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School Visits Can Be Fun and Profitable
"Musings" - April 2007

by Margot Finke

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The thought of visiting a school to promote their book makes some authors cringe.

Instant panic!

"What will I say? What will I do? What do they expect from me? What should I charge? And all those beady little eyes looking up and expecting someone famous and wonderful. . . ME?" NO WAY!"

Stop! To those kids you are famous and wonderful—you write books! So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of making the nightmare scenario you imagine in your scrambled brain into a fun and informative event everyone enjoys—you, and the young beady- eyed monsters.

Your First Step:

Contact the schools in your district by sending them a brief, well thought out, School Release. This should include a short bio, cover picture and book title, links to your website, any great reviews, and your phone number and e-mail. If necessary, follow up a week or ten days later with a phone call.

Good Advice:

1. Negotiate! What is best for you, and what the school wants from you, is always open to negotiation. Your contact person at the school is the one to approach with questions. This includes class times, number of classes you visit per day, your fee, and any travel or accommodation expenses, etc. Note: I always add a note at the bottom of my School Release brochure, to the effect that I am aware that school finances are sometimes tight, and with this in mind, my fee is open to negotiation.
2. Do what you feel comfortable doing. Don’t be dragged into speaking to more than 3 classes in one day. You will be exhausted by the last class, and they won’t receive your best efforts.
3. Do not offer school visits for free. People do value what they pay for. If you are a new author, with only one book to offer, then charge a modest fee. Once you become well known, and have several books to offer, you can charge more and feel comfortable doing so. The "show" you put on also counts, fee wise. When you offer an educational, fun presentation, word gets around. So, if the kids and teachers love your presentation, being a new writer, and having only one book to offer, need not put a crimp in your fee.
4. Prepare ahead of time. Make a list of what you want to say to the class: from introduction to final wrap-up. Use large type, with plenty of space between each note, so it is easy to read. Numbered Flash Cards also work well.
5. Give the teacher any notes you want copied for the class ahead of time.
6. Print out a neat, professional order form. The teacher can copy this, and send it home with each student. That way you will know ahead of time how many of your books are ordered. Don’t expect many book sales. Sometimes you hit the jackpot. At other times, sales are zero.
7. A gentle reminder to teachers for them to send home a note regarding your upcoming visit is a good idea. Some teachers are thrilled you are coming, and they work hard to make your visit a success. . . others, not so much.
8. If you are going out of your own school district, to some unfamiliar school, make sure you have a written agreement from the school before the set day. This includes the agreed-upon fee, the date and classes to be visited, and any extras you were promised.

Bring Gifts:

Older classes love something you can sign for them. Bookmarks are terrific—a great way to make sure your name, plus the book’s title, your e-mail address and website address go home with each child. Promise you’ll reply to every e-mail you receive. K through 2nd grade love pictures to color or simple puzzles: both these could feature elements from your book.

Extras Count:

If you have a laptop, older grades appreciate a PowerPoint Presentation. You can add excerpts from your other books, their cover art, and design it with sound and music. Guaranteed to keep short attention spans at attention! What you show on screen is also a great reminder to yourself—far better than shuffling hand-held notes.

Picture Books:

Keep your presentation simple and clear. Picture books are usually for kindergarten through grades one or two. This usually means a 1/2 hour program, with at least 1/3 of that time taken up reading your book to fascinated kids, and then answering questions about it (and, inevitably, about you)—a snap! If you can, bring objects or photographs or pictures connected to your book: children respond to "show and tell." Best of all, if possible, come in a costume related to your book and its characters. Kids will eat it up when you explain the whys and wherefores of a costume, a curious black-and-white photograph, or an object straight out of the story. That's another 1/3rd of that half hour taken care of. Use the final 1/3 of the half hour to tell the class what gave you the idea to write this book. Do mention any disasters that happened as the story progressed—kids love disasters that happen to adults. Ask the class questions, smile a lot, and tell the children how smart and clever they are when they answer. The half hour will fly past, and those rows of beaming and happy faces, plus the clapping, will stay with you forever.

Chapter Books:

Chapter books will probably take you to 3rd through 5th grades. I suggest 1/2 an hour to an hour is a good time for these classes. Confer with their teacher ahead of time, and see if they want you to work on a particular aspect of English or writing. Again, "show and tell" if at all possible. Their attention span is longer, so you can enlarge on your costume explanations, question time, and the details about how and why you wrote your story.

Middle Grades:

These kids will ask questions and expect good answers—so prepare! An hour with them will whiz past. Find out ahead of time if the teacher wants you to work on a particular aspect of English or writing. As well as your artifacts or costume, the reading, and the reasons why you wrote this book, give them some clues about what it takes to be a published writer. Learning the craft, the importance of tight writing and powerful verbs, and how patience and a dollop of luck also play a big part. Let them into the head and heart of the writer you are. They will love you for it—trust me.


The more school visits you make, the easier and more fun it becomes. Keep your presentation flowing, and make the kids laugh whenever possible. Self-deprecating humor is always a winner! Get rid of the elements that fall flat. Online writing lists are great places to ask about school visits, and find new ideas that work better for you. If you enjoy the kids, they will enjoy your presentation. Remember, your fee makes school visits a paying proposition even if book sales are zero.

Recommended resource: Toni Buzzeo's and Jane Kurtz's Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers: Real Space and Virtual Links is a great guide to school and other visits. It's intended for teachers and librarians but can also be used the other way around (as it were).


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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