ONE YEAR ON Catherine Emmett

In a slightly different version of our ongoing series, now entitled One Year OnWords & Pictures asks a debut author to describe one aspect of their first year as a published writer. This month, Catherine Emmett gives newly published authors some helpful advice about doing events.

Hi! I’m Catherine Emmett, and my first book, King of the Swamp, illustrated by Ben Mantle, came out in August 2020. My second book, The Pet, illustrated by David Tazzyman, came along shortly afterwards, in May 2021. 

So, what have I learned one year on?

One of the main things that I’ve learned is that I really enjoy giving events — oh, and making crazy hats!

So, I thought I’d use this article to share what I’ve learned about giving events for pre-schoolers all the way to Year 6 and beyond.

Catherine reading to an attentive audience.

Know your audience! 

As a picture-book author, I’ve discovered that you need to really think about WHO the event is for – what works for a preschool class isn’t necessarily going to wash with nine-year-olds. 

Pre-schoolers don’t always have great concentration, and often struggle to sit still even for the length of your story, but I've discovered that having them act out the story or pretend to be a character in the story can help, and gives them the opportunity to move around in between sections of the reading. 

EYFS: Whilst this age group can usually sit still for the story, I’ve found that having them act it out afterwards (ideally with props!) or, alternatively, asking the group to make up a story together goes down really well.

KS1: This is a great age for listening to your story and then maybe making up their own characters at the end. Teachers often appreciate it if you leave them with a little bit of ‘follow-on creating’ for after you’ve gone – perhaps they can draw their own character or make up their own story? Remember to make sure that you give options for different abilities.

KS2: Kids still love picture books at this age, but often they also start to enjoy writing their own stories, so I focus workshops on story structure and making up characters. They still love to have lots of involvement, though, and love being able to move around and act parts out.

Catherine at one of her events.

Libraries and Festivals 
With libraries and festivals you NEVER KNOW WHO YOU ARE GOING TO GET. You might have a room full of pre-schoolers, or three eight-year-olds with their gran. Try and come up with a couple of different options which can be adapted depending on who turns up. I’d suggest, though, that the more interactive the better, and remember that all kids love stories.

Kids LOVE crafts. Adults do NOT always love crafts! 
Kids of all ages love crafts. Look at your book and figure out what crafts you can easily provide based on your book — often the simpler the better. And bonus points if you can link it to the school curriculum (e.g. recognising shapes; symmetry; the life-cycle of animals etc). I found that giving kids a butterfly template and lots of stickers kept them happy for a long time. Also, think about WHERE you are going to be delivering the event, and consider whether a craft which requires glue and paints is the best or most flexible option. I found that using stickers can help avoid the requirement for paint or glue, and generally leads to happy kids and relieved looking adults. 

Sell Sell Sell 
Events are great and, if kids enjoy them, they love to buy your book. So always have copies with you to sell (or hook up with a local bookshop) and figure out how you are going to get paid for them. Cash is great, but often parents aren’t carrying around £6.99 in the right change. I invested in a Sum Up payment device and it is fab. You just need the device and a mobile phone and bingo — you can get paid by credit or debit card. Highly recommended. Just say yes!

I’ve been super lucky as I have been invited to give events in schools, libraries, story centres and festivals. Despite being terrified at times, I have said YES to everything that came along and the events have been fab. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to signings where only a handful of people have turned up – the key for me is to EXPECT NO ONE - then, if anyone turns up, it is a bonus. It has sometimes been very tempting to say ‘No, sorry, I’ve never done that before’ — but push yourself a bit. Do the preparation, maybe try a trial run and then GO FOR IT. Expect the unexpected! There isn’t anything worse than scripting out a perfect one-hour session for a group of kids, only to either get to the end after 25 minutes, or, alternatively, barely reach the main event before the time is up.

CHUNKING is essential. Have maybe one main section that you can easily deliver in the time, but also prepare other activities that you can add in or remove, depending on how things go. I've had sessions where I’ve asked kids to write something down for 5-10 minutes, only to see nothing but a sea of blank faces, so I’ve cut my losses and done a group activity instead, which has worked much better. Prepare your main set and then have maybe a quiz or a draw-along that you can add on at the end if you have time. Kids are all different, so the same activities will work with some better than others — the more options you have, the better.

Put yourself out there 
If you don’t already know your local indie bookshop or librarian then get to know them. Pop into the local schools and see if they’d like an event. See if any local toddler groups would like a story time. Offering events like these can help build your confidence and really help you hone your techniques. It also gets your name out there, and you never know what might come your way.

Get permission for pics 
Just a reminder that if you want to share photos from your events on social media, make sure you get permission beforehand.

While events can be scary, there is nothing better than meeting kids who love your books. So, get out there and have fun meeting your existing fans, and hopefully make some new ones. My next books aren’t out until 2023, so I’m hoping to have lots more events between now and then — I’ll see you out there.


Ed's note: Tizzie Frankish, the Words & Pictures editor for Debut Diaries — One Year On, has retired after several years of volunteering. Thank you so much, Tizzie, from all the team. 


Catherine Emmett grew up in Newcastle and spent all of her childhood reading books. Then she spent 14 years in London making spreadsheets and not reading any books at all. After advising a group of young girls to find a career that they loved, she decided to take her own advice. She packed up her husband and her three young boys, moved to rural Essex and started to write picture books. She now spends her days surrounded by words, animals and noisy boys.

Follow Catherine:

Website: Catherine Emmett  

Twitter: @emmett_cath

Instagram: @catherine_emmett_author

Facebook: catherineemmettauthor

1 comment:

  1. really enjoyed reading this as I am about to sign a contract and am feeling nervous and excited about the coming year. This was MOST helpful.thank you


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