Publishing & Promotion

Interview with Nancy Tandon, author of The Way I Say It

Books sometimes have a winding path to publication, and I’m always inspired when I hear those journeys. For the author, it can be such a difficult roller coaster to go through, but it reminds us that when we work hard and persevere, our stories will find homes.

Headshot of author Nancy Tandon

Nancy Tandon

My most recent favorite story like this is from Nancy Tandon. Nancy and I met in 2017 when we were both anticipating our debut books to come out the following year. Mine, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, came out in June 2018, but Nancy’s, THE WAY I SAY IT, came out from Charlesbridge yesterday!

And the best part is, Nancy now has a double-debut year, since her second middle-grade book, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is coming out from Aladdin on Aug. 2.

It’s a very inspiring and a perfect example of why “never give up” is always great advice for writers, so I’m thrilled to have Nancy on From the Mixed Up Files to talk about her journey.

Here’s what her two books are about:

THE WAY I SAY IT:

Rory still can’t say his r’s, but that’s just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent started hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with brain-damage and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him?

THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT:

Twelve-year-old Parker has grown up in his family’s Home Away Inn, nestled on a wooded peninsula in Maine called Spruce Point. His best friend, Frankie, has been staying at the inn every summer for years with her family. Together, they’ve had epic adventures based out of a nearby old treehouse that serves as their official headquarters for Kids Confidential Meetings.

But lately, business at the inn hasn’t been great, and Parker is pretty sure he knows why. It’s long been rumored that Mrs. Gruvlig, one of the few year-rounders on Spruce Point, has unique abilities of the supernatural kind. And Frankie is absolutely sure she saw a ghost on Mrs. Gruvlig’s property! As more and more spooky happenings occur around the Point, Parker and Frankie are convinced Spruce Point has been officially cursed.

Samantha: Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files, Nancy. These books sound so great! Tell us about your inspirations for the two books you’ve got coming out this year.

Nancy: Thank you for having me here on the Mixed Up Files!

Bookcover for middle-grade novel The Way I Say It by Nancy TandonMy former clinical work as a speech/language pathologist was the inspiration for THE WAY I SAY IT. In the outpatient setting, I worked with several kids with articulation disorders who specifically had trouble saying sounds in their first names. When I began to create my main character, I started with a question: What would middle school be like for a kid whose first name speech-sound difficulties persisted past early childhood?

My second novel, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is my attempt to capture the magic and atmosphere of my children’s summer vacations on the coast of Maine. They were together with their cousins, and I watched in awe as the kids grew and changed each year as they explored the gorgeous natural playground of the peninsula where my parents retired. Another inspiration came from a news story I watched about kids with an uncommon allergy to the sun. The resilience of the kids in that interview stayed with me for years and kept coming back to my mind, almost insisting I do something with it! Finally, I did.

Samantha: We were originally in the same debut year, since your debut, THE WAY I SAY IT, was scheduled to come out in 2018 along with mine. What happened that pushed that book back?

Nancy: Ah yes, and I’ll never regret meeting you and the other wonderful 2018 debut authors!

But around that time, the small press that had bought my book was acquired as an imprint of a larger publisher. And the good news was, that new house was willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.

However, after a year of working to negotiate an addended contract, I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. (At this point I was un-agented, and I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide (a book I highly recommend) to know the offer on the table was not favorable to me). A while later, the second publisher decided not to move forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone I knew about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.

Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together. I’d had a previous very enriching career as a speech/language pathologist. I began the process of reinstating my license.

Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.

After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors who would be open to submissions from conference attendees and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.

The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with an agent. I reached out with a plea to switch my original submission (the second novel I had been working on) to pages from my first (what I thought of now as failed) novel. The timing was early enough that the agent agreed.

That agent was Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group: the one and only Samantha M Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow)! You alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the head’s up about my manuscript’s twisty past. It was absolutely an essential connection I’ll always be grateful for!

That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, even better, it resulted in Rachel passing my work to a new agent at Prospect who responded to my work with the enthusiasm needed to take on a new client. I was agented at last!!

