Loree Griffin Burns!
Last week, Loree shared what made her transition from science to writing for kids. Her non-fiction middle grade books: Tracking Trash, The Hive Detectives, and Citizen Scientists can be found in many (many!) schools and libraries. Today she's here to share more about how she made that happen (aside from the obvious: she wrote terrific, information-packed books that are filled with wonderful illustrations).
Your books are packed with timely information, making them perfect for the classroom. How have you reached out to teachers and librarians to get your books into schools?
I’m very lucky to work with publishers that are experts at this. Both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Henry Holt Books for Young Readers have worked hard to get my books into the hands of reviewers who, in turn, let the world’s teachers and librarians and parents and book lovers know about my work.
Most of my own outreach is focused on personal interactions—school and library visits, conference and festival presentations, and the like. I have also tried to establish an online presence through which folks can connect with me. I have a website, a blog, a Facebook page; I catalog my personal library publicly on LibraryThing, and I share track the books that delight me on Goodreads; I’ve recently learned to tweet!
On a very practical level, I maintain a database of email contacts—friends, neighbors, colleagues, teachers, parents—anyone with whom I’ve connected personally over books or nature. I’ve found this a useful tool for letting people know about new books and bookish events.
What have Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Henry Holt BYR done to promote your books? Do you have a sense of how the process might differ from promoting fiction?
As I mentioned, one of the wonderful ways my publishers support me is by providing review copies of my books to a long list of kidlit reviewers at professional journals and online. They also submit my books to prize committees and support/advocate for my participation in conferences that are relevant to my work.
As a great example, I’m typing this from Indianapolis, where I’ve been attending the National Science Teachers Association annual conference. I spent the past three days talking with teachers who use my books in a classroom setting, hearing directly from them why trade books on science topics are vital to their teaching, and sharing ideas for how we (writers and teachers and publishers) can continue to inspire a new generation of science-savvy citizens.
How important are school visits to spreading the word about your books?
School visits are a great way for me to interact with my readers. Classroom visits are hugely gratifying for me, because this is one of the only times I am able to connect in person with the people I write for. I love to see student reactions to the stories I tell, and to get their (always honest!) feedback on what works for them … and what doesn’t. And if I do my job well, the word-of-mouth that follows is a great way for other teachers and librarians to hear about me and my work. All of my school visits (I do about 25 events a year) comes about by word of mouth.
In my experience, however, school visits don’t lead to more book sales. This is likely a reflection of the way I do visits: for the most part, I limit myself to local venues in my home state, and I don’t require schools to sell books as part of my event. Authors that do great visits, advertise widely, travel afar, and tie book sales/signings to their events are much more likely to impact their sales figures.
I would imagine school visits are content-based, rather than focusing on the writing process. How do you make them fun, rather than another science lecture?
My presentations are, indeed, content-based, and I think I’m pretty lucky to be always sharing stories that are naturally interesting to students. I use props and personal anecdotes, and students really respond to them. In post-visit surveys, teachers insist that the part of my presentations that are ‘most effective’ are the bits where I share my own personal story. Kids like to hear that I was once a kid, too, I guess. They love photos. When I was just starting out with school visits, I felt compelled to keep these bits of the program to a minimum, thinking that my “job” for the day was to excite kids about science through the content I’d been invited in to discuss. I’ve come to realize that exciting kids about science includes helping them to see that everyone—even a kid like me … even a kid like them—can grow up and become a scientist. Or a writer. Or both.
* * *
Nothing better than providing inspiration just by sharing your own story!
Thank you so much, Loree, for sharing your experience with us!
* * *
Loree writes books about science for children ... and she loves her job. From an oceanographer who tracks plastic ducks through the world ocean to an entomologist who studied mason bees in his backyard to an astronomer who spent her life puzzling over ground drawings in the desert of Peru, the scientists she meets every day — in person or through her research — are fascinating and passionate people. She loves to share their stories through her books.