Distance Doesn’t Have to Mean Disconnection

Quick question.

What do you miss most?

I know. It’s a broad question.

But the truth is, most of us are missing something that we used to enjoy. Travel. Dinners out. Family gatherings. Weekends with friends. Browsing in the library or local bookshop. The list could go on and on.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how the world has changed the way authors connect with readers. For those of us who write for children, connections with readers come by way of very important adults: parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers.  Like many authors, my life used to be filled with connection. I spoke at schools regularly. I said “Yes!” to every invitation to book-talk at a library, and I cherished the chance to sit at the signing table at a book store or book festival and ask a bright-eyed ten-year-old how to spell their name as I signed their new book.

But none of those things are happening right now. And I’m feeling it, big-time.

When all of my spring 2020 events were cancelled, I was hopeful. We’ll rebook in the fall. Fall is going to be so busy! But now we know that’s how it’s working out.

Here’s the thing:  Covid-19 doesn’t have to steal our connection. Authors and illustrators still want to meet our readers. We’re just going to have to get creative and think of new ways to make it happen.

Now, before I go on, let me say this:  Teachers, Librarians, Parents, Administrators, PTA presidents, all those who usually orchestrate author connections in schools:  You are swamped right now. You are trying to figure out how to do the impossible and you are nothing short of heroes who didn’t ask to be heroes. Thank you. Author connections are likely the last thing on your minds. So, tuck these ideas away for a day (and I hope that day comes sooner rather than later) when your routine is set, your students are in the groove, and the learning doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Then perhaps, you might come back to this post, this list, and we’ll find our connections once more.

Virtual Author Visits – What was once considered second-rate to the “real thing” is now becoming commonplace. And it doesn’t feel so second-rate at all. I had the privilege of meeting with two wonderful groups of students in May and June via Zoom and we all relished the experience. I’m in Ohio and they were in Texas and California. Bringing an author to your classroom doesn’t have to mean raising money for airfare and coordinating years in advance.  Many authors have revamped their author visit options to include small group visits with students in their own virtual classrooms. Some schools are meeting in person this fall with strict (and wise) rules prohibiting outside visitors. Authors are as flexible as ever. Virtual visits are alive and well! Check out authors’ websites or visit an author booking site such as StorySeer to find out how authors are still coming to schools and virtual classrooms.

Snail Mail is Back – What did your students like about the book they just read? What questions do they have for the author? Many authors answer mail from readers. To find out how to reach an author, check out their website for information about where to send mail. We love hearing from our readers more than just about anything else!

Story Time Has Gone Online – Your local library might be limited to curbside pick-up right now, but librarians have proven themselves some of the most adaptable folks on the planet (no surprise there!). Look at your library’s website or social media pages to see if authors are visiting virtually. Many of the summer events my fellow authors and illustrators had planned in Northern Ohio went to a virtual format instead of being cancelled.

Booksellers are our Best Friends – At first, booksellers were simply trying to figure out how to stay in business (and many still are trying to stay afloat, so buy local and buy indie. But now we realize that events that draw a crowd are not going to happen in the near future, so booksellers are finding new ways to connect authors and readers. I’m in the middle of a three-Saturday virtual Author-Led Book Club with a group of chapter book readers, and while this was all new to everyone participating, a local bookseller was willing to give it a go! Stay connected with your local bookseller. They have a lot to offer.

Remote Learning Resources from Authors and Illustrators –  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has collected a mass of resources for teachers, librarians, and parents to support literacy and learning in the remote environment. From activities, to online readings, podcasts, and workshops, find everything in one neat location right here.

Family Virtual Author Visits –  What child wouldn’t love to have a one-on-one meeting with the author of their favorite book? Would a personal video conference with a beloved author be the perfect birthday present for the young reader in your life? A sign of the digital age, this new service that connects children with authors in virtual, at-home, meet-and-chats sounds like something that may have come out our current pandemic situation, but in fact Talkabook was underway prior to stay-at-home orders and online schooling. Click here to read about how it works.

NOTE: I would be remiss if I completely ignored the elephant standing before me as I type. So, I won’t. Some of the things listed above cost money. Not all, certainly.  Many book creators have always been generous with their time when it comes to answering letters, discounting school visits, making a limited number of appearances free of charge. But, when it comes down to it, authors and illustrators are professionals. Many earn half or more of their annual income with speaking engagements – and most have completely lost that income in 2020. Speaking as a creator who frequently visited schools, I can tell you that the lost income is difficult. But the lost connection is worse.  Most authors and illustrators will do what they can afford to maintain their relationship with schools, libraries, booksellers, and families.

If we’ve learned one thing in these past few trying months, it’s that distance doesn’t have to mean disconnection. Book creators can still connect with their readers in engaging, fun, and creative ways.  If you have more ideas on how to make this happen, put them in the comments below.  We love hearing from you!

 

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Michelle Houts
Michelle Houts writes middle-grade, chapter books, and picture books from a restored one-room schoolhouse near her home. She loves reading, mail, hiking, and birds. Michelle visits schools and libraries to share writing excitement with future authors. To find out more and to learn about Michelle's 52Letters Challenge, visit www.michellehouts.com
1 Comment
  1. Thank you for this.

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