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Kim Tomsic

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ninja Moves for a Successful Book Launch





Todd Tuell, author of the action-packed picture book NINJA NINJA NEVER STOP (Abrams, April 2014 ), entertained dozens of kids at his book launch which was held at that Maime Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield, Colorado on April 27, 2014. Kids laughed, danced, chopped, made crafts, played games, ate ninja-lato, and bought books! It was one of the most successful and exciting book launch parties I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps Todd has a jump in the fun-department, since he has previous experience as a preschool teacher. Whatever his source of ninja moves and magic, kids love his book! Of course they do—it’s fun, and colorful, and invites the mind to journey on a clever path full of possibilities. Kirkus reviews says of NINJA NINJA NEVER STOP, "bright primary hues add energetic yet retro feel to carpenters illustrations a good choice for mischievous preschoolers with an interest in martial arts.” 

K: Hi, Todd! Thanks for agreeing to an interview. Congratulations on a fun and fantastic story. Without a doubt NINJA NINJA NEVER STOP is a hit! I understand you've already done several school visits as well as your book launch party. What went into your decision-making for planning your launch and the school visits?
Thank you so much, Kim, for this opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned with your readers.

The first thing that went into planning was to look at my book launch as something bigger than an individual event. This was great advice I got from my agent, Rubin Pfeffer. For that, I’ve focused on creating some resources to get kids excited about the book, about reading and all the fun of being a ninja. By putting all of this together, I can generate some buzz by helping anyone around the country host a fun ninja event in places I can’t physically attend. Now that I’ve put these elements together and tested them out with my own events, I can distribute them as an online resource kit. You can look for these on my website in the coming weeks.

It’s also been important to me to share the experience with those parts of my life that have been so important. So for my initial events, I approached my children’s elementary teachers and our local library, practically our second home. These teachers and librarians have been such a big part of our family and even my writing career. It was only natural to include them.

K: How do the plans you make for school visit differ from what you prepare for bookstore or library appearances?
With a school visit there is inherent structure and elements of decorum. The expected classroom behavior is understood and generally accepted by the children in the classroom. In that environment, the kids know how to move from one activity to another. Additionally, your host in the school, either the teacher or librarian you are working with, generally has the hope that you’ll bring some type of academically driven activity to extend what they’ve been doing in the classroom. The one thing to remember is that you’ll probably only have the teacher with you in the classroom to help with activities. Make sure that the individual activities you bring such as writing exercises can be self-directed by the children.

A library is much different. It’s a different environment than school, so kids don’t always understand the rules. Develop a schedule but be ready to adjust. Your audience can range widely in age, so you’ll need to develop appropriate activities to engage everyone’s interest. One great thing about a library event is that parents and other adults will often stay. This makes it easier to break out into stations so a parent and child can explore a bit more independently. Do try to have friends and family available to help at each activity. Finally, you also have to allow for families to come and go as they need.


K: What do you think are the three most important elements for a successful school visit or book launch, especially for authors who write picture books?
1.    The most important thing is to extend your book beyond its pages. Engage the kids with activities that enhance the book experience. Many books are fun for these kids, but you want to make yours stand out with an outstanding experience.
2.    It really helps make the event successful when you have a champion at the venue, that teacher or librarian who is just as invested as you in making it a fun and memorable experience for the audience.
3.    Learn from each experience for the next. You’ll see early on how long the kids’ attention span lasts, what’s working for an age group, and more importantly what’s not. After an event, always ask for suggestions to make it better. Teachers can pinpoint subtle things that can make a huge difference because they know these kids so well.

K: At your book launch, you had various fun station set up for kids --a haiku writing station, Ninja mask making and painting station, and a cardboard ninja star throwing game (fun!!) What advice do you have for authors regarding crafts and games?
There were certainly some lessons learned. I was a little overambitious on the mask making with paints and markers. I’d suggest always going simple. The kids got too focused on decorating their masks and didn’t always get to experience the other activities (plus it makes for a tougher cleanup).

Have lots of help. Family and writer friends love to celebrate in the launch and jump in to help lead an activity. This frees you as the author to spend some time individually with your young fans. Make sure to do that. Ask and answer as many questions. You should make these kids as important to the event as the book and the activities.

K: And how did you come up with the fabulous ideas for your crafts? Furthermore, how many arts and crafts stations or game stations do you think are important for a book launch?
Does this answer change for school visits?
I think the number of activities isn’t as important as making sure what you do have planned is safe, engaging and somehow relate to your book. That said, a bigger event should have variety especially if you expect children of varying ages and abilities. You should have some activities that are self-driven by the kids and others where they are challenged but guided by a helper or parent. One easy thing is to have plenty of activity sheets. These are things they can take home, so always brand them with your book and contact information.

Most of my ideas came from parenting blogs. You can find craft and activity ideas on most any theme. Also invite your kids or kids in your target audience to weigh in with ideas. Don’t forget to ask the host at your event venue, too.  They know specifics about what NOT to include in a program.

The crafts and activities you choose absolutely depend on the type of launch event. It’s dependent on the age range, the wider the range, the more offerings you should have.

