Saturday, August 3, 2013

Matt de la Pena: the Weird World of School Visits

Author Matt de la Pena
Matt de la Peña has written four critically acclaimed young adult novels: BALL DON'T LIE, MEXICAN WHITEBOY, WE WERE HERE and I WILL SAVE YOU.

His latest, THE LIVING, comes out later this year, along with THE CURSE OF THE ANCIENTS, part of the middle grade Infinity Ring series.

He’s also the author of the award-winning picture book A NATION'S HOPE: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (illustrated by Kadir Nelson).

He led a breakout session on school visits. Here are a few highlights: 

When he first started doing school visits, he didn't know what he was doing. "I made so many mistakes. I wish somebody could have sat me down."

About seven months after his first book came out, a Texas school invited him to visit. "If you get in good with the Texas librarians, you will do school visits forever. Everybody in Texas will hear about that visit."

At first, he charged too little. A librarian took him aside. He had to figure out his own price point. Linda Sue Park explained it like this: "You can charge more when you've written more books. If you are doing too many, you can charge more and they'll stop asking you."

A lot of this money comes from grants. If schools don't spend this, they lose it. What's more, the money can make for a better visit. "The free school visit is the worst school visit. It means they don't value you as much."

But it's not just about getting paid. It's about getting material for your writing. You can observe the kids and sometimes they'll share directly.

School visits do have some drawbacks. A one-day school visit out of state will take three of your days. It's also draining. You have to be a performer and salesman. You have to learn to write on the road. Matt returns to the hotel and either walks fast or runs for 30 minutes to transition from the performer mode to the writing mode. Logistics--planning and getting paid--is also time consuming.

Matt charges honorarium, hotel, and flight. He never charges for food or mileage. Some authors bring books. He doesn't. He doesn't even always demand book sales at appearances.

The worst school visits are ones where the author has a power point of their book and just reads from the book. "Go in with humor. If you can connect, that's key."

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