Aaron Shepard is the author of The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author's Tips on How to Write, Sell, and Promote Your Children's Books. He is also the Webmaster of Aaron Shepard's Kidwriter Page, where he offers free resources for children's authors. My thanks to Aaron for letting me host this on The Purple Crayon
To make your school visit enjoyable and effective in promoting reading, a school must know what you need, offer, and expect. With so many details involved, you can simplify matters by creating a standard info sheet providing all important information.
Here's what the sheet should include:
Contact info: Your name, address, phone, email, Web page, etc.
General: Can the school make arrangements with you directly, or should it first contact your publisher? Do you need written confirmation of the date and fee, or perhaps a signed contract? Specify anything else you'll need in advance -- schedule, school contact info, directions. Do you require more than one day of visits for a long-distance engagement?
Recommendation: In most cases, it's simplest to allow schools to deal with you directly. Written confirmation is good, but you probably don't need a signed contract -- especially if you require the school to directly purchase any tickets.
Author presentations. What grade levels are you willing to present to? Do you limit the size of the audience? How long is your presentation? What does it consist of? Do you offer different presentations for specialized needs?
Equipment. Tell what the school must supply for your presentation -- P.A. system, A.V. equipment, table, water.
Taping. Do you allow audio or video taping of your presentation? Do you limit distribution of the recording?
Recommendation: Since one of your objects is maximum exposure, taping should generally be welcome -- as long as the recording isn't sold. With some kinds of presentations, though, you must judge whether a video might be used in place of your future live appearances.
Schedule. How many presentations are you willing to make in a day? Can the day be split between two schools? Do you offer partial days for a reduced fee? How much break time do you need between presentations? How much time for lunch?
Recommendation: Many authors limit the number of presentations to three, though if you can manage four, it will be easier for two schools to share you. In this time of tight school budgets, it makes sense to offer local schools the less expensive alternative of a "half-day" of two presentations only. This also can let you avoid rush-hour driving!
Escort. Would you like an escort assigned to you for the day?
Recommendation: An escort is nice, but sometimes difficult for the school to arrange.
Student preparation. Do you request that students be made familiar with your work ahead of time? Have you specific suggestions on how to do this?
Recommendation: You should require advance preparation as a condition of your visit. Specify this during your initial contact with the school. Though such a requirement is impossible to enforce, it can make a big difference in what is done with the students beforehand -- and this preparation in turn is what most determines the quality of your visit. Ideally, your visit should be merely the capstone of an extended experience for the students.
Book sales. Do you request that your books be offered for sale to the students before and/or during your visit? Can you supply the books yourself, or should the school make other arrangements?
Recommendation: Book sales too should be a prior condition of your visit, and should be discussed at first contact. They benefit not only you but the students as well, who will gain much more from your visit if they carry home something concrete. Selling should start before your visit, probably with an order form sent home to parents. It's usually best not to supply books yourself, because the school may have little incentive to sell them! Instead, ask the school to order from your publisher or another supplier. As an alternative, the school can request a local bookseller to handle sales.
Autographing. Do you limit your autographing to books? Will you need the names for autographing written out for you? Are you willing to remain after school to finish?
Recommendation: If you don't strictly limit your autographing to books, you will wind up signing an assortment of sheets of paper that students thrust before you. One alternative is to provide the school with a sheet of autographed bookmarks for copying and distribution. This also ensures that those students who can't afford books will not go home empty-handed.
Adult presentations. Do you offer presentations for teachers or parents that can be scheduled after school or the evening before? Do you charge extra for this?
Recommendation: Be sure to require that your books be sold at any such presentation.
Publicity. Would you appreciate your visit publicized in local media? Are you willing to grant interviews?
Recommendation: Of course!
Meals, lodging, transportation. Describe any special requirements -- specific foods, nonsmoking facilities, favorite mode of travel. Are you willing to eat and/or sleep in a home? If the school pays expenses, must it do so directly, or can it reimburse you later?
Recommendation: To avoid financial burden and stress, it's best to have the school handle as many expenses directly as possible. This is especially true for large expenses like airline tickets and hotel bills. The school may protest its procedural difficulties, but it can usually find a way if you insist.
Financial. When should you be paid?
Recommendation: This should be before you leave the school, if possible. You can also state your fee here, but I recommend having a separate sheet with fees for all types of presentations. For a full-day visit by an author with a major publisher, a typical starting fee is $500 plus any long-distance expenses.
Other materials. It's handy to include on the sheet a list of other materials you'll be providing in advance to the visited school. Possibilities include author flyer, book flyer, Web page flyer, book sales and ordering info sheet, author profile, autographed bookmark sheet, educational aids, and author photos. (For more information on these, see my article "Promo Pieces for the Children's Author.")
Have no illusions. Just because you tell a school what you want doesn't mean you'll get it. Like most of us, educators are busy people who may fail to absorb much of what they read, and may forget much of the rest. But by providing your information in an efficient format, you'll at least increase the chances that your author day will be both productive and fun -- and you may even earn the school's thanks for making its job that much easier.
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