Schools are different. You’ll definitely be limited on the number and type of activities because you’ll be the primary one leading them. Answering questions and helping 20+ kids can be much tougher. Have samples and prompts prepared if you are doing some type of writing exercise and do one as a class together so they get the idea.

K: Todd, I love the song and lyrics you created, and so did the kids. There was lots of laughter when they danced to What Would a Ninja Do. How can other authors go about creating their own music?
Involving music and movement is ideal for a book event. It’s a fun way to engage the kids because you are involving so many senses. If you have an idea and want to pursue it, definitely do it.

It’s great that there are so many people who love music from high school and college music students to people who play in the band at a local church. I have no skill when it comes to music, so I reached out to a guy I’d heard sing many times. I told him what I was looking for, and was delighted that he was so excited for a fun project. So don’t be surprised who might lend their talents.


K: Regarding time management, how much time do you allot to each component of your presentation to kids?
It’s amazing how the time for your visits will go by so fast. I think you are wise to keep each activity to about 7 to 10 minutes. Otherwise, you can start to loose kids. Alternate your activities between ‘quiet’ ones and active ones. I’d also typically advise starting with group activities then moving towards the independent ones to conclude.

I noticed that you engaged the kids in a question and answer session throughout the presentation. Smart idea! It kept the kids on their toes and drawn to your presentation. What other gems of advice do you offer authors to make the visit successful?
Forget that the day is ‘your day’ or a day about your book. Make it all about the kids’ experience. The book is just a small part of that, but it will be memorable if you’ve made they time fun.

What process did you go through with the library to set up your book launch?
For writers, your librarians should become your best friends. I spend so much time there with my kids already and was lucky when the time came around for my book to launch, to have a champion in my home library. Having that support can make an event so successful and now be able to use her as a reference to get into other libraries with this program.

It’s a matter of first, asking if you can provide a program. But be prepared when you make a contact at your library. Show that you are professional with a full plan for the event and by explaining how it all ties together as more than a simple reading if you are asking for support for a launch event.

Finally, be open to suggestions and change. Most libraries are quite experienced now with wonderful summer reading programs to have great tie-in ideas. Just listen.

What process have you gone through to set up your school visits?
You should start now making friends with your own kids’ teachers and librarians or those in your neighborhood.  As a debut author, I did not have any reference visits to point to when asking to be a visiting author. So I determined to avoid the red tape by approaching the administrators of schools. I went straight to classroom teachers and librarians that I knew. I was prepared with what I could bring and how that might extend what the kids were doing in class.

I wanted to build up my experience as a classroom presenter, so initially I have not asked for a visit fee. That’s a great way to get a foot in the door. Most teachers will jump at a chance to bring in an author to speak to kids. If you’re charging little or nothing to speak, they’ll be happy to generate some buzz with parents and send pre-order forms home with kids in advance of your visit. The kids take home a flyer so they are anticipating something cool is coming up. They are ready and looking forward to the event. Create the order form and email it to your teachers. Make it easy for them to sell your book and kids’ parents to buy it.

What’s the best parting advice you can give us about creating a successful book launch event?

It’s all about preparation. With the agent advice I mentioned earlier, I say spend time on creating and testing out activity ideas that enhance your story and make the entire event memorable. These are things you’ll be able to use again and again once you’ve got them in your pocket.

The best thing I did was to get into a smaller environment first to learn some lessons. I suggest you incorporate as many senses as possible, especially movement. There is so much research indicating how cross-body movements create cross-brain activity and connectivity in children.


Thank you so much for your time, Todd!

If you would like to set up a virtual visit or live with Todd, please visit his blog at:  http://www.toddtuell.com/

Todd Tuell is the co-regional adviser to the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). NINJA NINJA NEVER STOP is his debut book.

If you are in the Denver area and would like to bring your child to Todd’s next event, please join him at Tattered Cover Book Store in Highlands Ranch at 10:30am.
Location: 9315 Dorchester Street in the new Highlands Ranch Town Center on Highlands Ranch Parkway between Broadway and Lucent Boulevards. A parking lot is conveniently located in the front of the store. The zipcode is 80129.

Or you can find him at Barnes and Noble in Boulder in June, 2999 Pearl Street, Boulder CO 80301


Don’t miss Todd at the 95th ANNIVERSARY CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK CELEBRATIONS!!

MG/YA Author Panel

Wednesday, May 14th, 6:30p.m.
Tattered Cover Colfax, Denver
Join Melanie Crowder, Lindsay Eland, Claudia Mills, Ellen Mahoney, Christine Liu-Perkins and Barbara Wright as they present their recently published novels and participate in a panel Q&A. There will be door prizes and a drawing for a Young Author manuscript critique!

Picture Book Group Story Time
Saturday, May 17th, 10:30a.m.
Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch
Celebrate the beauty and wonder of picture books written by Libby Martinez, Jean Reidy, Todd Tuell and Nicole Weaver. There will be readings by each author as well as door prizes and fun activities for all attendees!

ABOUT CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK
Children's Book Week is the annual celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading.
Established in 1919, Children's Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, commemorative events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes -- wherever young readers and books connect! 
Children's Book Week is administered by Every Child A Reader, a 501(c)(3) literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. The Children's Book Council, the national non-profit trade association for children's book publishers, is an anchor sponsor.
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