Samantha: Yay! I was happy to make that connection, and so glad it led to you signing with your agent. How did THE WAY I SAY IT find its new home with Charlesbridge?

Nancy: Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, was one of the editors I had submitted to as an NESCBWI attendee. After she reviewed my query and first chapters, she requested the full manuscript. Over the next several weeks, we exchanged emails as she kept me informed of where they were in the process. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. Then finally it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…

This time, I didn’t have to negotiate the contract on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.

Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening! But then, due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022. And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time, I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web. And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. It is winging out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m at the copyedit stage of my second novel and am in love with the amazing cover art.

That is my very long answer to your short question! And yes, I can finally say: it was all worth it.

Bookcover for middle-grade novel The Ghost of Spruce Point by Nancy TandonSamantha: So wonderful! Unlike most debut authors, you’re now in the unique position of having two middle-grade novels coming out this year. Tell us how THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT found its way to Aladdin.

Nancy: In early 2019, I spent time revising GHOST with my then agent, Emma Sector, who is also a wonderful editor. She really helped me get the manuscript in top shape. She had a very targeted list of editors to submit to, and in fall 2019 THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT sold within a week of being on submission, confirming the old adage: publishing is weird!

Samantha: What were the biggest challenges for you over the last few years during this process?

Nancy: The number one biggest challenge for me in all of this was not giving up. I’m usually a “half-full” kind of a gal, but there were times when it just felt like it made no sense to keep going. And it was hard to explain to people outside of publishing what was going on, and at times I honestly felt embarrassed. Where was this book I’d been talking about for years?

But then I’d have a good writing morning. Or my critique group would give me another shot of encouragement. (Or just another shot, haha.) I was also watching the trajectories of my 2018 debut friends, and learning that publication isn’t “the end,” but just a stop on the journey.

Samantha: I love that. So true. Are there any things that have happened that, while difficult at the time, you feel happy about now?

Nancy: In hindsight, I am grateful for the entire string of events that THE WAY I SAY IT had to endure. The book is much stronger than it would have been – in part because I am a stronger and better writer than I was in 2016. And also because of all the talented people who had a hand in helping it and me along the way. I’m so grateful that I got to work with Karen Boss (editor at Charlesbridge) because she pushed me to elevate the work in ways I couldn’t have on my own.

Samantha: Do you have advice for other authors who are going through similar situations?

Nancy: Do. Not. Give. Up. And if you’ve read this far, you can always say to yourself, “well, what’s happening to me isn’t as bad as that one lady who was in four different debut groups. If she can keep going, so can I!”

But seriously, when you are feeling especially disheartened, dig down to the reasons you came to this endeavor in the first place. For me, it boils down to the joy of writing and the incredible people I have met. Once I placed those two things front and center, I knew I could go on forever, whether I was published or not.

Samantha: What are you doing to celebrate your double debut year?

Nancy: I am drinking all the champagne and saying YES to everything that comes my way! I’m also planning a special trip with my husband, who has been an incredible support through it all.

Samantha: Are you working on other future books that you can talk about yet?

Nancy: Nothing I can talk about yet, but I do have a manuscript for a third book that I’m revising. It’s another middle grade and I’m in love with the main character, a girl who is searching for home and finds it in an unexpected place. “Found family” is one of my favorite themes of all time!

Samantha: That sounds wonderful. And finding a home in an unexpected place is exactly what happened with your publishing career. Congratulations on your double-debut year.

Writing Middle-Grade Spooky Stories: Interview with Diane Telgen, Jay Whistler, Jenn Bailey, and Jules Heller

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Diane Telgen, Jay Whistler, Jenn Bailey, and Jules Heller to Mixed-Up Files. These authors share their experience of writing work-for-hire spooky stories for the middle grade audience.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Diane, Jay, Jenn, and Jules!

  

 

Suma:  Could you tell us what your Haunted series book/books are about?

