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Author Visits to Schools:
Prime Support for the Children’s Book Publishing Habit

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Would you like to talk about your book to an enthusiastic, captive audience of 500 students and teachers and be paid $400 to $2,000 for doing it? Would you enjoy having volunteers sell your books and arrange newspaper, radio, and TV publicity for you? Would you appreciate being celebrated as an author–receiving fan mail with wonderful crayon illustrations, seeing your book come alive as part of a school’s curriculum, or being the guest of honor at faculty luncheons? Doing author visits is good for authors, good for children and teachers, and good for books. And it’s fun too!

Here’s a seven-step method for setting up author visits:
Step #1: Prepare a presentation based on your book.

To get ideas, talk to other authors about their visits, observe visiting authors at local schools, or talk to teachers and principals about what they want from a visit. Then outline a 45-minute presentation based on your work as an author. It can focus on how you wrote the book or on the subject of your book. Try to include music, slides, videos, puppets, and/or demonstrations. Pace the presentation to keep children’s attention, including opportunities for them to participate.

Practice your presentation in front of small groups at local libraries or bookstores before you give it at schools.
Step #2: Get bookings.

Prepare a flyer or brochure about your presentation and mail it to schools within a 100-mile radius of your home. Call your state Department of Education or visit their Web site for a li youg of schools in your area. In my state of Pennsylvania, the Department of Education publishes a directory of schools, which can be purchased.

Attend teacher conferences and give brochures to everyone you meet there. If you attend as a presenter, refer to the author visits in your presentation and include your flyer or brochure in your handouts. If you exhibit at conferences or trade shows, point out the brochures to everyone who comes by. Include brochures in shipments of books to customers in your state.

Make every author visit as happy and successful as you possibly can. Be generous. Word will spread and other schools will invite you too. This is the best way to get bookings.

Create an Author Visits page on your Web site with information about your schedule, your fees, and the content of your presentations.

Pay an annual fee (about $75) for a Web presence on http://www.author-illustr-source.com/ and other sites that will promote your presentations. I usually receive several bookings a year from Author Illustrator Source, which more than pay for the listing fee.

When someone inquires about your making an author visit, send them a letter with details about your presentations, your schedule, and your fees, along with book flyers, review sheets, an order form, copies of news articles about previous school visits, a bio–anything and everything that makes your visit look exciting and creditable.

Step #3: Organize your visit.

When a school is ready to schedule your author visit, send a confirmation letter (or contract, if you prefer) that spells out how many sessions you will present, the date(s) and time(s), your fee and travel expenses, what equipment you will need, and how you will sell books. Also, send a signed copy of your book for the school library. I send all eight of my titles, because I want parents and teachers to be able to look at them before ordering and I want the children who don’t buy books to have access to them.

Keep careful track of your schedule on a yearly planner wall-calendar.

Make a form on which you can enter the name, address, and telephone number of the school you will be visiting; the name, address, and telephone number of your contact person; the date and time of your presentation; the subject of your presentation; the grade levels and number of students you will be addressing; the fee and travel expenses; notes for the presentation; and notes for thanking your host school.

On the form that I use, I’ve included a checklist to record when I: (1) Send materials in response to the first inquiry, (2) Send the confirmation letter and books, (3) Send posters and order forms, (4) Mail a news release, (5) Contact local bookstores and libraries near the school, and (6) Send a thank you.

Attach directions, maps, motel confirmations, etc., to the form. All of this up-front organization makes the school visit go smoothly and frees you to concentrate on the children on the day of your visit.
Step #4: Sell books.

Think about how you want to sell books. We always offer schools a discount, either by reducing the cover price in our offer to students or by selling books at full price to students and giving the school a 15% commission.

About a month before the presentation, send posters announcing your visit and enough order forms for each student and teacher. We use a poster with my photo on it to announce my visit. The posters generate excitement and insure that children are waiting for me.

We print our own order forms on a high-speed printer–even when there are a thousand students and we need a thousand flyers–because we want the order forms to be as attractive and professional as possible. We include our 800 number and Web address too for people who want to order at a later time.

Ask for a list of orders at least a week before the presentation, explaining that you’ll autograph books before your visit. When you receive a hefty order for books, autographing literally takes hours, so this is a way to make the day of your visit more relaxed.

Take extra books with you for late orders. You’ll have bookkeeping to do when you return home, so keep a careful inventory of books you sell at odd times during the day.
Step #5: Use your author visit for additional marketing.

Schools often send news releases to their local media, but you can also send a

news release–either to your school contact or directly to the media.

Be prepared for an interview. Pack materials that you can hand to a busy reporter or photographer–your book, bio, reviews, etc.

Ask the school secretary for the address of the local library and any bookstores

or school supply stores in the area, and send each of them a letter about your visit and information on how to order your book.

Make your Web site fun and kid-friendly to encourage teachers to direct students to visit the site before you visit the school.

Step #6: Manage the event. 

I enjoy involving children in my presentations, but it’s important to keep careful order. Don’t ask open-ended questions, such as “Do you know what this is?” unless you want a hundred children answering at the top of their voices. A better question to ask is: “Will you raise your hand if you can tell me what this is?” Then call on one person at a time.

If children begin to raise their voices in response to something that interests or excites them, I lower my voice or wait until they are quiet again before I continue.

Don’t talk down to children–even kindergartners. They are quick and bright; all they lack is experience.

Do explain terms that they might not know, preferably by asking questions geared to helping them define the terms themselves.

To find out what can go wrong, read Author’s Day, a hilarious picture book by Daniel Pinkwater.

Step #7: Follow up.

Send a thank you to your contact person, even if your visit resembled Daniel

Pinkwater’s.

Answer the letters you receive from children. I reply to each classroom, but not to each child.

Send your newsletter, mailings, new book announcements, etc., to your school contacts. They are your biggest fans.

As a visiting author, Toni Albert, M.Ed., has motivated more than 55,000 children to take better care of our Earth. To learn more, visit http://www.tricklecreekbooks.com/.

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Designing Books that Are Attractive to Teachers

The Book Cover

Develop an attractive, colorful, kid-friendly cover with a title and subtitle that tell teachers how they can use your book. For instance: The Remarkable Rainforest: An Active-Learning Book for Kids and A Kid’s Spring EcoJournal: With Nature Activities for Exploring the Seasons.
 

Use words like “learn,” “discover,” and “explore” in back-cover copy and jacket copy, pointing out special teacher tools, such as hands-on activities or a glossary. Also use endorsements from educators.

Develop a mission statement that communicates to teachers–such as “Teaching Kids to Care for the Earth,” “Helping Children See Beyond Themselves,” or “Creating Lifelong Readers”–and print it on the cover or the title page.

Include grade levels on the cover (use a resource like Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner to target reading levels for specific grades).

The Book Content

On the copyright page, give permission for teachers to reproduce pages for

classroom use (not for an entire school or district) and include a disclaimer if the book has experiments or activities for children (any activity can become associated with an accident).

Meticulously research facts if you expect them to be taught in schools. Record your sources and save your research materials.

Include resources for teachers in the book–a bibliography of related books for children, a glossary of terms, a “Note to Parents and Teachers,” special information on the subject of the book, or directions for hands-on activities.

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