Successful Author Visits for Schools: Tips & Ideas from an Author Who Loves Doing Them

Author Wendy Toliver visits young writers at the University of Utah

Author Wendy Toliver visits young writers at the University of Utah

What is your school’s goal?

Before planning an author visit, ask yourself what type of visit will be most effective for your school’s needs and desires. Are you hoping to encourage kids to read? Are you hoping to inspire and educate students who want to be authors? Are you wanting to impress parents with the famous author you’ve scored? Do you want to explore a certain historical period, literary genre, or social issue with the kids? Are your students raving about a particular book and you want to let them meet its author?

What style of presentation will work best to achieve this goal?

Do you want a pep rally-like large-scale presentation, or a more intimate one where the students get some hands-on attention from the author? For the former, you may want to use the gym, and for the latter, the library or a classroom will work.

Think “out of the box”

Though you might have already organized enough author visits to have a routine, sometimes the most memorable author visits are a bit more creative.

  1. Use an author to help teach. An English teacher at an alternative high school in Utah was given a grant to bring in two authors to help her class with their writing for 12 weeks. This same teacher hosts a multi-author dinner at the Olive Garden, where students who read a certain number of books get to sit by and chat with their favorite author. It’s become such a success; the restaurant now donates the dinners!
  2. Partner up with a local bookseller or public library. A Barnes & Noble in Idaho arranges school visits for children’s book authors who are scheduled to sign at their store. A bookseller takes the author around to several schools during the day. Ideally, the students will come to the bookstore later that evening to get a book signed.
  3. Use the author visit as a reward. A librarian at a junior high in Colorado runs a book-reading contest. Winners get to have a pizza lunch with an author in the library.
  4. Use the author visit to further skills taught in class. The University of Utah has a program for gifted high school writers, and they bring in an author to talk with them specifically about their book and the writing process. After, the students are encouraged to post reviews for the book online.

Tips to help ensure a satisfying experience for all

A successful author visit begins long before the author arrives, and don’t end when the author leaves.

  1. Decide which author to bring in and give him/her plenty of time to plan for it.
  2. Negotiate payment with the author or author’s representative.
  3. Decide whether or not to include book sales and if so, plan how to organize it.
  4. Open up conversation with the author on the type of presentation (where author will present, for how long, to how many, etc.).
  5. Ask author if he or she needs anything for the visit, such as technology for the presentation, handouts copied, special food or drink, etc.
  6. In the weeks before the author comes, help get the students and their parents excited. Some schools do newspaper or newsletter articles, videos, posts on the school blog, art projects, library displays or bulletin boards, and so forth, to stir up enthusiasm.
  7. In the days before the visit, have students write down questions to ask the author.
  8. Once the author arrives at your school, make sure he or she is greeted by a student or faculty member. Have a computer specialist on call in case there are any issues while setting up for the presentation. Make the author feel comfortable and welcome.
  9. In the days and weeks after the author visit, keep encouraging students to read his/her books, write reviews online, and share your school’s experience with other schools. These things will help solidify your relationship with the author, which is beneficial if you want the author to visit again.

The budget-minded author visit

  1. Seek out authors who live in your state or neighboring states. This will cut down on travel expenses; plus, it’s a great way to celebrate local talent.
  2. Most authors have set fees, but sometimes they’re willing to negotiate. At the very least, the school should pay for the author’s travel expenses, food, and if at all possible, an honorarium. Remember, the author is taking time away from his/her writing, family, and perhaps another “day” job in order to be there.
  3. Consider sharing an author with a nearby school. Sometimes authors can visit two or three schools in one day or trip.
  4. Skype visits are a good option to save money, and with video conferencing, your students can interact with an author from virtually anywhere.
  5. Research which authors will be on tour or at a conference in your area and ask if they have time to visit your school. Hint: This is a good way to “score” a very popular author.

How to find an author or illustrator to visit your school

  1. Ask other schools which authors they’d recommend bringing in. Also, you can ask an author you’ve had visit to recommend a fellow author or illustrator. Nothing beats word of mouth!
  2. Google your school’s favorite author. Most authors have web-sites with contact information. Contact the author directly if the information is available, or through his/her publisher, literary agent, or publicist.
  3. There are several resources available online, including: The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators http://www.scbwi.org/speakers-bureau/ and (for Utah) Utah Children’s Writers & Illustrators http://ucwi.blogspot.com/ Sometimes, these types of sites are a bit outdated, so it’s best to use it as a starting point and double-check the contact information on the author’s website.

Wendy Toliver’s website:  www.wendytoliver.com

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