Last Friday, Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, stopped by our local library, on the Plaza, as part of his current book tour. His visit was sponsored by the library and a local children's bookstore, the Reading Reptile.
He explored his writing process and how he became a writer after working 13 years in a car factory. He explained the importance of first lines as well as his choice to send the Watsons to Birmingham rather than Florida as initially planned. He explained that because his book took place in 1963, Birmingham captured the imagination immediatley versus Florida during that era.
His talk was engaging and interactive. He invited children onto the stage to be part of his presentation. He asked them questions regarding geophraphy and the meaning of words like "monopoly". When they seemed about to be overtaken with shyness, he pretended to pull them aside to explain how their interaction was supposed to go. He did this in full view of his audience and very audibly into the microphone. He explained that the goal of his visit was to promote reading, so when he asked, "How'd you learn that?" their response should be, "I read alot." When they successfully played their role, he gave each of his assistants a "bookmark", a crisp bill of some denomination (I was too far away to see how much the bill was worth, and it would have been rude to ask. The important part is that they received a bit of money as a reward for their trouble, exposing themselves to an audience and sharing their knowledge--great teaching strategy.)
It was a funtime. In addition, the coffee and hot cocoa from the library coffe shop, Baristas, as well as the cookies and deli meats served during the presentation made coming out into the frigid winter night well worth it.
At the end, he opened the floor to questions. One audience member asked him about his perspective on self-publishing. In response, he emphasized the benefits of entering contests sponsored by major publishers (The Watsons came to publication because an editor, who read it during such a contest, liked the manuscript.)--immediate access to editors, if a writer wins the publisher can invest the large sums of money needed to manufacture and promote the book to make it a success, etc. In short, the costs of making publishing a book a sucessful enterprise can prove a greater burden than the average aspiring writer can bear. He said, "That's why they're called vanity presses. If that's what you're after (pause), but I'd enter as many contests as possible. You just have to work at it."
I'm a blogger, so where I sit on this particular topic is rather obivious. What do you think?