SEA MONKEY & BOB book tour (Part 7, Summary)
With students at the Friends School Of Atlanta.
Before, during and after my book tours, I tend to be asked the same sort of questions about basic logistics as well as other topics, so here are some answers to some of the more frequently asked questions:
Q. How did you get your book tour? Have you been on one before?
My publisher, Simon & Schuster Children’s, asked me to go on the book tour. This is my third. The first was to celebrate the launch of Naked! in NYC and MA and the second was in IL, NC and NJ for the launch of my first solo picture book, Where Are My Books?
Q. Who paid for the book tour? Do you get paid for your school visits?
Simon & Schuster paid for everything (thank you, S&S!).
No, I did not get paid for my school visits. I am fine with this. In fact, if I had been paid, I think it would have made things a lot more complicated for me in terms of being a Canadian travelling to the U.S. on business. Just in case I ended up being grilled at the border, I always asked my publisher for a letter making it clear why I was in the U.S. and that I wasn’t being paid outside of expenses incidental to the visit. Thus far, I’ve never had to produce the letter and have had no problem. And I always tell the truth when entering the U.S., saying I’m there on business. Having a Nexus card helps, I think. See my other prep tips for writers and illustrators going on book tours.
Q. Do you contact the schools in advance about details? Or does someone organize it for you?
As I mentioned in an earlier book tour report post, my publicist at Simon & Schuster (Katy Hershberger) reaches out to booksellers in each area. What I understand is that S&S has relationships with booksellers that already have good relationships with local schools. The booksellers are the ones who contact the schools about my visit, arranging dates/times, working out details. They send that info to Katy, and Katy compiles everything into an itinerary along with my flight and hotel bookings, and that gets sent to me.
Q. How are locations chosen? Why did you end up touring through the Southern states this time, for example?
I’m not sure. I’ll try find out an answer and post it here if I do.
S&S did ask me for a list of schools with whom I’ve done Skypevisits a while back, to help with planning.
Q. I notice you hardly had any public bookstore events. Why not?
The K-2nd grade crowd would be in school during the daytime and are also likely to be too tired/restless for an evening event. I had two storytime events at bookstores during my book tour. The first was mainly attended by preschoolers (including some adorable babies!). The second was attended briefly by one little boy and his mom; the boy read Sea Monkey and Bob to ME (I was very impressed) but then had to leave right after. Both were a lot of fun!
It made more sense for me to do more school visits and fewer bookstore visits, with the limited time I had.
I’m sure it’s a different story with super-famous authors and illustrators, of course! 🙂
Q. What was the most interesting question you got asked during Q&A?
While I love it when students ask prepared questions (because then they tend to be questions and not comments :-)), I love the spontaneity of unprepared Q&A….I never know what kids are going to ask me.
The most interesting question I got asked this time: “Where do you come from?”
My immediate answer was “Toronto in Canada” but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized that the student was probably asking about my ethnicity. This was also asked in a school where most of the students were white, with very few Asians.
So after I answered the student’s question, I asked the kids my own question, “Who knows where Toronto, Canada is?” A few hands went up, so I picked one.
The child’s answer: “In China!”
His answer helped me appreciate the difference in racial diversity and the awareness thereof in different geographic locations. Toronto, for example, is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with 140 languages and dialects spoken, with just over 40% of Torontonians speaking a language other than English or French at home. When I get on the subway in Toronto, chances are good that at two-thirds of the other people in my subway car are non-white and that I’ll be hearing a couple other languages being spoken during my commute. I love this so much.
For those who are wondering: although there were relatively few Asians in many schools I visited in my book tour through the Southern states, I never encountered any problems. Everyone was super-friendly and welcoming.
I did have a few of my friends express concern for me before the book tour, travelling to the U.S. in today’s political climate, including one of my Asian friends (like me, he was born in North America though his ancestry is Japanese) who has experienced racial insults from a stranger who cited Trump as his excuse.
My own experience? Every single person I met made me feel welcome. The questions from those students I mentioned earlier were innocent and probably came from the simple fact that they just didn’t see people who looked like me day-to-day. And this made me appreciate the importance of showing diversity in children’s books, helping young people avoid making blanket assumptions about a person because of their race or culture.
One of things I love about young readers is their curiosity and open-mindedness. As a book creator, it makes me feel even more responsibility in choosing which stories to tell and how to tell them.
Q. Did you get permission from your media escort to share her poem?
Yes, I did! As I mentioned in my Jackson, MS report, I had such fun conversations with Pam McCollough and she ended up writing a poem for me afterward. Here it is:
SOUTHERN AT HEART
by Pam McCollough
A writer/illustrator came down from the North
On a book tour she set forth.
At the schools, she was met with art and a smile
Because in the South, that’s always the style.
And the food, oh the food, she found in the South
Fried chicken, okra, turnip greens just melt in your mouth!
Then came that double chocolate fudge Coca-Cola cake
Her taste buds danced when the first bite she did take!
Her new friend, Pam, was funny and smart
No doubt now Debbie is Southern at heart!
Written with love for my new friend, Debbie Ohi. Please come back and visit again! – Pam McCollough
Q. You keep mentioning your media escorts. What exactly do media escorts do?
I haven’t always had a media escort but when I do, they make my life SO much easier on book tours.
