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Friday, October 9, 2015

Top Ten Questions Kids ask Authors at School Visits (and how to respond to them) by Derek Taylor Kent AKA Derek the Ghost

Top Ten Questions Kids ask Authors at School Visits 
(and how to respond to them)
by Derek Taylor Kent AKA Derek the Ghost 

When you’re a children’s book author, the best way to sell lots of books is to do as many school visits as you can, preferably when they’re connected with book fairs like Scholastic, Barnes and Noble, or other companies like Mrs. Nelson’s. During book fair season, I’m usually doing two or three school visits per week, September through November and then March through April. It’s great because it raises money for the schools, gets kids excited about reading, and also increases sales figures, which are essential for landing that next book deal.

Part of every school presentation is the inevitable question and answer session with the students. When you’ve done hundreds of shows like I have, patterns emerge. I hear the same questions over and over. This is a list of the ten most common questions kids will ask and my strategies for answering them, which have come in very handy.

10. How old are you?
I like to turn this potentially awkward question into a guessing game for the kids in the audience to play. Kids are notoriously horrible at estimating an adult’s age. I’m in my mid-30s and will hear guesses everywhere between 20 to 50. The first kid who guesses anything under thirty, I say: “I like your answer. Let’s go with that.” Then I give him or her a high-five.

9. How many gray hairs to do you have?
This is the far more insulting version of number ten. I like to spout out an oddly specific number like “17” and then quickly say, “next question!”

8. Are you famous?
In other words, should I brag that I met you or not? I mean, if you’re not on TV or in the movies or have five million Youtube followers, who are you really? I usually respond with an equally snarky retort, “I don’t know how famous I am, but I can promise you one thing, if we each google our names, I will get way more hits than you.” That usually shuts them up.

7. How much money do you make? / Are you rich?
This is a tricky question to answer. What the kid is really asking is: “Look, if you’re visiting schools in San Bernardino, how rich can you possibly be? I love books and am considering becoming an author when I grow up, but if I put years of time and effort into the process, is it going to pay off in the end?” Well, kid, the major reason I was invited to your school and am being allowed to directly market my books to you is because the faculty is hoping that that of the hundreds of kids in the crowd, one or two of you are going to become so inspired that you will actually take up writing as your career choice, become a celebrated author one day, and credit this elementary school for bringing the author in that inspired you. So, for those select few kids, do I dash your dreams and say that for 90% of published authors, the money you make will not nearly cover your yearly living expenses and a day job will remain a necessity? Or do I allow you to keep your innocence and say that authors are rolling in dough and you can start shopping for that mcmansion as soon as you sell your first 32-page picture book? The answer I now go with tends to blend a bit of truth and fiction. Something like: “Well, every time one of my books sell, I get paid a little bit of money, so if all of you buy books today, I’ll be filthy, stinking rich.” When kids grow up and learn to do the math, they’ll realize that either I was lying, or strangely I thought a couple hundred bucks would make me rich. I look forward to receiving confused fan mail about that in the near future.

6. I had a dog, but it died.
That’s a statement about your bummer of a life, not a question. There are a million variations on this, and most will come from kindergartners and first-graders who don’t yet understand what a question is, but are desperate to either impress or connect with the speaker on stage. No amount of explaining to them what a question means will get them to ask a question. Twenty kids in a row will make random statements and the worst part is they are contagious after the first one happens. Best to divert to an authority figure and say, “Do any of your teachers have a question for me?” Once a teacher asks a question (which is usually a good one like “How did you become an author?” or “How do you come up with your characters?”), make it a really long answer to eat up time. Then, instead of having them make more general declarations like, “I’m going to be a cat for Halloween” or “I like to draw dinosaurs” start asking them questions like: “How do you think you become a good writer?” or “Is anyone here thinking of becoming an author when you grow up?” Proceed to encourage them to go into computer science.

5. Ummm… I forgot.
“That’s okay, young lady, try to remember and I’ll come back to you.” She will eventually raise her hand again, and when you call on her, she will proceed to ask the same question the kid right before her asked. She’s not fooling anybody. She never had a question. She just wanted to raise her hand for the attention and wasn’t expecting to get called on. Don’t buy into the act and waste time trying to pry her to remember her first question because she never will. Just move on.

