list serve and asked that anyone with New Orleans contacts pass on my information. Our list serve, for SCBWI members only, is a wonderful resource where we can announce our signings and our good news, vent when needed, and most valuable of all, ask questions about the business of children’s books. Everyone is amazingly generous about sharing knowledge and experience and ideas. I heard back from at least nine people with suggestions about how to publicize my event. Most helpful of all, one member forwarded my email to a friend of hers who knows everyone and everything in New Orleans—or that’s what it felt like to me as we exchanged emails and phone calls. In a matter of a few days she had arranged for me to visit the Good Shepherd School on the day before my bookstore signing and speak with all the students (about 75) about writing, art, and journal writing. This school visit turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to New Orleans.

Students of Good Shepherd School

I spoke to two grades at a time, beginning with the 4th and 5th graders. I read Truck Stuck to all of them and talked about the next book I am working on, a book of bird poetry which I am illustrating with my journal sketches. The 4th and 5th graders were quite taken with my explanations of how to draw birds, using a “vocabulary” of straight and curved lines and basic geometric shapes. We left my demonstration drawing standing on the easel in the lunch room and a group of girls took the opportunity to practice drawing during their lunch break.

With the 6th and 7th graders I talked about the writing process and the long journey of submitting and revising and resubmitting my work. Truck Stuck was sent to 12 different publishers over a 12 year period. It is a lesson in persistence.

The 2d and 3rd graders enjoyed the story itself and the lively illustrations of Andy Robert Davies. I told them which elements in the illustrations came from my suggestions and which elements, such as the Elvis character, were completely Andy’s contribution.

The book signing at the Maple Street Children’s Bookstore turned out great despite my getting a flat tire on the way to the signing! Note to self—ALWAYS carry the contact information for the event with me and have a cell phone with a charged battery. Luckily I did have the phone number and was able to alert the bookstore owner that I would be a few minutes late.

I arrived not too late and not too flustered. There were only a few people, including my neighbor’s son, waiting for me, but the tiny store soon filled up with young children and their families. My cousin was responsible for bringing in most of the families. She has an extensive email list for her yoga studio business and she had contacted everyone she knew who had young kids. She had also announced my event at her classes and had a printout of my email announcement for people to take. I was so glad I had thought to ask her help and given her enough notice to really spread the news effectively.

I read Truck Stuck twice that afternoon and kids played with my trucks as I signed books. We sold at least 19 copies and I felt that the event was quite worthwhile. Once again, I’m not sure my book would have been picked up by this store if we hadn’t scheduled the signing, but now the owner is familiar with my book and knows I have a second book in the works with Charlesbridge. I hope to return to Maple Street Children's Book Shop in a year, when the next book is released.

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