Diane: The “Spooky America” series explores local legends about haunted places and famous ghosts. It takes volumes originally published for Arcadia’s adult “Haunted America” series and reworks them for a middle-grade audience. In The Ghostly Tales of West Michigan and The Ghostly Tales of Pittsburgh, I focused on one particular location, so the stories could involve houses, ships, or places of business. In The Ghostly Tales of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, all the stories involve lighthouses, but the ghosts themselves vary between keepers, their families, and sailors.

Jay: I was fortunate enough to work on THE GHOSTLY TALES OF SAN ANTONIO shortly after I moved to the area in late 2020. While the title suggests ghost stories, the book is really about the history of San Antonio, beginning with the first Spanish settlers in the 1500s, moving to the fights over control of the territory, the civil war, and ending with the middle of the twentieth century. I knew Texas had been its own country before it became a state, and I think we all know the legend of the Alamo. But there is so much more to Texas and to San Antonio. I have a new appreciation for my adopted hometown as a result of this book.

Jenn: I wrote the Haunted Newport book, which tells spooky tales and ghost stories from in and around Newport, Rhode Island.

Jules: My book is THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE FINGER LAKES, a collection of eighteen spooky stories from Western Central New York State. From an early draft of the introduction: Whatever your style, I promise there’s a story here for you. You like music? Listen close and you’ll hear the piano music of Miss Eunice Frame, resident ghost of the Sampson Theatre. You’re more interested in math? Help me count the strange deaths (and funerals) at the Erie Mansion.You prefer art? Read on for colorful stories of ghostly stains on basement walls that can’t be covered up. Science is more your thing? Try to explain what causes apparitions to be seen in an old doctor’s office. You enjoy a good mystery? Maybe you’ll be the one to figure out what scared the restaurant owners of the Dove Building so much they left town without bothering to pack their bags. No matter the subject, the tales you’re about to read will thrill and amaze you. Some are funny, some are sad, and some may or may not be one hundred percent true . . . who’s to say what’s a local legend, and what’s an honest haunting? You might have to decide for yourself. But I guarantee that in these pages you’ll find many surprises: secret societies organize kidnappings, ghosts lock people in bathrooms, heads go missing, skulls are found, and there might even be a sea monster at the end. You’ll have to read on to find out.

Suma: What was the one thing you paid attention to, while writing a haunted book for the middle-grade audience?

Diane: Of course I wanted to choose stories that were appropriate for kids–I stayed away from really lurid legends, or those that didn’t have a lot of detail. And I also had to make my language and style more appealing for a young audience. But most important, I had to provide the historical context for kids to understand the stories. If they understand the importance of lighthouses on the Great Lakes in the nineteenth century, or how colonial settlers would have seen Pittsburgh as the western frontier, they’ll more easily connect with why these historical figures became ghosts. As I like to say, “ghosts are just history trying to get your attention.”

Jay: The source material on some of the chapters challenged me to make it age-appropriate for middle-grade readers. Writing about the tragedy of the Alamo requires a deft hand to make the horrors of war less brutal. In another chapter, I needed to find a more delicate way to describe the red-light district in San Antonio, especially when referring to nocturnal activities. I think many kids will understand the euphemisms, or at least guess at their meaning, but there’s no need to be as frank as one might be with adults. Nor do kids need to know the gruesome details of some of the murders that gave rise to some of the legends.

In addition, I tried to respect that kids of this age may not be ready for truly scary stuff. There will always be the kid, like me, who loves watching old scary movies, reading classic horror, or telling ghost stories during sleepovers. But plenty of kids are just beginning to test the boundaries of what they can handle. I wanted to respect the readers enough to give them a bit of a shiver while reading while still allowing them to go to sleep with no worries about things that go bump in the night.

Jenn: I wanted to make sure to create the right atmosphere – that involved including bits of history, perhaps giving some backstory to explain why this event might have happened at this time, and why there might be a ghost story attached to the area. Just saying a hotel or beach is haunted isn’t enough. The middle grade audience is savvy and curious, and they want to know Why this happened. They want to know what, how, and when. You have to put some context – or dare I say meat – on those old, withered, spooky bones.

