Thursday, 22 September 2016

Making Schools Beg for More Author Visits (A Novice’s Guide)

@Celiaanderson1
School visits: love them or loathe them, they’re often a big part of our lives when a book needs a boost. Some authors feel their knees quaking at the thought of facing an assembly hall of potential hecklers and others love the challenge, leaping in full of confidence, with a whole heap of jokes up their sleeves and a bag of comedy noses and wigs. But this article is written from the other side of the fence, from the teachers’ point of view. What do schools really need from you? And are you ready and willing to provide it? 

Having sat through a range of author visits over the years, most of them amazing, fascinating and heart-warming, here are my top tips to give the children what they want, please the staff, tick a few educational boxes and hopefully come out with the result you’re after. This could be an enthusiastic bunch of future readers, a warm, glowing feeling of having gone down well or even a large bag of money and a pleasing fistful of orders. If you play your cards right, maybe all three...

Choosing Books - Photo Credit: Celia Anderson
 Before the visit: 

  • You’ll already have sent the school some useful information about yourself and what you offer, either through the post, or in an email and website links. Follow these up with a quick call asking them if they have any particular requests. Are they planning a whole-school assembly? If so, who’s going to be in there with you? Ideally more than one teacher should stay, so they can operate crowd control, extract anyone rolling around the floor making rude noises and follow up your pearls of wisdom later. 
  • At this point, arrange to make a plan for the day with the Headteacher or English coordinator if possible. Local schools might appreciate you popping in to meet them first for a quick planning session, usually when their teaching day is done. If that’s not practical, make sure you know exactly what the school is hoping for – i.e. workshops, short talks, some classes collaborating to work with you - and that you can fit in with the time slots they’re allocating. The management team will be working around all sorts of other commitments, unexpected happenings and normal breaks/lunchtime. You can make life easier by being adaptable and not minding moving around the school to work.
  •  Offer to provide author photo/bio for any newspaper publicity. 
  • Are there any curriculum links you can use? Does the school have any current interests that tie in with your themes? Can you work with the school on a longer term basis by setting competitions, writing challenges or projects that you can help with afterwards? Make this manageable though, and use your time sparingly. You’re probably only being paid for a day. Don’t take on an extra weeks unpaid judging of hundreds of stories. The school can short list for you to make life simpler. 
  •  Consider letting the children have a few copies of your book(s) before the day, so that teachers can read extracts to them or avid readers can volunteer to take a book home and feedback to their classes/whole school before you arrive. Get the junior PR machine working for you. A letter to parents from the school giving details/pricing of books is also good and will drum up interest in advance. 

Absorbed in reading. Photo credit: Celia Anderson
On the day:​ 

  • Arrive on time – not too early or nobody will know where to put you and there’ll be that awkward ‘ Who’s going to entertain this ***** author for half an hour’ moment. If you’re unavoidably running late, phone to let them know so the timetable can be re- jigged. 
  • Bring props if you can. The children will love puppets, posters, photo slide shows and dressing up clothes. One author brings his dog, who features in all his books. This goes down a storm, but if you haven’t been inspired to write a series of books about your much-loved pet, stuffed animals are fine, and there’s the additional benefit that they don’t relieve themselves in the hall.

Scamp. Photo credit: Celia Anderson
  • Introduce any follow-up competitions and projects early in the day if you’ve arranged any and tempt them with prizes. The school may be able to help with providing these – otherwise go for reasonably priced notebooks, felt tips, pens etc., or copies of your books. 
  • Provide plenty of books to buy on the day and/or a very easy system of paying for and ordering more copies. Don’t give the hard-working secretary any more admin than you can help. 
  • Think about giving freebies if funds permit. Stickers, badges and bookmarks always go down well. 
  • Ask the children which authors they love. This gives them the chance to speak and lets teachers know if they’re providing enough range in school. If everyone says Roald Dahl or David Walliams, you’ve arrived just in time to open their eyes to a whole new world of literature - yours.
    Favourites. Photo Credit: Celia Anderson
  • Smile a lot and use all the dramatic ability you can muster. If you possibly can, find funny extracts to read aloud. Sadly, the words bum and fart will always raise a titter. Failing that, go for pathos or adventure.​ 
  • Be prepared to answer questions. A LOT of questions. Some will be so random you will think you’ve fallen into Alice in Wonderland. Keep smiling and perfect a range of tactics for changing the subject quickly when necessary

Questions. Photo Credit: Celia Anderson

After the visit: 

  • Make sure all books ordered are delivered as promised. 
  • Phone or email for feedback and to see if you can provide a follow up day at any time (make sure you discuss terms again at this point!) And above all – enjoy the whole experience. They’re going to love you! Trust me. 
    Make 'em laugh. Photo Credit: Celia Anderson


Author Bio: Celia J Anderson recently took early retirement from a very happy teaching career in a Midlands primary school. She has several published adult novels, including Sweet Proposal, Little Boxes, Moondancing and Living the Dream, plus short stories in anthologies. She blogs with The Romaniacs and can be found, far too often, on Facebook as Celia Joy Anderson and (Author Page) Celia J Anderson, and not often enough on Twitter, @Celiaanderson1. Celia's as yet unpublished children's novel The Truth about the Tooth is currently short-listed for in the Wells Literary Festival's children's story competition.

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