This vintage Tollbooth post was written by Kelly Bingham.

Perhaps you are thinking about embarking on the author visit circuit. Perhaps you have just had your first one and want to compare notes with others. Perhaps you are planning a presentation and are wondering how to go about this whole thing or where to start.

We are here to help!

I put together a panel of authors with experience in this field, and they will be contributing to our discussion all week long. Let me take a minute to introduce them

Our Panel of Contributors

 Stephanie Greene (a fellow Tollboother!) is the author of early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels. Her most recent book was The Lucky Ones, (Greenwillow 2009). An early reader, The Pink Princess, will be published by Putnam next year, as well as Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley (Clarion), the third in her middle grade series. www.stephaniegreenebooks.com

 

Sarah Sullivan (a fellow Tollboother!) is the author of the picture books Root Beer and Banana, and Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother, an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award winner.  She has two picture books scheduled for publication in 2010:  Lizzie Presents: The Amazing Adventures of Marvin (with Big George the Wonder Dog), with illustrations by Tricia Tusa, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2010.  And, Passing The Music Down, with illustrations by Barry Root, is forthcoming from Candlewick.

 

Lee Wardlaw is the award-winning author of nearly 30 books for young readers, including the enormously popular novels 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher and 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents (ages 8-13). Other titles include Wow Birthday, Corey’s Fire, Hector’s Hiccups, and Bubblemania: The Chewy History of Bubble Gum. Lee’s books have been honored by the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, Children’s Book Council, National Council of the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, Bank Street College of Education, the International School Librarians Association, and more.  www.leewardlaw.com

 

Both an author and School Library Media Specialist, Toni Buzzeo, an author and School Library Media Specialist, writes many things, including children’s books (picture books and novels), professional books, and many professional articles.  She has published ten professional books, including Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers: Real Space and Virtual Links (Libraries Unlimited, 1999).  She has also created fourteen picture books for young readers, including: Little Loon and Papa, Dawdle Ducking , and Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling , The Sea Chest, plus Our Librarian Wont Tell Us ANYTHING! A Mrs. Skorupski Story , and many others. www.tonibuzzeo.com 

 

Helen Hemphill (a Tollboother!) is the author of Long Gone Daddy, a 2007 Teddy Award Winner (writer’s League of Texas), and listed on Books For the Teen Age by the New York Public Library. She has also written Runaround, listed on Best New Books for the Classroom by Book Links, and a Top Ten Romancer by Book List. Her latest novel is The Adventerous Deeds of Deadwood Jones, a winter 08-09 Kid’s Indie Next List. Publisher’s Weekly calls Helen “a writer to watch!” www.helenhemphill.com

 

Tami Lewis Brown (a Tollboother!) has been a writer in residence and librarian at Sheridan School in Washington DC, as well as a lawyer and a licensed private pilot. Her books SOAR, ELINOR!   and ONE SHINY SILVER KEY will be published by Farrar Straus & Giroux.

 

Kelly Bingham (a Tollboother) is the author Shark Girl, a YA poetry novel. Shark Girl has been honored by ALA, Bank Street Books, SLJ, and received starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal. It is also on Oprah’s Kid’s Book List, and was nominated for the Schneider Family Book Award. Shark Girl has been nominated for five state book awards: Nebraska, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, and IllinoisShe has a picture book, Z is For Moose, forthcoming from Greenwillow. www.kellybingham.net

 

Barbara Santucci is a writer and artist in Rockford, Illinois. She is a graduate of the Vermont College MFAWC program, like the rest of our Tollboothers!  Barbara is the author of two picture books: Loon Summer and Anna’s Corn. Her third picture book, Abby’s Chairs was released by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers in the Fall of 2004.  She has published numerous stories, poems and crafts in children’s magazines including: Highlights, Brio, Focus on the Family, Pockets, The Guide, Poem Train, Teen Life, Teen Power, Listen, Young crusade, Junior Trails, and others. www.barbarasantucci.com

There is much to consider when planning a visit to a school, or when you are a media center specialist or bookstore owner planning an author’s visit.

First off……..

WHY DO IT?

 Let’s say you’ve been approached to do a visit. Now what? Or maybe you want to start marketing yourself to schools to do visits. Or you’d like to have an author come to your school. Where do you start?