Jules: There’s a distinction between “beguiling” and “offputting” that can be a wobbly tightrope to tread. The things that kids find “too scary” are often not what adults assume.* The Arcadia editors had a specific list of scary topics that were no-gos for their audience (assault, etc.) but I tried to keep as much of the fun, interesting, just-plain-weird kind of scary as possible, because I remember being that odd reader who devoured bizarre assassination attempts and torrid conspiracies. Ghost stories shouldn’t lead to actual nightmares, they should provide conversation starters that make people avoid you (or seek you out specially) at parties!
*I remember a brilliant essay about how parents tried to tone down Red Riding Hood by having the woodcutter chase the wolf away at the end, rather than killing him. They thought less gore meant more kid-friendly; the kids said “no, that means the wolf is STILL OUT THERE.”

Suma: How did you go about making place a character in your stories?

Diane: I opened each book with a short historical introduction, to introduce readers to what made each place unique. So for West Michigan, the forests, beaches, and Lake Michigan all became recurring characters. For Pittsburgh, its journey from frontier fort to Steel City, USA became an important theme. And for Michigan’s Lighthouses, the storms of the Great Lakes became a furious antagonist!

Jay: Each chapter in my book focused on a particular place, so I made sure to include details about buildings, what they looked like, when they were built, what purpose they served and how that changed over the years. I shared landscape details and included tidbits to make it come alive. For example, in one story, I talked about why the owner of the property built a stage-coach stop. Then I explained how long the trip from point A to point B would take with a horse and carriage, how often they would need to stop, and what it would feel like being jostled about in the carriage with only a wooden seat under your backside. I want kids to not only see these places in their minds but also feel what it would be like to experience life as the characters in the story would. How would it be to see an elevator operator in a blue suit and gloves float out of a defunct elevator and beckon you inside?

Jenn: By talking about the people that inhabited it. What kind of people would live there? Why would they live there? Connect a certain type of person to the place – Newport was founded in 1639 on a promise of religious freedom and equality. These people were escaping the intolerance of Massachusetts. So you connect a certain type of person to the place, and then connect the reader to that type of person and you’ve got a reader who can envision characteristics and qualities about the location. Newport is a beautiful seaside city but there are a lot of those. You have to sprinkle the history of an area into these stories so they become individualized and relatable.

Jules: This is the big secret about these stories (certainly in my book, likely in many others): we don’t actually have any “true” or “real” characters to start from EXCEPT for the places. So much of this history is handed down from unreliable or unreportable sources, that in order to turn it into something readable and honest you have to take hefty liberties with the facts. Details about specific people can sometimes be brought in from old photographs, but personalities, motivations, even whole sections of The Plot have to be spun out of thin air. Thus, the grounding realness of the story comes from the physical place itself, which you as the storyteller can point to and say “You can visit the place where this happened! You can see the stains on the floor, hear the wind whistling through the broken window shutters!” Building on a foundation of the tangible remnants of the story, turning the locations themselves into historians and storytellers, lends credence to the rest of your cast and gives them some weight of their own.

Suma: What did you enjoy most about the process of working on this project?

Diane: I love history, so digging into the local details behind a particular ghost provided so much fun!

Jay: My favorite aspect of this project, aside from learning more about San Antonio, was challenging myself to take material kids typically find deadly boring—history—combine it with material usually reserved for adults—the “horror” genre—and make it appealing to middle-grade readers. I grew up watching the black-and-white horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. I read my first Poe story when I was eight. I began reading Stephen King when I was in seventh grade (way before the Goosebumps books became popular). Working on this book brought back those memories and inspired me to create a similar experience for my readers. Perhaps one day, there will be an author who becomes the next Clive Barker because they read the entire Spooky America series and discovered not only a love of history and horror but of storytelling, too.

Jenn: Learning more about my hometown. Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S. and often overlooked, but it played a huge role – sometimes positive, sometimes negative – in the founding of this country. It was rather crucial during WWII as well. It was delightful to be reminded of some of the attributes of Newport that make it such a special place. I have my own personal reasons to love it, I was married in Newport, but it was a joy see this place through fresh eyes.