My media escorts (with one exception, and if you’ve been reading my book tour reports you’ll know which day I’m talking about) helped keep me on schedule, got me to places on time, made sure I have enough to eat, took photos of my events, gave me background about the people and places I would be encountering. They helped with last-minute logistical problems, saved me from potential embarrassing moments, boosted my spirits and provided companionship through what was often a very busy and tightly scheduled day.
Having a good media escort enabled me to be at my best for the schools and their young readers.
Also see my thoughts on media escorts in this blog post instalment, in answer to the question “What did you love most about having media escorts during your book tour?”
Q. Are book tours worth it?
It depends on who’s asking, and their expectations. For me, they are absolutely worth it.
I know that book tours are a rare animal these days, and I can understand why. It costs the publishers a lot of money for the flights, hotel, media escorts, other author expenses PLUS all the time that publicist needs to spend organizing and making bookings, doing the back-and-forth with the author and booksellers, then following up.
I signed quite a few books during my book tour, but I have no idea how that number weighs against what the publisher ends up making as a result.
What I believe is the real value of these book tours (but keep in mind this is just my own opinion based on my own experience):
– Meeting an author/illustrator in person can affect a young reader in so many ways. They may be more motivated to read, to write, to illustrate, to consider becoming a writer or illustrator when they grow up. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto and neither my grade school nor my high school ever had any visits from professional authors or illustrators. Nevertheless, I did seek out my favourite authors’ autographs via snailmail and self-addressed stamped envelopes, and was THRILLED whenever they wrote back. It made me feel as if I had a personal connection with that author, and that affected me deeply as a young reader and writer.
– Book tours help establish and/or strengthen relationships with the booksellers, librarians and educators.
– Book tours help promote the book through word-of-mouth. This may or may not result in sales, but I do think it helps make more people aware that the book exists. They may buy the book but they may also be motivated to borrow the book from the library, read the book to their students or young readers at home.
– Book tours help establish and/or strengthen awareness of the author/illustrator and her other work. Some bookstores ordered in my other picture books, not just Sea Monkey & Bob. Some librarians and teachers re-read or read my other books to their students before my visit in addition to Sea Monkey & Bob.
For me, the book tours are definitely worth the time. I get inspired all over again when I talk to young readers. I learn more about what booksellers, educators, librarians and the kids are excited about reading. I also find I’m gaining more confidence as a public speaker; I was TERRIFIED in the beginning. I learn new things every book tour that will make the next one (if there is a next one — I never ever take this for granted!) go more smoothly.
Q. You posted earlier about travelling with just carry-on and packing tips. Was there anything you were especially happy to have with you? Was there anything you wish you had left behind?
WHAT I WAS SUPER-GLAD I HAD WITH ME:
– Lightweight rain jacket. Almost didn’t take this, but was very glad to have it in Raleigh, NC where it rained heavily all the time. Also found it handy to spread on less-than-clean surfaces when I needed to kneel or sit, or for temporarily putting other stuff.
– Extra signing pens. I kept leaving them at bookstores and schools.
– A USB stick as a backup for my presentation, containing: (1) static images stored in a folder, (2) Keynote format, (3) Powerpoint format and (4) PDF. I had to use this twice when all other tech failed and my laptop wouldn’t connect properly to the school projector.
– Spare ziploc bags. Great for dumping small stuff in, storing half-eaten granola bars, an extra protection for carrying tubes of stuff (shampoo, moisturizer etc.) that might leak during flights.
– Hand sanitizer.
– Portable charger (I use an Anker portable charger). I used this at least once a day, especially when constantly on the go without any time to use available power outlets. Sometimes I avoided the latter anyway, because I was worried about forgetting that I had a device plugged into a bookstore or school power outlet before I left.
WHAT I WOULD NOT TAKE NEXT TIME:
– Neck pillow. Flights were all too short to make it worth pulling out, and I could have saved some space.
– My dress with the shorter skirt. It was super-comfy and great during hotter weather, but I found that since I was doing a lot of crouching and kneeling and hurried unpacking/packing on school auditorium floors and airports…awkward with a short skirt.
Q. What was your favorite moment of your book tour?
My heartmelt moment was when a little girl at Fred A. Olds Elementary in North Carolina said to me in wonder, after I handed over her signed book, “You mean I get to keep this book FOREVER?” It was all I could do to not cry.
Q. What is your biggest takeaway from the book tour?
To the booksellers, librarians and educators who work with young readers: THANK YOU. I continue to be in awe of those on the front lines, who put so much effort and thought into helping instill a lifelong love of reading in young people, who are constantly seeking out new ways of inspiring young readers.
You are my heroes.
Thanks again to Simon & Schuster Children’s, Quail Ridge Books (NC), Little Shop Of Stories (GA), Books & Books (FL), Parnassus Books (TN) and Lemuria Books (MS) for making it possible for me to visit Fred A. Olds Elementary, Partnership Elementary, Friends School Of Atlanta, The Heritage School, Silver Ridge Elementary, Sunny Isles Beach K-8, Battle Ground Academy, Julia Green Elementary, Rouse Elementary and Madison Avenue Elementary!
And special thanks to Aaron Reynolds for writing Sea Monkey and Bob! I hope we get to work together again.