It’s Back-To-School time!
For most parents it’s the hap-happiest season of all. Teachers are preparing their lesson plans and librarians are pouring over reading lists and getting everything ready for their hordes of students to return.
But it’s also Back-To-School time for authors as I and many of my fellow authors start up a new year of school visits. If you write children’s books, appearing at schools and talking to young readers about the importance of reading and writing and books is one of the great side benefits of the job. Writing tends to be a solitary occupation and you spend a lot of time in your own head. (I know…scary!) Having a chance to get out of your office and talk to students and hopefully offering them even a spoonful of inspiration is a tremendous side benefit of being a writer.
Almost all of my author friends make school visits. Some spend the entire school year on the road traveling from one town to the next. Others do only a handful, keeping their eyes instead on the always-approaching deadline.
Having done this for a while now, and having talked with many of my writer friends who have been doing school visits for a much longer time. I’ve come up with a list of hints, tips and tricks that you can use to make your Author visit a tremendous experience for your school, the author, and most importantly your students.
1. The Honorarium
Most authors require an honorarium for school visits. Some who have only published a book or two, ask for modest amounts, some award-winning authors and illustrators command much higher figures. This speaker’s fee is often the greatest obstacle to schools hosting an author event. Budgets are tight for schools and libraries; there is no question about that.
But what must be understood is that the vast majority of writers, especially in children’s books, are not able to make a living from solely from their writing. It is sad but true. Not every author is a major-bestseller living comfortably off his or her royalties. Most of us work another job. To schedule a school visit we usually have to take a day or more off from that job. If we’re traveling to another state, it’s usually three days out of our schedule to make an appearance. (Understand this is only a fact not a complaint).
Yet if a school is creative there are many ways to help defray the cost of the honorarium, at least in part, if not fully and make the visit a break even day. Here are several suggestions
A. Have An Organized, Pro-Active Book Sale Before The Author Arrives.
And by organized I mean, don’t just send a photocopied note home with the kids telling parents the author will visit in a month. Appoint a chairperson of the pre-order campaign. Get your PTO’s or PTA’s involved. Send home multiple copies of the order form with your students. The more times it’s sent, the better chance it has to get out of the backpack and into the hands of the parents. Make sure the information is posted on the schools website and in school newsletters. Put up posters in the hallways. Make a display in the school library or the office. Post notices of the impending visit at your local public library. Talk to other schools in your district about sharing the costs. Get your local media involved and list the event online with local newspapers, TV and radio stations.
If you work with a local bookseller, most will offer schools a discount for author visits. If you’re creative, focused and organized at selling enough books, you can pay for or greatly defray the cost of the honorarium and are that much closer to a great author event.
B. Look For Partners In Your Community To Help Defray The Costs
As I already mentioned a local and energetic bookseller can help. But there are other sources of funding in your community you may not have thought of.
- Your local public library. Many libraries get grants and funding for special events. Many libraries get grants and funding for special events. Most authors are willing to speak at a school during the day and a library event in the evening. Your local library can help you publicize the visit, sell more books and again, defray the cost of the honorarium.
- Approach local service clubs like the Kiwanis and Rotary Club for donations toward the author visit. Most clubs are willing to pitch in a few hundred dollars for an event like this. And you can also offer the author as ‘programming’ for the club. Most clubs have weekly or monthly meetings and they are always looking for speakers. If you schedule the visit around the club meeting you can offer the author as a guest speaker. And don’t forget these clubs are made up of Parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles who would love to purchase an autographed book for the child in their life. Another sales opportunity!
- Look for potential grant money at your city, state or county level. Offer the author visit as a fundraiser for your local literacy group. There are many organizations out there that offer grant money for ‘educational purposes’. Last year I made a school visit to Missouri where a county organization had not only funded the honorarium and travel expenses, they also purchased a book for each student in the 6-8th grades and a classroom set of all my books for each teacher! It was all funded by a local county organization whose mission is to promote reading and literacy.
2. Prepare Your Students For The Author’s Visit
This is especially important for the non Rick Riordan’s and Jeff Kinney’s among us. There is nothing more deflating for an author to visit a school and find none of the students read or are familiar with your books. Believe me it happens. If you have an interest in a particular author, make sure at least some of your best students have read at least one of his or her books. It makes the Q&A sessions go so much better!
Many authors have a wealth of content on their sites to help make your job easier. For example, I have PDFs of customizable event posters and order forms so each school can create their own individual materials. My website also outlines the different type of presentations I do, from ‘writing workshops’ to ‘hands on history’. Discuss with the author before the visit what you think might most appeal to your students, or help meet the curriculum needs of your school. Most authors are flexible and can tailor a presentation in a lot of different ways to make it more meaningful to your students and educators.
4. Remember It’s All About Fun
An author visit is something your students should look forward too. With the proper preparation, and yes, a little bit of extra work, you can give your students an experience they’ll remember for a long time, maybe forever. And you might even connect that reluctant reader with an author who will turn them into a lifetime reader.
Isn’t that’s what it’s all about?
(Check my website for some links to some other articles on hosting a great author event!)
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Michael P. Spradlin