PUBLISHED MAY/JUNE 2021
by Peter Trimarco, Co-Owner/Publisher, Notable Kids Publishing —
Many children’s book authors and publishers support their mainstream revenue by getting their books and curriculum into schools and doing author visits. But how do you get started?
- A solid curriculum that’s free and readily available can put you in the best position to book author visits.
- Assembling a team of objective advisors and educators to create your collateral and primary materials is key.
- When creating an educators’ guide or companion materials, consider where the greatest value to educators and administrators would be.
Inherent in the phrase “alternative revenue streams” is a focus on sales and marketing separate from traditional retail and online retail sales. In the case of children’s books, it might be the best way to support mainstream revenue success. My own small publishing company has spent tens of thousands on general marketing, consumer social media, and chasing a general audience through online sales programs, but we realized we were not moving the needle. We were not grabbing the low-hanging fruit and, as such, we were actually undermining our own mainstream revenue sales efforts. So, during the COVID-19-induced downtime, we have been reinventing ourselves, placing resources into author support, and planning a more aggressive grassroots approach.
Children’s book authors and illustrators know the importance of story time reads, library events, and in-school visits beyond being a secondary (or primary) source of income. A well-orchestrated author visit can also have a substantial impact on mainstream revenue beyond direct sales or bulk school orders, as it creates a ripple effect in online and regional retail sales.
In doing our homework to redirect our priorities at Notable Kids Publishing, I visited with authors who have successfully placed their books and curriculums into schools and authors who live and breathe author visits. I also consulted with our distributor, Independent Publishers Group (IPG), which provided valuable guidance and resources for next steps and how to utilize our professionally prepared curriculums as sales tools for librarians and educators.
Planning to Present: Know Thy Audience
Authors usually ask how they can get into schools before they have a curriculum or presentation that is fully developed. If you create a solid curriculum and you make it readily available, as highly recommended by the library specialists at IPG, you will have already taken the first step and be in the best position to book your gigs. This is the “free stuff” educators and librarians need that can really connect and show the relevance of your primary content: the book itself.
An author visit put on by Notable Kids Publishing.
This also provides an important sales tool for your distributor, which connects to the end users and book buyers for institutions even without having booked author visits. In realigning our priorities, we placed our and professionally prepared curriculums, worksheets, and instructional videos. Although many authors do fine work in creating their own curriculums, I cannot say enough about assembling a team of objective advisors and educators to create collateral and primary materials. We do not edit our own books, so we should work with professionals who speak the language and know how to connect with our audience.
Prior to creating a specific author visit curriculum, it is worth identifying relevancy to your audience and seeing what your content holds. This is an important part of the process for the team working on creating the materials. Richard Lena of Brattle Publishing shared insight into his own discoveries during this process.
“We use reader groups, surveys, and discussions withour customers and potential customers to help us define our products,” Lena said. “But they often uncover, sometimes inadvertently, great ideas for derivative products. It’s not uncommon for our survey or discussion participants to point out areas that could use more instruction or some fun activity we might include. These become the basis for new revenue opportunities.”
In preparing materials to launch our new initiative at my company, my author/partner, Brenda Faatz, and I are the beta group. Several of our authors are also taking some of these steps with us. We are learning together. For our first project, our three-book “It’s Just So” series, we hired Room 228, which was co-founded by education specialist Sharon Kennedy and literary agent Erica Rand Silverman—both of whom were New York City public high school English teachers. Our primary contact, Kennedy, has supervised student teachers at Columbia University Teachers College, worked in collaboration with Lincoln Center’s Open Stages theater education program, and has expertise in curriculum development and life-skills training for students with unique and special needs.
In engaging Room 228 to create an educator package for our books, Kennedy tapped one of her veteran educators, Shannon Rheault, to take the deep dive into dissecting our books and creating our materials. The team’s work focused on a teacher guide, curriculum, and multiple worksheet activities, designed by their artist Tim Henderson in support of the text and the visuals, all of which were knitted into Common Core Standards, Social Emotional Learning Competencies (SEL), and Social Justice Anchor Standards. Specific annotations to the documented standards were indexed throughout the package to provide administrators with the verifiable data for curriculum inclusion and the necessary reference tools for in-class educators. The final product was designed to work as a stand-alone piece tethered to the book series for educators, or as a preamble to our author visits.
In creating an educators’ guide or companion materials to a children’s book, we were not initially clear where the greatest value to educators and administrators would be. However, as Kennedy pointed out, the guide needed to strive for an equitable balance that spoke to where educators are today.
“We focused mostly on the Common Core, SEL, and Social Justice Standards while addressing what administrators and teachers really want for their schools,” she said. “We look at how they make those decisions and what’s important for them if they’re going to be ordering bundles of books from publishers or from authors directly. Administrators and teachers see things a bit differently for what they want to bring into the classroom. Standards and skill development are pretty important to them. In our world, it is a fact that standardized testing often is connected to funding. But it’s interesting because, when we first started Room 228, the Common Core Standards were the national standards. They were coming out and all the schools and the publishing companies wanted everything to be aligned to the Common Core. Then, as time has gone on, we’ve found that a lot of schools have mixed feelings. They sometimes have their own state standards or city standards that they follow, which are very specific.”
Rheault, who was the lead on writing our curriculum, added an interesting perspective. “I’m in New Hampshire, and in my district, we have a lot of autonomy. We have our standards that are our town standards, and they’ve never wanted us to say we are a Common Core school,” Rheault said. “We would take the standards and unpack them and basically look for what part of the standard is really what we want kids to learn … they want us to be very intentional.”
A sample curriculum.
