A good 400 7th and 8th graders filed steadily through the stations of the career fair.  Booths representing various occupations, area colleges, high school programs, and STEM initiatives enticed the young teens.  Some sipped smoothie samples, many flew Styrofoam gliders that someone thought was a good idea to give middle schoolers, and most of the young girls either teetered on heels way too high for business attire or squirmed in an attempt to pull off the latest fashion trends.  The hormones surging through the cafetorium—that’s what they call the multi-purpose cafeteria/auditorium/athletic court/meeting space—were palpable.  The late bloomers (of course) ran frantic laps around the “mature” kids, taking advantage of their social invisibility in a perpetual game of Monkey in the Middle.  The noise level was somewhere in the neighborhood of a 747 landing strip at the ATL.

The kids were supposed to come armed with career-minded questions and a quick lesson on the power of a proper handshake.  I came armed with an elevator pitch on the glories of becoming a published author and a gross of bookmarks.  The morning passed quickly as I fielded questions, signed autographs, and managed to sell a few books to the adults in attendance.  Although it was not one of my more profitable appearances, it was a LOT of fun getting to interact with the kids.  Whether you are a fellow author or one of my Gentle Readers, here are some snippets from my middle school adventure.

  • When dealing with the 12-15 set, be prepared for an absolute microcosm of society. You’ll get to talk with everyone from adoring (and adorable) fans to jaded malcontents who are peeved that you’re not offering candy.  Hint to fellow authors:  kids like to get candied up at these sort of events.
  • Kids are tactile creatures. They want to handle both the props and the books, and will most definitely judge your book by its cover…and tell you exactly what they think!  Hint to fellow authors:  Smile a LOT, and be prepared to re-set your display multiple times.
  • Some kids will literally run away from the books, while others will want to tell you ALL about ALL the “books” they’ve written, too. Hint to fellow authors:  Smile a LOT, and encourage every single one of those babies to keep writing.  Brag on their ideas.  It takes guts to share.  My experience in education tells me that these are often the very kids that need positive reinforcement the most.  This is the time to be a dream builder, not a dream crusher.  Whatever you do, don’t tell them the statistical odds of getting published!
  • Know that even though you’ve talked about your book and writing for a solid 30 seconds, you’ve about reached the limits of the young teen attention span, especially when they haven’t hit up the Styrofoam glider booth yet. Put a bookmark in their hand and be fully prepared to meet “Wait a minute, YOU wrote this book?” without even a suggestion of an eyeroll.   Hint to fellow authors:  Autographs always save the day (and your sanity).  Make sure you have a Sharpie in hand.  Be so positive that the kids want to join you in celebrating your book. Also, don’t forget the other exhibitors.  This is a great opportunity for you to network.

This last one’s for the writers, but my Gentle Readers may gain some insight as well.  So, please read on!

  • Teens can smell fear. Young teens often fail to differentiate between fear and anxiety when reading other people.  They very much feed off of vibes.  If you emanate impatience, condescension, or patronization, you will not get positive results.  Actually, with middle schoolers, you may wind up thinking you’re in a scene from Lord of the Flies. This sort of appearance is much more about presence than profit. You will be refreshed as an artist when you approach the artists of tomorrow with genuine interest.

If you get invited into a school…GO!  It’s truly a rewarding experience.

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