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by Vivian Kirkfield

Wow…we are half-way through the month of January and therefore, half-way through Storystorm. Is your notebook half filled with great story ideas, titles, or even just a phrase that you’ll go back to as the year unfolds to see whether it will turn into a winning manuscript? No worries if it isn’t. You still have plenty of time, and even if you don’t have thirty ideas at the end, you will have more than if you hadn’t participated at all. Here’s a page from my 2012 PiBoIdMo journal (as many of you know, that was Storystorm’s former name. And that idea became Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book that launched in April 2019. By the way, the post that day was contributed by the late Dianne de las Casas.

When Tara asked if I’d contribute one of the posts this year, I wondered what I was going to chat about. In 2018, I shared where I got ideas for each of the manuscripts that became books in 2019. And I also touched on why I chose those topics.

For today’s post, I’ll put on my serious hat (wait a minute…I don’t even wear hats!) and I’ll talk about how, as authors (and illustrators), we have an amazing opportunity to make our voice heard—when we write (or draw) about issues that are important to us and to the children of the world, and also when we speak at conferences and school visits.

I think this “speaking at conferences and school visits” may be a big worry for many of us. And even if you are pre-published, opportunities may come along for you to present…and if you keep doing what you are doing—writing, revising, submitting—you WILL have a book deal one day, I know you will. After I share where I got the idea for my newest nonfiction PB bio that launches in just a few days, I’m going to share some tips and techniques from my conference and school visit presentation toolbox.

As a child, I was very timid—afraid to meet new people, go new places, try new things.

Obviously, somewhere in these last 73 years, something happened and I gained a new confidence in myself (or perhaps it’s just that, with Uber, I don’t have to worry about getting lost 😊). Maybe it was self-publishing that parenting guide back in 2010, or maybe it was jumping out of a perfectly good airplane in 2011, or maybe it was just pushing myself, one step at a time. But whatever it was, I can now step out in front of an audience, at a conference or at a school visit, with a smile on my face and without my teeth chattering, my knees knocking, and my hands sweating. And this is crucial because I get to make my voice heard. I get to share my journey at conference presentations and inspire others who are on the same path…I get to talk about my courageous characters with students at school programs.

I doubt that many of you are signing up in the next few months to go skydiving. So, here are a few other things you can do that will give you the confidence to make your voice heard:

  • Be passionate: about the topics/people/characters that you write about—passion gives you an energy and a fearlessness, like a mother lion protecting her cub.
  • Believe in your characters: whether you write fiction or nonfiction, choose topics that are close to your heart and your beliefs. Get to know your characters—in one of the writing classes I took, the instructor urged us to ‘interview’ our characters as if we were newspaper reporters. When I discovered an online photo of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, sitting shoulder to shoulder in a nightclub and the caption explained that these two were friends, I had to find out more.

You see, I grew up in the 1950’s—Ella and Marilyn were icons even then. But I didn’t know that Marilyn was an early Civil Rights and gender equality activist nor that Ella had sued a major airline for racial discrimination…and won! I’m passionate about offering strong female role models to young girls…this passion helped me stay the course and dig deep to flesh out and revise my story idea into a manuscript an editor fell in love with. I’ve got a calendar full of bookstore events and school visits coming up for this wonderful book, so I want to share a few other tips that may help banish conference presentation and school visit jitters.

  • Be prepared: preparation is the KEY. Practice your presentation. Record yourself and listen back. Call on local friends and family to be your audience. The more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have. You don’t need to memorize every word—but it helps to be very familiar with what you plan to say.
  • Be proactive: if possible, scope out the venue where you will be presenting or, at the very least, speak with a contact person. Do you know how to get there and how long will it take? (try to be early—not leaving enough time just adds to the stress) What type of space is it? Do they have the proper hookups for your computer or flash drive? There’s nothing worse then getting to a conference and discovering they don’t have a computer available for your flash drive and the computer you brought doesn’t have the proper cable hook up. This happened to me in NZ last March and at the NE-SCBWI last May. Luckily, they were able to cobble something together and the presentation went smoothly. Word to the wise…I now have two small cable dongles (hahaha…what a word!) which enable me to use my own computer no matter what type of hook up the venue has.
  • Be a PowerPointer: standing up in front of a crowd of adults or children can be intimidating, but if you have a PowerPoint presentation, the audience is looking at the slides on the screen, NOT at you! And if you forget what you wanted to say, you will have the slide right there to jog your memory. The audience hasn’t heard your rehearsed document so it won’t matter if you don’t say every word you had practiced.

  • Be Personal: start your presentation with a personal story—this helps the audience connect with you. It can be funny, sad, whimsical. I begin my program by telling about the unique birthday present my son gave me when I turned 64. He took me skydiving! I have a slide of me, flying through the air—no matter what the age of the audience, jaws drop and everyone is engaged and wants to hear more. I’m sure each one of you has some type of story that will entertain the audience and connect you with them.

I hope these ideas will help all of you make your voices heard as you write your manuscripts and as you share your books when they are published. I’ll be making my voice heard today at the Barnes and Noble in Nashua, NH for the launch of Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, illustrated by Alleanna Harris and published by Little Bee Books. And then I’m off again, to Chicago, for more bookstore events and school visits…but not more skydiving, thank you very much.

Here’s to finding ideas that evoke your passion, to making your voices heard…and to a wonderful 2020 for all!

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words, but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of numerous picture books. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

Vivian is giving away a picture book critique (non-fiction/fiction/rhyming/prose, she does it all).

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


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