by Tracy Barrett (W & M Contributor)
One of an author’s many jobs is helping to get her books into readers’ hands. Those of us who write for children and adolescents have to appeal to several groups in order for that to happen—not only our intended audience, but adults as well: reviewers, parents, and teachers and librarians. Rather than looking at these gatekeepers as people as obstacles we have to overcome, I choose to look on them as my allies.
There’s not much I can do to reach reviewers. My publisher is responsible for getting ARCs* to them and I just have to wait for the response. I don’t have much opportunity to reach parents, either, except in small numbers at school appearances and signing.
But teachers and librarians—ah, there we go. They’re great friends of writers in general and can really help writers of historical fiction. While readers of historical fiction are usually passionate, even fanatical, about the genre, there aren’t that many of them. Without educators to put my books into the hands of those few but passionate fans, some of them will miss what I’ve written.
Of course, meeting these people is crucial. I regularly address groups of teachers, librarians, and specialists locally and throughout the country (and even in Europe, occasionally).
And I have to work within their reality. They’re strapped for time, so I help them write grants to fund an author visit and provide quizzes, exercises, and writing prompts on the For Teachers page of my web site. They don’t have much funding, so I point them to sources such as SCBWI’s Amber Brown Grant.
Once I convince my listeners of the benefit of encouraging their students to read a story that makes the long-dead figures they’re studying come alive, I’m most of the way there. But the job isn’t done if I want the kids in their care to read what I’ve written.
Teachers have very limited time, so I make it as easy as possible for them to use my books as part of a curriculum, either as outside reading or as extra reading. For example, I let them know that they don’t have to come up with exercises, writing prompts, quizzes, paper topics, etc., since I’ve created those for most of my books. (See my For Teachers page.) I find justification that my school visit will be instructional in the Common Core principles and in the state standards for the grade level I’m addressing.
Most of all, I’ve learned to listen to teachers and librarians. They love books and authors, and they can be our greatest allies. Several teachers told me that they would like to use my King of Ithaka to supplement class study of the Odyssey but the hardcover version was too expensive. So I approached my publisher and asked if they had plans to issue it in paperback. They didn’t, so I asked them to reconsider. And I asked them again. And finally, they agreed. Here it is!
It went on sale just two days ago, and to celebrate, I’d like to give a copy to a classroom teacher or librarian along with a free Skype visit. If you’re not a teacher but would like to enter, please do! You can give the book and Skype visit to the educator of your choice. All you have to do is enter a comment here in the next week (by March 27). I’ll choose one commenter at random.
*ARC: Advance Reading Copy. These are low-cost versions of the book that are sent to reviewers and bloggers ahead of publication.
Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) and the Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Forthcoming from Harlequin TEEN in June, 2014 is The Stepsister’s Tale. She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught Italian, Humanities, and Women’s Studies at Vanderbilt University, before transitioning to being a full-time writer. Visit her website and her blog.