Connecting with Young Adult Authors through Writing
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Some books move teen readers deeply. A book may help a teen gain perspective on a personal experience, become more aware of an important issue, or develop a sense of understanding for the experiences of others. Sometimes a book's impact is so great that teens seek a connection with the book's author. This activity guides teens in reaching out to authors of books they love by composing personal letters or connecting to authors through their websites or blogs.
Why This Is Helpful
Writing in response to reading provides teens with another way to make sense of their reactions to a book. Writing to an author gives teens an audience for their thoughts and a way to become more knowledgeable about the author's approaches to writing and publishing.
This activity was modified from the ReadWriteThink lesson plan "Joining the Conversation about Young Adult Literature."
What You Need
- Selected Young Adult Author Websites and Blogs
- How to Contact an Author through a Publisher
- Sample letters to authors from these collections: Dear Author: Letters of Hope, edited by Joan Kaywell (New York: Philomel, 2007) or Dear Author: Students Write about the Books that Changed Their Lives, collected by Weekly Reader's Read Magazine (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1995).
Here's What To Do
- Invite teens to make a quick list of books they have recently read. Which ones made particularly strong impressions and why? Was it the plot, the characters, the themes, the writing style, the issues and questions the books raised, the conversations the books provoked among the teens' peers, or something else?
- Talk with the teens about what might be helpful for the author to know about the teen's personal reaction to this particular book. You might ask questions such as:
- What was it about the topic that connected strongly with the teen?
- Which scenes were especially powerful?
- What aspects of the main character's thoughts and decisions did the teen find to be particularly believable or objectionable?
- What did the book inspire the teen to think about, wonder, or do differently as a result of reading the story?
- For comments from young adult authors on what they do and don't like to see in letters from teen readers, share these Tips for Writing to Authors.
- Discuss various approaches to contacting authors and the pros and cons of each approach. Consider these examples:
- Readers who write letters to authors and send them through the U.S. Mail in care of the author's publishing company will have to wait longer to receive a response (average response time is 2-3 months), but when the response comes, it may be in the form of a handwritten or personally signed letter.
- Readers who email authors may receive a response more quickly, but the response may be shorter and more quickly written.
- Readers who contact authors by leaving comments on the author's blog may not hear back from the author at all, but other readers will be able to see the teen's comments.
- Remind the teens that well-known authors receive hundreds of letters and emails each month. Thoughtful, detailed, and heartfelt messages are more likely to receive a response than ones written carelessly and hurriedly. Authors will also be more likely to respond if they can easily read a teen's writing. That means the letter or email should be written in standard English without text-messaging abbreviations like "hope 2 hear from u soon."
- Once the teens have decided which author to contact and which method to use, help them find the contact information for the specific authors. Use the Selected Young Adult Author Websites and Blogs if the teen wants to write to an author online using email or blog comments. Or refer to the How to Contact an Author through a Publisher sheet if the teen has chosen to write to an author in care of the publishing company.
- When the teens begin to draft their letters or emails, they may want to refer to examples of letters written to authors by other teens. If the teen is interested, use the public library to request a copy of Dear Author: Letters of Hope (New York: Philomel, 2007) or Dear Author: Students Write about the Books that Changed Their Lives (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1995).
- Offer to read and provide feedback on the teens' letters or emails before they send them, but know that the contents may be personal and that the teen may not want anyone but the author to see his or her thoughts.
More Ideas To Try
- In the course of researching author websites and blogs, teens may learn about upcoming author book tours or other public events. Particularly when Young Adult authors have new books coming out, publishing companies may arrange for authors to visit local schools, libraries, or bookstores. Local colleges and universities also sometimes arrange for Young Adult authors to present public readings on campus. Encourage your teen to find out about any local events planned by his or her chosen author and support him or her in finding ways to attend.
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