My First Author Panel: The Student Becomes the Teacher

I’ve been on the marketing road for a year now, but my first author panel happened yesterday. The panel was part of a Founder’s Week celebration at my high school Mount Saint Joseph Academy. Five alumnae authors took the stage to talk to the girls about the writing life.

MSJA Author PanelMy fellow authors were Jane Kelly (class of 1966), Elizabeth Barker (1974), Louise Pisano Simone (1977), and (via Zoom—kinda like Skype) Cat Zakrzewski (2011). Louise and I met as we wandered the halls together trying to find our pre-panel coffee and donuts. Once we found the others, we traded stories of what the school had been like when we went there.

The students (all girls) were enthusiastic and eager. Each author spoke a little about how we came to be writers, and we all had very different stories. This illustrated that no writer’s journey is the same, and comparing your journey to others’ only leads to frustration.

Our different paths (and our age spread) also gave many perspectives on the business of publishing, although I did warn the girls that anything we told them today would likely be out of date in six months, that’s how fast publishing is changing!

The students had a chance to ask us questions, including one about how to handle rejection. The other authors spoke about the opportunities of self-publishing or hybrid publishing, and using rejection to motivate you to reach higher. I used my experience as a reader for agent Marie Lamba to explain that rejection is usually not personal. It’s not a statement about you, or even about your work, it is more often a business decision that has nothing to do with you personally. So we all stressed to not allow doubt to creep in and to keep going—persistence does pay off.

MSJA Author Panel

Kerry Gans, Elizabeth Barker, Louise Pisano Simone, and Jane Kelly (missing: Cat Zakrzewski)

After the author panel, the girls came up and speak to us if they chose. I have to say that 1) their uniforms now are much nicer than the ones we had, and 2) so many of the girls reminded me of me and my friends at that age. They had questions for me about fan fiction (which I mentioned that I had written when I was at the Mount), about process, and about how to make a re-envisioned story like The Witch of Zal your own. (That last was from a young lady who liked to write fractured fairy tales.) Great questions, although I prefaced most answers with, “This is my way, but it may not be your best way.”

The high point of the event for me was when the fractured-fairy-tale student first approached me. She had this huge grin and said, “I read your book with my little sister! I loved it, and when I saw your name on the list here I couldn’t believe it!” As the first reader I have ever met who I didn’t know personally, she is now my favorite fan!

After the event, I snuck backstage (I had been a theater geek in high school). I found to my surprise that the initials my friend and I had painted on the wall with glow paint were still there, along with a poem written on the back of a dressing room door written by another classmate.

My initials backstage at the author panel at MSJAPoem on the door at MSJA author panel

The whole morning was a great time from start to finish. I am so grateful that my first author panel was in a place that still feels like home.

Where was your first author panel, and what was your experience?




  1. […] time. As an anxiety-ridden individual, the idea of not coming in fully prepared shook me deeply. My very first panel ever was at my high school alma mater, where I sat onstage with 4 other alumnae authors and faced some […]

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