Article By Author Diane Orr:
At first, the idea of school author visits simultaneously excited and petrified me! After all, these are the little humans for whom my books have been written. But, EEK! Being face to face with all of those energetic little bodies and endlessly inquisitive minds in a closed room with teachers looking on had me shaking in my boots, nearly overwhelmed me and could have robbed me of the joy of this unique and wonderful opportunity.
However, if you do your homework, and if you adequately prepare for your visit, not only will the students enjoy your visit, but you will enjoy it as well! I now find myself looking forward to each author visit even though I am not typically the person who enjoys “first day of school” days. New things are difficult for me. If you find yourself identifying with those sentiments, don’t fear! If I can do it, SO CAN YOU!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
It begins with some homework…sounds appropriate, right? After all, we are going to be working with schools. Here is a list, in a logical order of what to do first:
- Do a computer search of area elementary schools. If you want to, you can begin with a 30-minute radius from your home and see if that provides enough schools to start with. If not, increase to a 45-minute radius.
- Make a table, either in a notebook or on a Word or Excel document, where you can list the names of the schools, the phone number and address, the contact person and their email address and an area for notes.
- When you have the names of the schools and have created a table for filling in needed information, search out each school individually. If you search the name of each school individually, the search should bring up a box with the address, office phone number, etc. Use this information to fill in the blanks on your table.
- Use the filled-in table and place a phone call to each school. Tell them you are a local author (specify your genre) and let them know you are setting up author visits in area schools. Ask for the name of the person who would be responsible for making that decision. In some schools, it is the principal. In others, it is the librarian and in some schools the teachers themselves organize their classroom visitors. Get both the name and the email address and fill in your chart with that information. Document any pertinent information on your chart.
- Compose an email introducing yourself as a local author and what kind of books you write. Tell them a little about yourself and that you are interested in scheduling author visits. Please try to be as flexible as you can be. For instance, in my most recent email, I told them I could either do virtual or in-person visits, whichever they were more comfortable with.
- I usually do one email to myself and BCC: the school contact personnel. Believe me, you will appreciate doing this later.
- Make a note on your written list as to the date the emails were sent out. If you haven’t heard anything within a few weeks, write a follow-up email.
One thing to keep in mind is that when dealing with schools, timing is important. I usually send out my first email in May, before the end of the school year, just to get my name in front of them before they break for summer. Then, when school resumes, I send out another email a few weeks into the fall referencing the first email. You don’t want to pester them, but I have learned that getting your name in front of them BEFORE they make out their visitor schedules is vital to getting on their schedule!
Another thing to keep in mind is that you are performing a service to the school, so you want to be able to tailor your visit to their needs and provide exactly what they want. In my initial email, I usually say something like “I am happy to tailor my visit to meet your students’ needs.” Along this line, when I send the initial email, I attach a flyer I created that tells a little bit about me, my books and what I can offer during a visit. For instance, if you can offer a writing workshop for older students as well as readings for younger students, or something like that in addition to readings, you should include that on your flyer.
WHEN YOU GET A REPLY ASKING FOR A VISIT:
After you have jumped for joy…try to put your business head back on and reply to their email asking for direction as to exactly what they are wanting for their students. How much time will you have? How many classes will you be meeting with? Do they just want an author reading and Q&A or would they also like to schedule a workshop with older children? Try to secure a specific date and know exactly what they are expecting.
If they indicate they would like a workshop, you will need to decide if you will charge separately for that. For some of the schools in which I have done workshops, I have charged a separate fee for the workshop, but if it is just a typical author visit and Q&A, I let them know that as long as my book order forms are sent home with students and given an opportunity to order my books, the visit is free. How you charge is up to you! (see more below)
SELLING YOUR BOOKS:
I usually make it known that author visits are free with the understanding that they will provide my book order form to the students and parents allowing them to purchase autographed copies of my books directly from me. This can be done in a couple of ways: 1)the book order forms can be sent, returned, paid for and picked up prior to the visit so that you can bring the signed, purchased books with you to the visit; or, 2) the books orders can be sent out prior to your visit, but not picked up until you visit and then you would return at a later date with the signed, purchased books; or 3) send home the order form on the day of your visit and have them returned to the school where you can pick them up with the payment and then return at a later date with the purchased, signed books. Depending on the distance you must travel, any of these are workable options.
If you don’t have a website that lists your available books with a summary, I think it’s important to take along all of your published books and let the children look at them. Talk about the books with the students to give them an idea of what the book is about. You can also talk about upcoming releases to generate some interest in those as well.
PREPARING FOR THE DAY OF THE EVENT:
Practice reading your book(s) in front of a mirror. Yes, you wrote the book! But it’s important that you are familiar with it enough to read it smoothly. Currently, I have 12 books published, another ready for release and another 2 being illustrated. Because sometimes I read my fist book, if I haven’t practiced reading it in a while, I might mess it up…so it’s important to practice! Focus on your facial expressions and your voice inflections to make sure your presentation is inviting and interesting.
Be excited! The children will feed off of your excitement. Let the students know you are happy to have some time to visit with them and plan ways to engage with them throughout the visit.
I also like to remind myself that someday, some of these children may be authors themselves, and I want them to remember this author visit with fondness! I often encourage children to contact me with questions via my website. I feel we are investing in future writers and that excites me!
TODAY IS THE DAY!
- Make a list of what you need to take with you and gather those items the night before.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Make sure you know where you are going and that you have mapped it and know how long it will take. Leave early and arrive early.
- Smile! Relax! Shine!
- Go with the flow. More than once, after having a PowerPoint presentation prepared, for one reason or another, the technology failed me. Do your best to have what you need but if it doesn’t work…just make a new plan and go “old school”. Once I showed my presentation from my laptop as if it was a book I was reading and showing the pictures. Once, I just did without. Just don’t let unexpected pitfalls ruin your visit!
A note about Q & A: Children love to ask questions but not all teachers have prepared students ahead of time what is and isn’t a question. You will inevitably get “My dog….” which is obviously not a question. When this happens, I let it go unless it goes on and on and prevents other students from asking their questions. Be kind and sweetly re-direct and get back on track.
I hope this has been both helpful to you and I hope it has encouraged you to get make efforts to into your local schools. You can do it and I believe both you and the students you visit will benefit. I am now getting call backs from schools I visited in 2019. That is confirmation to me that they saw my visit as a good thing for their students. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions not addressed in this post. www.dianeorrauthor.com
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