Author Visits - What You Need to Know!
Finding an Author
Thanks to the Internet, finding an author to visit your school is now easier than ever before. Many authors have websites. On their site you will learn a lot. You may find a way to contact the author and learn if he or she will do school visits. If there is no way to contact the author, you can assume this person isn't too eager to do visits.
Choosing an Author
Before choosing an author for a visit you need to think about the following:
Curriculum - When an author speaks at a school the books he or she has written become part of the curriculum. These books must meet the same standards that are used for choosing textbooks and materials for your school. Read some of the books the author has written to avoid surprises. You want to be able to promote and defend your choice to staff, parents, and community.
Audience - Primary grade audiences need to meet authors who write and/or illustrate picture books or very easy chapter books. Intermediate grades will respond to picture book authors as well as to authors who write chapter books. Junior high audiences respond best to authors who write YA novels. They will listen to illustrators if the artist captures their attention.
Expenses - Authors are doing a job for you and they expect to be compensated. You will also pay for transportation, hotel and meals. To save on expenses find an author who lives in your area, or consider sharing an author with a nearby school. Be flexible and creative. Many authors will do their best to work with you.
Presentation - Discuss with the author the number of presentations he or she is willing to make (perform). Some authors are great presenters and can hold the audiences attention regardless of their age but some are not. Just because an author writes for a certain audience doesn't mean he or she can hold the attention of that audience in an assembly sitting. Some authors will only perform one or two presentations a day; others have endless energy and will do six or more.
Contact and Contract
Book well in advance - Contact the author about a year in advance. Authors are busy people and need time to write. They usually limit the number of visits they will do in one year. Don't be disappointed. Call early.
Communicate - Discuss with the author what you want him or her to do. Talk about expenses, housing arrangements, transportation and the number of presentations you expect. Ask for references and check them. You are hiring an author to do a job and you want to know that he or she can do it.
Contract - After an author has agreed to a visit send a letter confirming this agreement. Make a contract that spells out the number of presentations, honorarium, lodging, meals, etc. Send two copies. Both contracts need to be signed by you and the school principal. Send a self-addressed-stamped-envelope so the author can sign one copy of the contract and mail it back to you. This way you will both be operating on the same playing field.
Cancellation Policy - The author has reserved this day for you. It is quite possible that the he or she has turned down other offers to keep this commitment. If it is necessary for you to cancel the visit you will still be responsible for paying him or her the honorarium.
Preparing students and staff - About six months before your author day acquaint your staff with the books the author has written. Have multiple copies available so teachers can use the author's books with their students. If the author has written novels, this will give time for teachers to read at least one book in its entirety to their classes. Children must be exposed to the author's books to receive maximum benefit from the visit. Tape notes and posters everywhere in the school. Bulletin boards, reader boards and showcases should all be used to promote your author day.
Notify parents - Send notes home. Notes should include a short biographical sketch of the author and a schedule of the day's events. If school policy permits, parents may arrange to attend the author presentation with their child. This note could also include an order form for purchasing the author's books.
Media / Press Release - Several weeks before the visit contact your local newspaper and ask to speak with the reporter for the educational page. Follow your call by mailing a packet about the author. The packet should contain: a biographical sketch of the author, a list of published titles, a copy of at least one of the author's books, a schedule of the author's presentations, and a glossy photo if you have one. If you receive permission from the author, include his or her phone number. This way the reporter can do a phone interview with the author in advance. The paper probably won't do an article for every author visit, but you have greatly increased the odds by following this procedure.
Books Sales / Autographing
Book sales can get complicated and confusing. To make things go smoothly discuss this issue with your author. Some authors will bring books with them. Others will want you to work with a local bookstore, or contact their publisher for books. If you have an active parent group in your school ask them if they will take care of this part of the visit. This is a great way to involve your parents.
Authors sign their books. They don't sign t-shirts, scraps of paper, hands, etc. It is best to have children purchase books in advance and then have the child's name on a piece of paper in the book. The author can then sign books between presentations without having the pressure of a long line of students.
Author Day is finally here. One staff member, the librarian is a good choice, should have the day free to host the author. This person should be with the author all day.
Make arrangements for the time and place where the host will meet the author. The host should provide a tour of the school. Check to see if the set up for the presentation meets the author's requirements. Make sure the author knows how to work presentation equipment such as microphones, slide projectors, etc.
Your author needs to be paid on the day of the visit. Have a check ready to give him or her at the end of the day.
After the Visit
Send a thank you note and include letters and pictures from students. If the newspaper has done a story, send a clipping.
The most important thing to remember is communication. A good author visit depends on it.