First of all, why do you want to do this?

Were you asked, and now you feel obligated? (Or are you excited and eager?) Do you hope to make money, share enthusiasm for writing and reading, or sell some books? Or all three? Are you hesitant? Need some perspective?

I asked our panel: “Tell me what you like best about an author visit. Why do you do them and what makes it great?”

Tami Brown gives us the host’s point of view: “Perhaps many authors don’t realize that putting on a successful author visit is a huge time commitment for the organizer. I never would do all that extra work if I didn’t think having an author speak to my students was both great fun and a fantastic learning experience—something many kids will never forget.”

 

Other hosts have initiated author visits to celebrate national poetry month, or to parallel the student’s studies of poetry, non-fiction study, or writing fiction. A bookstore owner may want to give their clients something fun and special to participate in, as well as drum up business. Perhaps the author is a local author and you want to share in celebrating their latest release.

For the author?

The consensus is unanimous. Authors do visits because they are a great way to reach readers, to inspire students to read, to love literature, to create their own stories, to believe in their own abilities and to explore the world of words.

Helen Hemphill noted: “I enjoy school visits, but surprisingly I would rather talk to kids about their writing than my books. It’s really cool to see authors make a connection with my characters, but I love “talking writing” more than the specifics of my novels.

Barbara Santucci adds: “I love visits because I love being with the kids and having the opportunity to teach writing workshops. I enjoy encouraging kids to read, read, read. Also I love to talk about the ways they can write or draw their own stories. I love being with the kids. They inspire me and make me a happy writer!”

 

Toni Buzzeo: “More than anything, is the joy that comes from the child who comes up to me after my presentation and whispers that he or she wants to grow up to be a writer. That is the greatest gift—to inspire a young writer to believe that he or she CAN make that dream come true, as I did.”

 

Sarah Sullivan delivers presentations to students, and also does persuasive writing workshops with the older kids. She also is part of an organization called Read Aloud West Virginia, whose goal is to promote a love of reading, and has spent years being a volunteer reader in schools. She said: “There was a time when I could walk into a classroom and assume that everyone has either read, or been read aloud to them, certain books. Sadly, that is no longer true. So I talk about literature during my visits. I bring works by other authors and share them with students. My primary motivation is to pass on a love for literature and reading and help students connect with books and reading.” With her writing workshops, Sarah adds: “Because middle school is a time when students struggle so much with issues of self-esteem, I love to watch them develop confidence as they learn techniques for expressing their opinions.”

As for me? (Kelly Bingham)   I enjoy doing visits because I get to show the kids that they too, can begin writing poetry and stories simply by completing a few simple, basic steps. I show them how quickly they can begin producing poems that they can later reshape and build upon. I love seeing them light up. I love seeing them become so absorbed in a simple poetry exercise that they don’t want time to run out. I enjoy seeing them share their work (though many are too shy to do so.) I love to hear students say they want to be writers too. I see visits as an opportunity to pass on an enthusiasm and a core confidence in a student’s own abilities. I also see visits as a way to debunk any mysteries surrounding authors or the creative process. I remind them that it is simple hard work, but it is entirely possible to each and every person in the room to be an author, and that everyone has a story to tell. I encourage everyone to write for themselves, whether or not they want to be published. And I encourage everyone to read.

Yes, but….what about fees? What about book sales?

We have noble intentions through our visits, and it is true that many authors do them for free. But most authors get paid, and to be frank, many authors earn up to half their annual income from school visits. So that is something to consider as well.

You may be asking, what should I charge?

Well, I can’t answer that for you. Fees vary greatly, depending on many factors: 

 You will need to consider your experience. Someone just starting out does not necessarily ask for the same money as someone with thirty books out who has been doing visits for years. Will you be presenting for an hour, or for a day? Thirty kids or three hundred? That matters, too, as do travel expenses.

While we can’t outright give you a sliding scale, we can pass on a little advice.

Talk to authors who do visits and ask them if they would mind sharing with you what they charge. Most won’t mind. If you don’t know anybody who does visits, try contacting an author through their website who does. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a little advice.

