PUBLISHED JUNE 2017
by Robin Bartlett, SpringerNature Publishers & Sharon Castlen, Integrated Book Marketing
The second part of a three-part series on how to sell to libraries and schools.
In the first installment of this series, we offered 10 tips for selling to libraries and schools. In this article, we’ll focus on author visits for pre-K through high school. Many authors find this a highly exciting and rewarding opportunity to sell their book in quantity at full or almost full retail price—and actually see the response from their audiences when they share the message. However, a careful planning process is required to make it work.
Develop Your Program and Message
As you prepare to go into schools, you will want to think about your message. For all grades, it is more than just reading your book aloud. What will you do if you have a full assembly opportunity? How will you handle an individual classroom? Some schools will provide the opportunity to do both if you have the right package of materials to present. For example, you can cover more details and hands-on opportunities in the classroom after you have done a morning assembly, but your presentation package must reflect this.
Some schools will only offer you the opportunity to speak at an assembly. In these cases, you must decide what you want to share about your topic. What do you want to say about being an author? And, above all, how can you bring your children’s book to life? What is the message you want to give about your book that hits the middle school or high school audience? It is important to develop an overall plan of what you want to say and do during the assembly and/or in classroom sessions.
Prepare the Presentation
Think about the amount of time you will have to present. Now is a great time to check in with your local teachers or perhaps one of your advisory board team members and get feedback on your plans. For assemblies, it is often a 30-45-minute program, including Q&A time. Classroom presentations may run 20-30 minutes, with a much closer connection to the students and often with hands-on work. You must think about capturing and keeping students’ attention. How can you make your presentation captivating and engaging for any age? What can you do to show teachers that your presentation can be used for further education in the classroom?
Keep Your Website Live and Current
It is critical these days to have a website. It might be an author site, a book site, or a publisher site, but the schools you are pitching to need to be able to go to a website and learn about you, your book, and how you present your program to schools. Make sure your author profile is school- and teacher-friendly and talks about your past presentations to schools. There should be a tab in the navigation bar, a link on the homepage, or an obvious place for librarians, teachers, and principals to go to learn about your school presentations. It might not include the full details of what you will send/pitch to the schools, but it needs to have clarity on why they should invite you to their school and what the students will learn.
For your website and any printed pieces you send to schools, include endorsements from the teachers, school, public librarians, and experts in your topic area. It is always great to have those who might use the book to endorse it, as well. Often the first print run is published before you have these endorsements; that is OK. Once you have completed your first school visit, be sure to get endorsements from teachers, and put them up on your site and in your printed pieces.
There are two ways to proceed with getting speaking engagements and connecting with schools.
First, do you know a teacher/librarian in your local school who can make an introduction, and who has reviewed your book and knows you? Or is there a parent who knows you and has connections with a teacher or librarian? It is that kind of networking that can make a big difference to your success.
Second, call the local school and find out who makes the decision about bringing in authors. The school secretary is a good place to start. Very often it is the school librarian (nowadays often called a “media specialist”) that makes the recommendation or decisions; sometimes it’s the principal and often the parent-teacher organization that has some influence. Find out your best prospect and call or e-mail them.
You need to determine to whom to send materials and how best to reach them. What do they want to see, and how do they want it sent? Be sure to ask additional questions during that first call. The person may not know or may not be willing to share contact information right away, but get as much information as you can. In what months do they schedule speakers? Ask if and when you can follow up after sending materials. You may know the specific needs of a school and, if so, it is important to adapt your standard presentation materials to their needs. Send the materials in the form they want it sent. It is never a one-size-fits-all.
They may want you to:
- Send an initial e-mail. The words in this email are critical. Your pitch should include the book cover, the value of your book for the students, the credentials you to bring this program, and your website. You are trying to gain interest, and the action you want them to take is to ask for more program information and a copy of the book.
- Send the full packet. They may ask you to send the book and a description of what you will do during the program. Remember that this is the whole pitch at one time. In this case, the cover/pitch letter is key. They are most interested in the value for their students and the credibility you bring. Your book is actually of secondary importance. Your presentation option sheet is critical here, as is the description of what you do and what your format is. Having an additional speaker page that is both a bio about you and the topics you bring to schools is important. Be sure to include a photo of yourself. If you have had a specific discussion about what the teachers want in a presentation at that particular school, you will want to tweak your standard presentation page and the information that you have on your website. The school will likely notice the difference and appreciate your adapting your materials to their needs and requirements.