4. Can I have a free book?
“Absolutely. But only because you asked and didn’t bother to even say ‘please’. And only you can have a free book. Nobody else can. Well done.” There’s one of these kids in every audience. He’s usually wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt and has crooked teeth. Do not get suckered into feeling sorry for this kid. He’s not asking for a free book because he can’t afford it. His parents are probably better off than most of the others, which is why he’s so rude and disrespectful in the first place. He’s just trying to make you look like a jerk by denying a kid a book who wants to read it sooo bad, and now you feel like a jerk for not giving it to him. Here’s what you tell this kid, “No free book, but I’ll trade you for one of your video games.” “But I didn’t bring my video games.” “Then too bad. No deal.”

Also, watch this kid closely. He will probably try to steal one of your books while his friends are distracting you asking questions after the presentation.

When the teacher catches him red-handed and tells him to take it out of his backpack and give it back to the author, he will say, “Oh, I thought he said I could have one.” Don’t be too mean to this kid, though. He’s going to be a senator one day.

3. Are they making a movie of your books?
Unless you’ve already signed off on the film rights and the release date has been set, which is not the case for 99.99% of us, this question cuts right to the core and strips a bit of our soul each time it’s asked. What I want to say every time is, “Nope. And that’s because you kids aren’t doing your jobs by spreading the word on social media about how awesome the book is, thus making it a #1 best-selling cultural phenomenon like The Hunger Games, but I guess you’re only nine and aren’t allowed to even use Facebook and Twitter yet, so I am screwed.”

But, what I usually say is: “Is it going to be a movie? The answer is… maybe! We’re working on making it happen, but if you want it to come out soon, you can help by writing to studios like Nickelodeon and demanding a Scary School movie. Trust me, they listen to what kids want much more than they’ll listen to me!”

Teachers actually like this because it gives them a perfect opportunity to introduce their students to persuasive writing in English, and many classes have actually done this for me! No word yet from Nickelodeon.

2. How long did it take you to write your book?
This is my other favorite opportunity to commence a guessing game. I always have some giveaways that I bring to every show, like postcards or bookmarks. I’ll go around the room and let the kids guess how long it took to write a Scary School novel. The guesses will be hilariously all over the place. I’ll hear everything from two hours to ten years. The actual answer is a month, and it usually takes about fifty guesses to get to it, so I help by doing higher/lower. The first to guess it right wins the prize. Keeping the show interactive is essential. Any chance to make them part of the show and feel more connected to you and the books is a good thing.

It will also create INSANE jealousy for the postcard I just gave to the kid who got it right. I then tell them that everyone who buys a book will also get a free postcard included and this increases sales dramatically.

It’s also a good segway into talking about the months of editing and revising that are necessary and how important it is. Teachers LOVE this.

1. How do you like being an author?
Finally! A great question! Well, let me tell you, I LOVE being an author. Not just because I get to travel around meeting cool kids like you, but for one big reason… but first, let me ask you this… It’s tough being a kid, right? Are there a million rules to follow? Is everyone always telling you what to do? Well, when you’re a writer, YOU get to be the boss. You can have your characters do whatever you want them to do. You can have your story go wherever you want it to go. You get to be the boss of an entire world! So I love being an author because nobody can ever tell me what to do and the only limit is my own imagination. So I want all of you to start writing stories and don’t put any limit on your imaginations. This is your one chance to be the boss! Keep practicing writing and read as much as you can, and who knows, by they time you’re twelve, you could be a published author like me! And when you are, I can’t wait to attend your signing and ask you how many gray hairs you have.

For more info on Derek and his books, please visit and

Scary School #4: Zillions of Zombies
by Derek the Ghost (Author), Revo Yanson (Illustrator), Marcus Muller (Cover Design)September 1, 2015
Eleven-year-old Charles Nukid thought he was the luckiest kid on earth when he was crowned the new monster king. But when he's challenged by a gang of angry trolls who don't think a human should be the monster king, something goes horribly wrong that turns all of the zombies of the world to evil and ravenous for brains.

Charles's friend rush to Monster Kingdom to help him, include Lattie the Ninja Girl, Petunia the purple girl, his biggest crush Penny Possum, Dr. Dragonbreath, and Johnny the Sasquatch. Together they'll have to find the one unicorn left on earth whose magic is powerful enough to turn all the zombies back to good.
Thrills, chills, laughs, and a Zombie T-Rex will all be found in this fantastic final book. What more do you want??

About the author:
Derek is an eleven-year-old ghost who haunts the classrooms and hallways of Scary School, writing down all the spine-tingling often hilarious things that go on there. Despite his ghostly state, Derek still enjoys reading comic books and hopes to one day become a master ninja. If that doesn’t work out, he will continue to share the fun of this very special, very secret school, so all kids can experience the scariest school on earth. Derek the Ghost communicates through the first-time ghost whisperer Derek Taylor Kent, who is a writer and performer in Los Angeles, California.

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