I’ve just completed my first promotional tour for The Huntress Trilogy, and I had an amazing time. I felt really keen to get out there and interact with readers, because even though I’m not the most naturally comfortable public speaker – and get pretty nervous at times – I’m passionate about meeting my audience and encouraging their own creativity.
Between April and May I visited seven primary and junior schools in Sussex, Gloucester and Kent to meet readers and talk about the first book in the series, The Huntress: Sea.
I had the chance to spend more time with my super-woman of a publicist, Alice, and work with some incredible booksellers – from Hove’s indie gem The Book Nook (where Sea was launched) and Waterstones (Cheltenham and Hastings) plus a lovely freelance bookseller called Rosie from Rosemary Hill Books. All of the booksellers were friendly, enthusiastic and arrived toting stacks of copies of my book to sell.
The absolute star of the second leg of the tour was the inimitable Annie Everall of the award winning Authors Aloud. It was a dream to work with such a legend in the children’s literature world. We also had a lot of fun chatting about books, knitting and discovering our shared lack of sense of direction!
Planning the tour
Before the tour started, I worked on a draft of a presentation and headed to the Egmont offices to rehearse it with the amazing publicity team. I knew I wanted to include a reading, a slideshow and to weave Huntress themed activities into the event. Once I felt happy with my presentation, Egmont ‘Huntressed’ it up, beautifying the slides with artwork to match the cover. The event evolved into an hour long presentation consisting of a reading, slideshow (including writing process, research trips and creatures from the world of Trianukka), show and tell of my scrapbook, creative writing activities followed by time for questions and a book signing.
During the school visits I met incredible, energised kids, teachers and TAs, who were all engaged and brimming with wild imagination.
The atmosphere became very excitable when the activities started. I asked kids to come up with their own ‘namesake animal’ (many of the characters in the book are from Tribes which name their children after animals which are thought to represent their spirit), to choose a ‘special power’ (giving examples from the book but also encouraging their own ideas), and to think about being a member of crew aboard the ship – what might they keep in their pockets? What creature companion might they choose? (A moonsprite or a sea-hawk, for example.) I was blown away by the richness of the children’s imaginations, though not AT ALL surprised.
- Getting the chance to reassure children who asked me about dyslexia. I emphasised how spelling or academic ability doesn’t have anything to do with imagination, and encouraged them to keep writing.
- On official publication I presented to a group of year 6 pupils, whose head teacher had been my own year six teacher! Mentioning that fact definitely caused a few jaws to drop. I remember my teacher once telling my parents she thought I’d be an author one day, so it was an extra special way for The Huntress: Sea to start her voyage. The dream had come true. We even had a photo taken together for the school newsletter.
- Meeting children who wanted to be authors and having the chance to tell them that yes, it is possible, and to keep writing.
- Passing on my own favourite piece of advice to my younger self: FINISH something. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
Before the tour I received some brilliant advice from Katherine Woodfine, fellow Egmontee and author of the Sinclair’s Mysteries. She said:
Be yourself. It will take time to work out your ‘routine’ so in the meantime, don’t be tempted to compare yourself to others or be some kind of stand-up comedian. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Here are some more…
Things I’ve learned about touring:
- Bring throat sweets +++
- Bring water +++
- When reading, slow down and breathe. Make eye contact with audience members.
- Include activities – my school event is currently an hour long, and that’s a long time for 8-12 year olds to sit and listen. They can do some amazing creative work themed around your book!
- Don’t be afraid to ask the school for items that can help you perform at your best – e.g. a glass of cold water, a microphone or (my favourite) a remote clicker so you can effortlessly click through your slides.
- Back up your presentation – on the second half of the tour I had the slides on my computer, my USB stick, my email, plus at least two devices owned by my colleague (did I mention how amazing Annie is?!) Never leave anything to chance – feeling slightly more in control is reassuring!
- But…don’t expect to be completely in control! Things won’t always go to plan. Taxis will be late. Sometimes the equipment can be unreliable or missing on the day (never assume there will be clickers or mics, for example.) At one school the projector broke down midway through, so I had to keep going without my slides.
- Be sensitive. Schools are communities with their own rules and values. Not all of them allow photos and sensitivity should be used when dealing with social media – take the school’s lead on this.
- Be interactive – ask the kids questions (and prepare to be inspired by their thoughtful answers). Asking for volunteers can be a nice way of getting kids involved (no pressure though – no one likes being picked on!) At one of my visits, when I was talking about my writing process, I showed my Huntress scrapbook and asked a kid to volunteer to hold it up for me. I think it was fun for the child to be involved, plus it really helped because I was holding a microphone and running out of hands!
- Ask the schools to provide the kids with paper and pencils if doing activities – I found doing actual writing and drawing focused the group better than just chatting through their answers.
- Sharpies are legitimately one of the best things about being an author. The continual growth of my stationery collection is now beyond justified. Whoop! The best publicists and chaperones bring post its as well, so they can write children’s names down before they reach you in the signing queue.
- Train-snacks are a must – favourites include veggie percy pigs.
- Enormous crème brulees exist and must be consumed.
- Publicists can create a very authoritative ‘teacher’s voice’ when dealing with late cabbies, and clap expertly to recall children’s attention.
I felt really humbled by and grateful for the experience of touring, and I can’t wait to get back out there and meet more amazing readers in future. Thank you to all the schools who welcomed me!
Some favourite questions and comments:
Can I help you write the second one?
What would a fighting squid have in its pockets?
Does writing ever get boring?
What is Pip’s story? (Pip is the ship’s cook and only appears at irregular intervals – I was so impressed that this girl thought about ‘minor’ characters’ back stories!)
I’m going to stay up all night reading!