One thing I've learnt about being a children's author and illustrator is that you should always be prepared to think on your feet. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat remembering the following situations:
Situation 1: Newly published author unwittingly agrees to do first school visit.
My first ever school visit was quite frankly, a terrifying experience. Up until that day, I had not done any public speaking and I'd hardly even spoken to a child since I was one myself. I was totally unprepared! To make matters worse, on arrival the lovely headmistress ushered me straight into assembly. I soon discovered that I was expected to know how to entertain a room of highly excitable 4 -7 year olds for 45 mins. Id like to apologise to those poor children and teachers who sat there so patiently as I bumbled my way through like an idiot.
On reflection, being thrown in at the deep end was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I feel more clued up on what works and what doesn't and I have a basic formula for events that I adapt for different age groups. I read, do live drawing, Q&A's and then get the children drawing and being creative too. I sometimes use worksheets I've designed - these are downloadable on my website in 'fun stuff' www.hannahshawillustrator.co.uk
My advice for anyone who is starting out or struggling with events is to go and see someone similar to you in action. It was an eye-opener to me, although I have been awed and inspired by certain established authors, I have also been baffled by how others manage to keep a child's attention for more than a few minutes. Providing variety and excitement seems essential for a successful young children's event.
Situation 2: Author agrees to do book signing / reading in established retail store. After an awkward twenty minutes where customers actually seem to be going out of their way to avoid the signing table, it is clear that nobody understands what is happening!
This lesson was also learnt the hard way. Most booksellers are incredibly helpful and want to support authors but I always find signings are really hit and miss affairs. If the signing is well advertised (local paper, posters in the windows, books on display and the local schools are sent information too) I think you have a better chance of selling more books, but not always. I now insist that all of this has been organised by the shop first and I usually send them posters myself. I often make sure there is a flip-chart and pen on location and try to 'draw' in a crowd (excuse the pun!)
I've found that in larger stores I can get lost amongst the clutter, especially if plonked right at the back in the children's section. If moving is not possible, any way of attracting attention can help- whether it be a silly hat, some giant character cut-outs or a big sign! My excellent local bookshop lets me sit outside in a busy farmers market thoroughfare and the sales are increased three-fold.
Situation 3: Author is booked to do an event at a literary festival. On arrival finds out that no tickets were sold to the event / the organisers have forgotten to stock books / the projector doesn't work.
Thankfully, this didn't all happen at one festival! I must admit, projectors never seem to want to work with my laptop so I always have a back-up plan. Despite this, it was hard to be positive the day I found myself having to read a story to just two families of crying toddlers. I've had a few tricky moments at festivals but generally they are run by passionate people who have already thought of every eventuality and make sure you are well looked after.
Recently I illustrated all of the programme, posters and merchandise for the wonderful Hay Festival, (see sheep images) It was excellent promotion being the 'official illustrator'.
I also did two events there, one by myself and one with an author I illustrate for- Sean Taylor (see photo below). The event by myself went well enough but the event with Sean was fantastic. It was great to have the support and input of another author, it was so much easier than doing it alone. We even read a book together where he was one character and I was the other- the children loved it!
Thank goodness that despite my misadventures there are so many organised and welcoming librarians, teachers, festival staff and booksellers out there. I know as long as I remember to expect the unexpected, take extra books, colouring pencils, paper, USB sticks, a flip chart, a funny hat and a SMILE... (Phew!) everything will be fine!
Hannah's new picture book School For Bandits (published by Random House) is out on the 4th of August. See preview here