Keep in mind that sometimes you may be transferred immediately to the person making the author visit decision. Be prepared to give a quick pitch right then and there. Plan to take 30 seconds to tell them the topic, value to students, and your qualifications. Stop talking and give them the opportunity to ask questions. Do not talk at length about your book. They are not interested in your book at this point but will be later on.
After your e-mail or phone discussion, thank them with a follow-up e-mail and remind them of the materials you are sending them. While on the phone or in the initial e-mail, find out how long it takes to go through the review process and plan your call back accordingly.
Follow-up is key. It can take six to nine months to secure an author visit depending on the school’s review process and timeline for scheduling. Be patient and persistent. Remember you will be receiving fees plus volume sales of your book.
Remember that you will not only receive revenue from the sale of individual books, but many schools will also pay for your time to present to assemblies and do classroom visits. We do not recommend that you have a price sheet but instead ask about their budget. If they do school author visits on a regular basis, they will most often tell you what they pay for assemblies and classroom visits, or they may have a half-day and a full-day payment schedule. When you know they have interest in your presentation, you can start the negotiations. Above all, be sure that they agree to send home a pre-order book flyer. This way, the children will bring money to class ahead of your visit, and the school can tell you how many books to bring.
Plan Ahead for Your Visit
Do you have a poster you can send or bring in before your presentation? Include the book cover and author photo, as this can bring more attention to your visit, and remind the children and teachers that you are coming.
If the school visit is in your geographic area, in an area to which you are traveling to visit family/friends, or where you have other business, make arrangements to stop by the school and see the facility where you will be speaking; this gives you a chance to meet the person who has invited you. Meet the librarian and any other teachers who may be helpful in encouraging children to buy your book. You can take this time to check to confirm any materials that you need will be available (projector, microphone, lectern, etc.).
Two weeks prior to the author visit, connect with your contact at the school to make sure the pre-order flyer has gone out and ask if there is anything else they need from you.
A day or two before event, make another call to find out how many books have been pre-sold and if you are to sign in advance or on the day of the event. Sometimes authors have a phrase they put in the book along with their name and then personalize it to the individual at the actual signing so you can meet the children. This decision is up to the school.
Arrive at the Visit
Meet as many teachers, administrators, and aides before the presentation as possible. All of them are a part of the lives of the children, and you will want to make a very positive impression. Be sure to give an autographed book to the library or teachers as a gift.
Make sure you have at least one carton of books above and beyond the number they told you to bring before the event. After your presentation, teachers or other adults may also want to purchase your book for other siblings.
After the presentations, you will likely get many comments about the value of your presentation to the children. Ask these people on the spot if you can use their statement as an endorsement, and be sure to get their name and position. Make sure you speak to your contact and thank them for the opportunity to visit the school. If the visit was successful and productive, ask if you can contact them for recommendations of other schools in the district or other districts that might find your presentation valuable. The school will have a check for your fee and the books that were pre-sold. Be sure to ask in advance how payment is to be handled.
Be sure to send thank-you notes—include the principal, vice principal, and librarian. Then follow up with a handwritten thank-you note to the children of the school, especially if it’s a preschool or elementary school.
This is a lucrative, enjoyable opportunity for many authors with books targeting students and teachers. Your revenue per book is high, and your satisfaction level following each event is motivational. A strong win will spur you on. We have shared a significant number of details to help you get started. While it can feel a bit overwhelming at first, simply follow the step-by-step process and it will lead you to great success. If you would like to receive a copy of our checklist, a sample of our speaker sheet, or school visit proposal, drop us a line and we can make them available.
As with so many other aspects of the publishing journey, IBPA has many members that are doing this with great success. Check in with the IBPA office, and learn what members might be able to offer advice, or ask your question on the “Ask the Experts” site. We are happy and available to share what we have done, learned, and found to be successful.
Robin Bartlett has spent his entire career in publishing with more than 20 years of sales, editorial, and marketing responsibilities for both nonprofit and for-profit publishers. He currently works as a senior licensing manager for SpringerNature Publishers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Castlen, founder of Integrated Book Marketing, works with small presses and independent publishers across the country in three areas: pre-press coaching; distribution; full marketing strategy and implementation. She is a member of IBPA, PNBA, and on the board of directors of APSS.