The annotated and very specific standards and keys are a noteworthy part of the package they created. As authors and publishers, we assumed we would see an emphasis on the weighty academic stuff and that social emotional learning would play a secondary role. While we were reminded to be nimble, and that every school and every district is unique, the team also addressed current emotional needs as an important factor. 2020 dramatically changed many priorities. “Most administrators are looking at the social emotional piece … we’re dealing with a global trauma,” Rheault said.
Kennedy applied a general direction on this point, which provides balance and engagement into the curriculum and the author visit. “There are ways to incorporate SEL into the meaty stuff so that … they’re kind of woven together,” she said. “You almost have to use that to reach the human side of them, to be able to connect and inspire them to want to do the more
academic, ‘meatier’ stuff.”
Rheault described her own approach and something that authors and teachers should be aware of. “We always talk about how we need the kids to be what we call ‘available to learn,’ and you can’t be available to learn if you aren’t socially and emotionally put together.
The second step is engagement. Those are the building blocks,” she said.
In connecting the dots for the materials development, the team unpacked quite a bit from our picture books, with the third aspect being Social Justice Anchor Standards. As we were trying to wrap our arms around this, the team coached us on what works, and when.
Notable Kids Publishing spent a day at the school and helped with the fundraising book fair event in
partnership with the Boulder B&N to benefit the school.
“When working on a curriculum piece,” Kennedy said, “whether it is inspired through a children’s book or an event, teachers and administrators lovewhen there’s an outcome where students are becoming ‘civic minded’ or empowered in a way that they’re taking action in a culminating project. If you’re working with younger people, maybe they’re creating a [related] drawing or a persuasive art piece or something. It’s that empowering piece that teachers like, or a book that helps them get students to be able to do those types of activities and to find their voice.”
Rheault added something that brought it home for me. “I find that rich language is really important to me as a teacher because, right now, we are seeing a lot of screen time,” she said. “When a book has rich language, I like to highlight that in my classroom and to allow students to personalize it into the classroom discussion. It validates them and it celebrates their culture.”
Keeping in mind that it is wise to create materials that are turnkey, Kennedy said, “It needs to be simple and straightforward, but rich.”
Show and Tell
Our full curriculum package is a dozen pages that are tightly connected to our books, and it includes teacher guides, worksheets, and a link to a video for illustrator demonstration along with enough materials and resources to establish activities for pre and post author visits. With ample anchored educational activities to create engagement and value for the teacher and students, the arrival of the author is part of the culmination of the process. Children are riveted by the author or illustrator by this point, as they have come to know the author through the books and pre-visit activities, and now the author is a celebrity. This is where some of the magic happens. “I love that experience. The kids are like ‘That’s a real person who made a story … and a company actually made a book?’” Kennedy said. “Because we are developing young writers and we’re telling them they’re authors, they get to see someone who made a career out of it. So, there are a lot of layers going on.”
Now, back to the original author question, “How do I get into schools, and what do I need to do for an author visit?” With a viable curriculum in hand, we can run down the checklist for authors and publishers.
- Post the curriculum. Create a designated landing page on the author/publisher website with a PDF of the curriculum, scheduling information, photos, videos, and testimonials from previous visits. Make it free and readily available to educators and librarians.
- Post an author profile. Set up an author profile with established online portals such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator, AuthorBookings.com, teachingbooks.net, and authorbystate.blogspot.com.
- Communicate. Establish a separate author email contact for children and teachers to provide feedback and for kids to send their own authored works or illustrations. (This is a real plus for setting up return visits and growing your community.) This is separate from the publisher email contact, which is used for scheduling and setting up pre-event book orders.
- Level the titles. Have titles leveled through F&P so that books are listed and visible to the buyers for schools and libraries. Share the curriculum and F&P data with the distributor marketing and sales team, as this is a sales tool.
- Post on social media. Share links through publisher and author websites, as well as the site of the professionals who create your curriculum, as they can help get the word out.
- Connect with retailers. Starting local, connect with retailers, as most have programs and relationships with local schools. We have found that this is applicable to independent stores as well as regional and national chains such as B&N.
- Reach out to libraries. Do outreach to regional schools and public libraries (check websites for current scheduling ideas). Librarians have become especially active since COVID-19 in scheduling online events.
- Look for funding. Once pandemic restrictions start easing and it is safe, be prepared to market more paid, in-school author visits to complement the increase in virtual visits. Work in partnership with school and library administrators. Funding for viable programs should be available in school budgets through Title I funding, PTA designated budgets for media specialists, local business partner sponsorships, and discretionary school principal budgets.
- Do more outreach. Schedule e-blast programs to libraries and schools through available programs such as those offered through IBPA.
- Attend events. When it is feasible, attend regional and national trade shows and literacy conferences; do author book signings; and participate in programs. Promote author visits and hand out curriculums with signed books.
- Share the love. Share all events and updates with your distributor, publisher, and anyone else who is part of the team.
In wrapping up our first steps into author visits, I asked Kennedy what book qualities translate to success in the classroom.
“One of the biggest things is when the book has heart. Of course, a unique story from different angles and illustrations make it interesting, and there has to be some academic meat that you can give the students for them to be able to sink their teeth into … but, really, the biggest thing for me is heart.”
Thank you to Sharon Kennedy and Shannon Rheault of Room 228m for their contribution to this article, as well as Tim Henderson, Richard Lena of Brattle Publishing, and the team at Independent Book Publishers.
Peter Trimarco is co-founder of Notable Kids Publishing with a primary focus on publishing picture books and content for mid-grade readers. He has over two decades of experience in the publishing industry, from content creation to production and distribution for magazines and, most recently, book publishing. Trimarco currently serves on the IBPA Board of Directors and the CIPA Education and Literacy Foundation.