Lee Wardlaw says, “Charge for what your time is worth. Don’t allow the school to talk you into doing your presentations for free because it “benefits the children.” Do teachers teach for free? NOT! You are a professional and should be paid. It’s fine to do your first few visits for free as you get your sea legs. But after that, establish a fee you think is fair.

Lee touches on a good topic….we all know schools are hurting and many of us may feel guilty for charging them. This is entirely up to you. No one is going to criticize you for donating your visits to a school. If this feels right to you, then do it!

But personally, I have found that doing presentations takes a surprisingly large chunk of time away from my family, and of course, my writing. There is a huge amount of prep time involved for me. Then the drive to the school, the all-day commitment which is often a two-day, all-day commitment, and then the day afterwards, where I feel too tired and hoarse to do much of anything.

I feel my time is worth something, and have reached a fee that feels right to me. It’s not as much as some, but it’s right for me. That’s what you need to do, too. Ask around, get a ballpark scale, and then factor in your individual stats and feelings, and go from there. You can always change your fees later on if you feel they are too high or too low.

As For Book Sales

This is a very individual thing as well. Some hosts or authors insist on a book sale as part of their presentation. Some don’t.

If you or your host want a book sale, contatct you publisher for details on how to handle this. I personally do not recommend handling a book sale by going to the bookstore, for example, loading up on your books, and then re-selling them yourself. No, no, no. Tax reasons abound. Legal issues abound. Don’t go there. Contact your publisher. They usually have a person who handles this very issue, and can get you or your host directly in the loop about how to order books (usually at a discount) for the sale.

Keep in mind that if you want to do a book sale, whether you are the host or the author, you need to plan plenty of time in advance so the books arrive on schedule.

 Likewise, plan time in the visit for a book signing. Many hosts turn this event from a simple book sale to a large autograph party. For example, one school I visited pre-sold my book, and the librarian arranged an incentive: though all students were invited to my writing presentation, only the students who had purchased the book were invited back to the ‘extra’ poetry writing presentation at the end of the day. Afterwards, the library was turned into a party zone, as the staff trotted out decorations, a cake with my book title on it, and lots of food and treats for the students. (ALL students were invited to that.) There was music, a reporter from the local paper, and parents were invited as well. The students had their books signed, mingled, ate, and left early with their parents, as the party was a the end of the day. They had a blast and so did I! I have to say it was the most amazing experience and to this day I appreciate the librarian that went to so much trouble to pull that off. It created a day that was quite memorable for her students and for me!

Would I take it upon myself to organize a book sale, or insist upon one? No. But many authors do, and that’s fine. Again, it’s about finding what works for you.

 

But is it worth it? Again, that depends on who you talk to.

Lee Wardlaw said: “I always insist that my books be available for sale at my presentations. I can usually expect to sell between 60-200 copies.” Toni Buzzeo also requires a book sale, and feels that it is worth it. Stephanie Greene agrees that presales pay off. Sarah Sullivan and myself agree: “I have to say that, in my experience, visits do not impact sales in general.”

 Personally, if the librarian or bookstore is willing to sell my book, great. But I’m not going to insist. I feel that getting the books, getting the parents in the loop about the sale, and getting them to send in the money, is such a cumbersome process, it’s not something I am eager to ask my host to take on. Perhaps if I had several books out I would feel differently.

Again, it is UP to YOU.

Any comments on this? Feel free to share them in our comment section!

Likewise, we have discussed reasons authors like to do visits….and if you have reasons you like doing visits, please feel free to share them in our comments section. We love to hear from our readers!

 

Okay, I’m sold. Now what?

 

You’ve decided you are ready to take on author visits. You’re excited. You need the money. You want to sell books. You want to reach your readers. All of the above. Whatever your reasons, there are two initial steps to this whole thing.

One: Create your presentation.

Two: Get invited!

 

Please note these steps may not necessarily happen in that order. I was asked to do a school visit before it had even occurred to me to do one. I had to put together a presentation in order to communicate what exactly my presentation would cover. Once that was accomplished, the librarian booked me for a visit, and I had to get busy and put the presentation together!

COME BACK TO THE TOLLBOOTH NEXT MONTH, ON AUGUST 10, FOR THE REST OF OUR  SECRETS ON SCHOOL VISITS!

This post originally appeared in the Tollbooth on March 30, 2009.