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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guest Authors at my Kids' School


So at my kids' elementary school, they have authors come in for talks.

Seems like this happens about once a year. It's great for the kids because they get to meet the people behind the books. And I'd be boosting this even if I wasn't an author. It's important to learn that products don't come out of thin air -- it takes hard work, research, patience, and teamwork. It's like going to a farm to understand where their food comes from -- it doesn't just appear in the grocery store. That we eat other living things and that's okay -- that's the food chain.

It's good for the authors too because they get to promote their books. And it's always a delight to meet your audience. I know if I had a traditionally published book, I'd be trying to contact schools. Yes, I want love and attention. Why do you think I'm trying to be a capital-A author?

But sometimes the ones who get to speak aren't always... well, they misrepresent what an author is. Last year, they got to meet David LaRochelle. He talked to my eldest's third grade class (which is a bit unusual because he's a picture book writer. Aren't you into chapter books by this time?) I actually have one of his books in my Kindle. And although he's not on my radar, it's still cool to see the connection to "angels singing choir, golden light, floating on a pedestal PUBLISHED book" and the mere mortal who composed it.

But then the year before that was an author of a self-published series of books about otters. Self-published. That means he didn't go through the vetting process. He didn't work with an editor. He didn't have to submit query letters. He didn't do anything that I'm trying to do. I'm not saying he cheated the system -- I've self-published myself. But I don't think this is the person to present as a real author.

Whoa there, buddy. Let's not paint stripes on a donkey and call it a zebra.

But the teachers neglect to mention that when the speaker comes in. It's like saying you're a professional chef because you sold your crumpets at a bake sale.

This bothers me because it gives kids A) the wrong impression about what it means to be an author and B) does not focus on one of the key aspects of growing up. That you can put in the hard work, the sacrifice, make no mistakes, and still lose. That is life. Now maybe that's NOT what should be told to kids. (I'm pretty sure I would leave out the fact that it's a 98% rejection rate on a good day). But you can at least leave a moral that this stuff doesn't just get handed to you.
The self-published author doesn't truly know how a manuscript becomes a book. I know that because I don't yet know how a manuscript becomes a book. Not yet, not truly. And if they do, they can't admit that's how they got their book published or it takes away all credibility. They can talk about challenges, but never about conflicts between you and the editor/agent/copywriter/cover maker/promoter/marketer/drunk bookstore owner/anyone else involved in the industry.

Problem is, the kids don't have enough experience to challenge these claims. That's the whole point of school -- to educate the base stuff so you can think critically later. If you misrepresent a job, you leave a lasting effect on them. One that may not be the values you wish to impart. And no amount of royalty change from your Amazon KDP bookshelf can repair that.
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