After retiring from 25 years of teaching to write full time, I thought booking school visits would be easy. I’m an experienced teacher and published author who can deliver competent, interactive lessons and manage groups of children. Schools should be lining up for me! Right?
Wrong. I landed a few school visits in my first year as a full time writer, but they weren’t easy to get, and half the time I wasn’t paid.
Who You Know Matters
Several of my visits were favors to former colleagues. I visited their classrooms and gave presentations at their annual Career Day. I wasn’t paid for those visits, and there weren’t any book sales. As for the visits where I did get paid, six were arranged through West Chester University’s Pennsylvania Writing and Literacy Project. I was selected on the recommendation of an author I happen to know.
I also had a paid school visit with an accompanying book sale at a private school in Philadelphia. I was invited by a teacher at that school who’s also an author. We share an agent.
Once you’ve made some successful visits, you’ll get recommended for others. Educators and librarians talk to one another – as do book sellers.
But what if you’re thinking: I don’t know anybody who can recommend me for school visits!
Volunteer Your Time
Last fall, I put out mailers to schools within a 1-hour radius, advertising myself as a visiting author. I received only one taker out of dozens of letters – and it was for the charter school in my hometown. On that letter, I had crossed out the prices and said I’d waive my fee as a service to a local school. They booked me for three visits – and set up pre-sales for my book.
I also contacted every public library in my county, offering presentations – also as a service to my community. Several librarians jumped to schedule events, and I made lots of great contacts through these programs. Following one event, for instance, I was approached by a woman who runs a summer enrichment program. She wanted to buy my book for every student in the program and pay me to come once a week to teach reading lessons. Using my book. That’s a win-win!
But what if you’re thinking: I’ve spoken to my local libraries, and they don’t want me!
Offer Content of Value
In most cases, libraries (and schools) aren’t interested in having relatively unknown authors visit to talk about themselves and how they wrote their books. You have to plan presentations and workshops that have value for the participants. I’ve successfully made library presentations for adult writers on topics such as Paths to Publication and Outlining and Pantstering: Two Ways to Write Your Novel. I’ve held teen writer workshops geared toward plotting and character development.
For school visits, I offer presentations on Researching Setting, POV, Writing Emotion, Developing a Topic, Voice/Tone/Purpose – all things useful to student writers.
Build Your Reputation
It takes time, generosity, and networking. And it means planning presentations with educational content. But you can do it … one event at a time.
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of The Eighth Day children’s fantasy series (HarperCollins) and YA historical novels, The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) and We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks). Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.