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.
Volunteering time can pay off indeed, as that is how you make connections.
Fantastic tips! Volunteering does pay off. And it does good!
It makes me sad when I read about authors who won't even appear at their own kids' school or their local library without being paid. (And I'm not talking famous people, either!) I even saw an author say on social media that she refused to do a phone interview with a high school student for the school newspaper when asked to do so by a family friend! If you want to build a reputation for being a good guest speaker, you're going to need to network -- and volunteering is an excellent place to start.
Those are great tips. Our local libraries do have some authors events but they don't allow sales of books. My romance books are school friendly so I don't try for those. I think with the focus on high stakes testing schools have less time for enrichment things like visiting writers which is a shame.
Some areas are more open to visits. I've only visited one school in my home state of NC, but quite a few in Virginia and SC. I wish I could break into our local school system, as everyone enjoys the characterization session I offer.
I've gotten one volunteer visit and it was reading my story to the kids, which was great fun and they were thrilled to meet a "real" author! I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
I've have to bookmark this as I'm hoping to get a chance to do some of this next year. I suppose I need to stop being my own obstacle and get to work :-)
Susan is right. High stakes testing suck up so much of a school's time, that barely any teaching takes place -- only assessment and preparation for assessment! This is why I had to leave the field of teaching. Everything I loved about the job was disappearing.
I know it has been YEARS since my former school brought in a visiting author. They didn't even ask me to do an "Author Program" when I worked there! And they could have had that for the price of a substitute teacher taking my own class.
Great tips, and I'll be keeping them in mind for the future. So much is about knowing people and networking, and if one only does that for money (especially in the beginning), I can't see how it would ever get anywhere. Even famous actors and best selling authors do visits every now and then for free--great for getting the word out.
Hi Alex and Dianne - what a great post ... putting quality and effort over time and 'dosh' for a while to garner support around your area and then get your references and willingness out there. Professionalism - I call that ... so pleased for you ... cheers Hilary
School visits is something I'm looking forward to.
Our schools are desperately in need of reading enrichment programmes. As it is, our literacy stats are shocking...
My friend author Carole Ann Carr has been visiting schools in England for years. She'd made it her mission to encourage children to read. Thanks, Dianne, for a great post.
I love to volunteer in our community and it has led me to some great people. I'm also really lucky to be invited each year to participate in Writers' Week at Los Altos Hi. I've really enjoyed those experiences and it has put me back into teacher for just the right amount of time.
Wonderful tips. I've always wondered about this. Thank you, Dianne for clearing this up for me. Now I know it's okay to volunteer my time. Cannot wait!
Thanks, everyone for your positive comments!
It is NOT okay for anyone to expect you to fly across the country for free and make a presentation solely for the "exposure."
But anyplace you can drive within an hour ... I think it's worth making the contact and seeing where it might lead you.
These are excellent tips! Thank you, Dianne!
I think that volunteering is the best way to get in the door with most schools and libraries because the reality is that their classroom and event time is "expensive" to them. My local library has events going on in their event rooms nearly every night of the week - both public and private events. Then, the schools have to prepare students for testing and the "fun" stuff like author visits are definitely tough for teachers to work around their lessons. I think of events like that as "free" marketing, even if no sales event is booked around them.
Congratulations on your creations.
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