Jules: Quite honestly, it was just nice to have a project, any project, to work on at that point in the pandemic. I had some scheduling hiccups with the editors and ended up with a tight timeline for the manuscript, so I had to dive in head-first and stay under for a couple weeks straight, getting words on paper. It was energizing, a little hectic, but at the time just what I needed to rejuvenate my creative process. It also gave me an excuse to reorganize my physical work area, which is always a bonus!

Suma: What is your advice for writers doing work-for-hire projects like this one?

Diane: As with any project, knowing what your editor expects is important. But it’s crucial when writing within a series, because your individual book needs to fit within the volumes that have gone before you. So always make sure you have a style guide to follow, and communicate clearly about the schedule. Work-for-hire projects, especially in series, often have little wiggle room!

Jay: Work for hire can be a great way to make connections in the literary community. You learn to work on deadline and under stringent expectations. But it can also take away time from the personal projects you want to work on. So it’s crucial to know exactly what you sign up for.

With that in mind, make sure you know specific deadlines for every phase of the project. It’s okay to insist the entity you are working with details everything. The same goes for the expected end product. What exactly do they want you to deliver? This includes content and format. What is the revision process? Do you get a final review to make sure they haven’t substantially changed anything that would make it factually inaccurate? Who holds the copyright? For how long? If they hold the copyright, will it ever revert to you? What is the pay? Do you get free or discounted author copies? Are there royalties? If not, do you have a chance to hand-sell copies on your own to boost your bottom line? If so, what help do they provide you with marketing? Most importantly, get it all in writing. And don’t let someone tell you a contract isn’t necessary. It is.

Jenn: I’ll be blunt. You aren’t going to make a lot of money so you better enjoy yourself. This was a topic and a location I already had an interest in. It became a bonus that someone was going to pay me to explore and do research. Also, keep your creative brain firing for any other kinds of stories or characters or settings you can take away from the project and use in other writings. During my research I stumbled upon a fascinating person I want to focus on for a picture book. Work-for-hire projects can feed your other work so keep an open mind and stay curious!

Jules: You’ve probably already been told to be flexible, be ready to have things go sideways from the original plan. That was certainly true for me with this project! But I think I would refine that advice to say, be clear with yourself and your editors about where your flexibility extends, and where it doesn’t. If you have scheduling constraints, state them and then stick to them. If you have communication needs, make them and advocate for them. Timelines can shift, scope can expand or contract, but you are the one who gets to decide what changes are acceptable and what is a bridge too far. And if you make those decisions ahead of time, you can write them into your agreements and contracts, so you can “Per my previous email…” whenever the need arises!

Diane Telgen enjoyed reading so much as a child that she would read anything and everything, even the encyclopedia! That’s probably why she grew up and started writing reference books about history and literature. Now she writes both fiction and nonfiction for young readers. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Jay Whistler was born on Halloween and grew up in a haunted house. She loves listening to ghost stories, whether real or imagined, and willingly explores haunted places on her travels across the country and around the globe. Even so, she will always be afraid of the dark. The boring part is that Jay has her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Jenn Bailey’s debut picture book, A FRIEND FOR HENRY, won ALA’s 2020 Schneider Family Honor Book award, was named a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, was chosen as a 2021-2022 Virginia Reads selection, and received other honors. Jenn welcomes the following books onto the shelves soon: MEOWSTERPIECES (Magic Cat/Abrams, 2022); THE 12 HOURS OF CHRISTMAS (Little Brown, 2023); HENRY, LIKE ALWAYS (Chronicle, 2023); and HENRY TBD (Chronicle, 2024).

Jenn also works as a freelance editor at Angelella Editorial. When she isn’t writing or editing, she is baking pies and tending to her assortment of cats and dogs.

Jules Heller landed in New York State sometime in the last century and has been exploring the nooks and crannies of its landscapes—and legends—ever since. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Jules has co-edited a collection of Halloween tales for young adults, and runs dozens of library programs for kids of all ages on every topic from mythology to memes. They have just moved into a hundred-year-old house in the greater Syracuse area, and are happily cohabitating with their new roommate, resident ghost Giuseppe.

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!