Lorraine Mace, who also writes as Frances di Plino, is another of the Crooked Cat writers. She is able to turn her hand to several genres: crime fiction, children's fiction and very witty articles for Writer's News. Like me, she does the occasional school visit to enthuse children about reading and especially about reading her books. I asked her to talk about one of these visits.
''As authors, one of the banes of our profession is that we very rarely get feedback from our readers. Sure, we get reviews on such sites as Amazon and Goodreads, but if one compares the number of sales to the number of reviews, it is clear that we have no idea what the vast majority of our readers think of our books.
Writing as Frances di Plino, I am the author of the D. I. Paolo Storey crime thrillers. On the first three in the series I have, in total across Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, just 81 reviews – and some of those are duplicated, appearing on both sites! As I know I sell far in excess of 81 copies each and every month, it means the ratio of reviewer to reader is somewhat skewed.
Under my real name, I write children’s novels. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two schools to read to prospective readers – and this is where the point of the above information comes in. Suddenly, I moved from faceless author with invisible and mainly silent readers to a (slightly shaking) real person in front of a hall full of extremely visible (and potentially vocal) students.
If you intend to read to a large group of children, let me warn you here and now: it is not for the fainthearted!
At the beginning, they will gaze at you with such intensity you will be convinced your skirt is tucked into your underwear. Such is the power of their collective stare, even if you are male and know full well you are wearing trousers, you might still glance down to see if a bit of Victoria’s Secret (or Primark’s finest) is on show.
By the time you have stammered out who you are (if you can still remember) and told them the title of your book (ditto), you will be wondering how it is possible that only two minutes have passed out of the forty-five you have been allocated.
As soon as you begin reading, those intent little faces will switch off and you’ll wonder if you’re actually reading to yourself. I can honestly say I have never felt so alone as I did while reading Vlad the Inhaler at the first school. Every few lines, I took the opportunity to look up and engage with my listeners. At least, I would have done, if they had even glanced in my direction.
They looked out of the windows, stared at the ceiling, studied their feet, picked their noses, and generally gave the impression that they would rather be anywhere than in that hall, at that time, listening to my book!
By the end of the passage I’d selected, I felt completely demoralised and was on the point of vowing to give up writing completely. The hall was silent, the intent stares back, and it was with no real expectation of success that I asked: any questions?
The moment when a child put up her hand has stayed with me ever since. Her question? “Please, miss, where can I buy your book?”
That opened the floodgates. Hands shot in the air, attached to squirming bodies intent on gaining my attention. The questions were brilliant – showing they’d listened to every word. Nearly all the children dragged their parents in at the end of the day to buy a signed copy.
The reading at the next school followed that exact same pattern – but this time I didn’t allow myself to be fazed by the stares, or the apparent boredom while I was reading. The time at the end flew past with, once again, intelligent and thought-provoking questions being fired at me from all parts of the room.
I have several other schools to visit this term and I’m still a bit nervous at how my listeners will react. After all, children are the greatest levellers – if they don’t like something, it shows.
But when they engage with a book you’ve written, there isn’t anything else in the world that will provide an ego boost to match it.
A page of great reviews on Amazon? Pah! Give me a room full of excited children asking what’s going to happen in book two, or telling me which character from Vlad the Inhaler they would most like to be, or meeting up with them in the bookshop later and finding out Vlad the Inhaler is now their favourite book in the whole world. No five-star review even comes close.''
Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.
Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.
Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending
The fourth in the series, Looking for a Reason, is due for release by Crooked Cat Publishing on 28th October.