The author and subject of Frankie, the Walk ’n Roll Dog on a Skype visit with fourth-graders at a school in New York.
Selling Books in Schools with Skype
by Barbara Techel
Skype is showing real promise for connecting schools and authors. It’s no secret that school budgets are being squeezed tighter each year, limiting what schools can do about added beneficial curriculum. And of course publishers and authors have limited budgets too, and authors may not have time to do in-person visits. So software such as Skype offers a win-win option for all involved.
Before Skype, and after I published my first children’s book, I started making in-person appearances at local schools in Wisconsin. Traveling beyond my locality wasn’t an option, both because of cost and because the subject of my book is my dog, who is in a wheelchair. She visits schools with me, and traveling would cause her stress I didn’t want to subject her to.
Then I started hearing about Skype and how authors were using technology to share their stories with classrooms. When I researched this on the Internet, I became very excited. To get started with the opportunities I discovered, I offered 10 free Skype visits to classrooms anywhere in the United States or Canada. Those sessions helped me work bugs out, let me practice my presentations, and gave me opportunities to get testimonials.
My first virtual visit was to a school in Arkansas for 500 students. The school had me projected onto a large screen in its gymnasium. Amazingly enough, the children all sat quietly as I shared my story. Afterward, Kathy Howel, the school’s library media specialist, emailed me. “I was apprehensive about the visit, but it was tremendous,” she wrote. “I wondered if 500-plus children would be able to attend to the screen and realize they were having a conversation with an author. You did it! They stayed on task for the entire visit. The variety of activity—your talking, the PowerPoint, the video, and Frankie’s presence—all worked together to keep them engaged. Thank you—you made me look good!”
To date I’ve appeared on Skype visits in California, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, and Canada. The feedback has all been positive.
One school in Wisconsin set up two Skype visits for me before a scheduled in-person visit. During my first Skype visit I read my first book to the students, and during the second I read my second book. Those visits definitely helped build excitement for my actual visit.
Virtual Visit Nitty-Gritty
For me, 30 or fewer students is optimal. With groups this size, I can see most of the students during the visit. And with a little assistance from the teacher, I can make the visit interactive by calling on individual children who raise their hands to ask a question or give me the answer to a question I am asking.
Virtual visits to large groups can work well too, although it’s especially important to work out all the details ahead of time when audiences will be large. Several staff members at the hosting school may need to be active during the visit, watching for behavior issues and quietly correcting them.
Within a large group, students from each classroom may want to come up with one question and choose someone to ask it of the author. For larger school assemblies I ask the teacher to assign 10 to 15 students to prepare questions ahead of time. At the end of my presentation those students approach the Webcam one by one.
Virtual visits typically last from 10 to 60 minutes, depending mostly on the age of the students. You will want to work with someone from each school you plan to visit to determine its needs. Does the teacher or the librarian want a presentation, a reading, or workshop?
Another important question is, “What do I charge?” As I write, fees range from nothing at all to $500. The average fee is $150 to $200 for a 45- to 60-minute program. If you offer a 30-minute program, you may need to charge less. Many authors work with each school individually to determine the school’s budget and a price that works for both the school and author.
Once you have a set a fee and developed a program or programs to offer, you will want to promote your virtual visits. A network called Skype an Author (skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com) is a wonderful resource for this. Started by Mona Kirby and library media specialist Sarah Chauncey, this Web site is designed to connect K–12 teachers and librarians with authors who offer virtual visits, and just signing up lets you create a profile page.
I have also found it useful to set up Google alerts for terms such as “Schools using Skype,” “Libraries using Skype,” and “Skype in the Classroom.” Once you discover schools that welcome virtual visits, you can design an email or postcard mailing campaign to pitch your programs.
Book sales through virtual visits have been comparable to sales through in-person visits; usually about 20 percent of the students buy. I offer free shipping as well as a discounted price on my books, plus special package pricing to encourage sales. I also offer an easy order form for the teacher or librarian to send home with the students.
Once I receive book orders, which generally come via email, I sign and personalize each book before shipping.
A Nontechie’s Testimonial
With more than 30 virtual visits under my belt, I still feel more at ease when a school has a tech person on hand in case of technological challenges. But, knock on wood, I have not experienced any major glitches.
I’m not a tech person myself, just an author/publisher eager to share my message. And I’m very glad I have embraced virtual-visit technology as a wonderful way to share books with anyone anywhere in the world.
Barbara Techel is the award-winning author of Frankie the Walk ’n Roll Dog children’s book series, as well as Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Visits. To learn more and get a free Skype visit checklist: joyfulpaws.com/promote/planning-for-a-skype-visit-to-do-checklist.
Setting the Stage
When I am setting up for a Skype presentation, I take all the steps I would take if I was going to be presenting in person. I know I’ll be on stage either way, so being prepared and organized is key.
You will want to have your laptop and Webcam set up in front of you. The area behind you should be relatively dark. Blue, gray, or purple shades work well as a background. If the location you’re using is in front of a window and you live on a busy street, you don’t want the cars driving by behind you to distract your audience. I have a bluish-gray curtain that I pull closed when I do a Skype call.
Next, you need a light directly shining on you. This will help your audience see you well. Using a small task light will do the trick. I bought mine for $5.
If you don’t usually wear much makeup, you will want to wear more during Skype visits. Proper use of makeup helps illuminate features. You may want to do a test call with a friend to make sure you look the way you want to look.