This past Wednesday morning, after a Tuesday evening reception that included three children’s authors discussing and signing their books, the American Booksellers Association officially kicked off its first Events Specialty Institute with a plenary featuring children’s author Kate DiCamillo. Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kan., moderated the Q&A session, which explored the dynamics of successful – and unsuccessful – bookstore events and school and library visits, from the author’s perspective.
If one theme emerged during the 45-minute conversation, it was that making personal connections with their readers is essential to authors – who, for the most part, work in solitude.
Even though DiCamillo received a Newbery Honor in 2001 for her debut novel, Because of Winn-Dixie – and numerous awards and honors thereafter – she confessed that she still can’t believe that “people are going to show up” to her readings and book signings. Disclosing that she prefers to “be somewhere where I can be neurotic” before an event, DiCamillo drew laughs when she said that she “just want[s] to run and hide.”
But DiCamillo added that it’s also essential to connect with her readers, as well as their parents. A self-described “genuine introvert,” she described going out on tour as “selfish,” because she needs to feel that “sense of connectedness.” She prefers small events to large, saying that making personal connections can be difficult when visiting schools, especially when “1,200 kids are bussed and then leave right afterward.” At such times, she says, she wants to connect with the children so much that she’ll stand by the buses, just so she can watch them filing by.
She’s even done a Skype event, she said, for the Library of Congress, saying only half-jokingly that when Katherine Paterson (the former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the LoC) asks her to do something – like a Skype event – she “just does it.”
“It’s better than not being there at all,” she said, drawing laughs when she said she still has the Skype application on her computer, but doesn’t know how to open it.
Asked by bookseller Bill DuPont of Round Lake Books in Charlevoix, Mich., what a bookstore should not do during an author event, DiCamillo responded that booksellers should not “[pass] out tiny scraps of paper to the kids and [have] me sign them” for children who cannot, for whatever reason, purchase a book.
“That can quickly go south,” she said, “They want their arms signed, their shirt signed.”
Of course, sometimes readings go very right, and the author gets as much out of the occasion as the audience does. Recalling once listening to a librarian explain the themes in Because of Winn-Dixie to a group of children, DiCamillo admitted that she “was standing there with my mouth open, trying to [memorize] what she said about the book.”
“I didn’t fully understand what the book was about until then,” she confessed. “What she said about the book and its themes, I used for the next 10 years.”
DiCamillo promises another book for middle-grade readers in September 2013: The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick). The novel will be fully illustrated, with black-and-white artwork by “up-and-coming artist” K.G. Campbell, DiCamillo said.
As the session wound down, Bagby called booksellers’ attention to the table at the side of the room, stacked with copies of DiCamillo’s most recent chapter book, Bink & Gollie: Two for One, written with Alison McGhee, with illustrations by Tony Fucile. As a lined formed for the signing, Bagby jokingly requested, “Please: no small scraps of paper.”