How Can Students Contact Authors?

Blogger Principal Rich Czyz does it again! Here’s another day when he sets my writing agenda. Except, I am not going to be writing the entirety of this blog. I am going to hand it off to a guest blogger.

But just to set this up, Rich wrote today about making learning authentic for students.

Here was his graphic:

Graphic from 4 O'Clock Faculty.
Authentic Learning graphic-(c) Rich Czyz

The last idea: Connect with an expert leads me to hand over my blog today to an expert on contacting experts. Enjoy!

Hello from your friendly neighborhood Children’s Lead Bookseller! Besides keeping track of all the great new releases in the Children’s Department, my job involves connecting kids with their next favorite book. But what if a kid likes the book so much that kid wants to connect with the author?

I help them do that, too!

Here’s a step-by-step guide for kids on how to contact their favorite author along with some dos and don’ts of contact etiquette.

1) REMEMBER: Authors Are People, Too!
Full disclaimer: I grew up fairly spoiled with author contact. Bruce Coville has known me longer than I’ve known him, and Daniel and Jill Pinkwater taught me the finer points of sarcastic banter. So to me, authors have always been other adults who just happen to write books that I adore. I very often forget that Bruce Coville is THE Bruce Coville: award-winning author whose work has been adapted for the screen and even turned into a video game. To me, he’s Bruce the person. So when I write to other authors, I treat them much the same way: respectfully, of course, but also like any other person. I know it’s tempting to put your favorites on a pedestal and fawn over them (and I’ve definitely made that mistake), but they’re more likely to respond to a calmly-worded letter than, in the words of Pluto the dog, “banging on the alphabet board.”

2) Fantastic Authors and Where to Find Them
It’s not nearly as difficult as finding magical creatures. Most authors have websites and/or a social media presence, which can be found by putting their name into Google. Said websites usually have contact forms and social media links. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the big “social media trinity,” so typing an author’s name into the search bars of each platform will bring up results, too. Just be sure to check and make sure the profile you’ve found is the actual author and not a fan page or a troll: the one creature that’s way too easy to find.

3) You Might Have to Wait
Sending physical letters was more common when I was a kid, so that’s how I wrote to T.A. Barron, Darren Shan, and even Madeline L’Engle. All three of them took the time to write me back. My sister wrote to the late Jean Fritz and eventually met her. However, the turnaround was anywhere from three weeks to three months, sometimes more. Back then it was standard, but the instant gratification of social media has made us all impatient. Authors are busy, busy people. Even if you message them through social media or send them and email, you have no idea how many messages have been sent before yours, especially if the author is very well-known. You might get lucky and get a quick reply, but it’s not the norm.

4) Be Prepared To Not Get An Answer
I know, I shouldn’t be discouraging, but it’s an unfortunate reality. Nine times out of ten, the authors will be delighted to hear from you and will take the time to write you back, but there’s always that one out of ten.

I was, and still am, a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan. I can still recite some of my favorite strips. When I was about eight, I wrote to Bill Watterson telling him how much the comics meant to me and my dad, and included some of my attempts at drawing Calvin and Hobbes. Six months later, I got a very polite form letter back from his secretary. Ouch.

Don’t let this discourage you! You have a higher chance of hearing back from an author than you do from the companies you sent your resume to, so get writing!

5) They Want To Hear From You!
I don’t think I ever got an author reply as a kid that didn’t start with a variation of “I’m so glad to hear from a reader!” Even as an adult, authors are usually happy to hear that I loved their books, especially considering all the less-friendly communication social media allows (remember: lead with kindness and respect). Most kids don’t believe me when I tell them this, and I often have to bring out the screenshots for proof. Here’s a good example with author J.A. White:

Text message
Twitter message between the guest blogger and J.A. White

Why kids especially? Because they’re the target audience. Yes, it’s great to read a positive review from an adult, but when a member of the group you’re writing for writes to you and says I love your books, that means a lot more. In the spirit of October, imagine an author writing a book for vampires and only ever getting reviews from werewolves. They want to know what the vampires think of the vampire book!

I’ll end this with a story that surprised even me. I’ve encouraged many kids who come looking for books to reach out to their favorite authors, and one young man took it to heart. He started sending letters to every author whose work he ever loved, and his mom told me about the scrapbook they’d started of the replies.

Me: “Get anything from anyone cool?”

Him: “Yeah, James Patterson wrote me back.”

James Patterson has been the #1 bestselling author in the world since 2001.

The guest blogger and author T.A. Barron, May 2003

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