The Care and Feeding of Your Visiting Author: tips for a successful classroom visit

Authors love writing. They love seeing the stories they’ve spent endless hours, days, months and even years slaving over come to print. But what authors–particularly of children’s books–really love is meeting their readers! School visits are a great way for authors and students to get to know each other and to foster a love of books and reading.

To ensure the kids and the author get the most of their time together, there are some things you, as a teacher or librarian, can do to maximize the event.

Preparation:

  • Once you decide on which author you want to invite to your classroom, communication is key. Contact her as far in advance as possible! When authors plan, they often have to plan many months ahead. If you’re working directly with the author (rather than their publicist, if they have one), be very clear on the date and time, and what your expectations are: assembly, writing workshop, multiple class visits?
  • As I talked with authors about their classroom visit experiences, the number one thing they all emphasized was make sure the students have read at least one of the authors books! Several weeks before the author’s visit, read something of theirs together as a class. Send out notices to parents several weeks before too, and encourage them to read a book of the author’s with their child. Issue a special invitation to the parents to attend the author’s visit. The more the students know about the author, the more comfortable they will be asking questions and really interacting. Incorporate different aspects of the author’s work (subject, setting) as part of your curriculum.
  • The week before the classroom visit, reconfirm everything with the author. Find out their technology needs. Do they need a remote? What kind of mic do they prefer? If they are doing a laptop-assisted presentation, what kind of laptop do they have? Very often Macs are not compatible with school equipment! Also, let the author know the procedure is for getting paid. Do they need to bring their own invoice or does the school provide their own? Who sends in the invoice and in what time frame should the author expect to be paid? Let the author know where to meet you on the day of the classroom or library visit!
  • If a book signing is planned after the visit, make up an order form for the books. If you’ve set this up with an area bookstore, reconfirm everything with them.

V-Day:

  • Be sure you or someone else meets the author at the front office, and that the office staff is aware of the author coming. Nothing gets a visiting author more rattled than checking in at the school office, only to be met with blank stares. The person escorting the author to their destination should point out where the bathroom is. Little things mean a lot!
  • If the author is to be there for multiple classroom visits or for the better part of the day, let him know you’ve scheduled “down time” (and hopefully lunch!) for them. Show them where they can go during these breaks to catch their breath and a bite to eat.
  • The teacher or librarian should settle and focus the kids and then introduce the author. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but authors have told me horror stories of being shown to the classroom (or gym or library) and then–poof!–the teacher disappears! It’s the teacher or librarian’s job to keep the kids respectful yet excited about their guest.

Author Sydney Salter is ready!

  • Always have a bottle of water handy for the author. Again, little courtesies mean a lot!
  • If a book signing is planned, have a pad of yellow sticky notes handy. The signing helper can write down the name the book is being signed for and put it in the book. This expedites the signing process and eliminates the embarrassment of the author misspelling the name in the book!
  • Follow up! Remember how your mother always told you to write thank you notes for Christmas and birthday presents you received? Have your class make a thank you card for the author. If that’s too mundane, have them make a video, or send the author photos of art work centered around the author’s visit and book. I can’t begin to tell you how much this means to an author. Also, be sure to follow up on the author being paid. Which brings us to the next facet of an author visit…

The “M” Word:

Yes, authors do need to be paid for their visit. Although authors understand schools are facing tough economic constraints now, the bottom line is authors are professionals. In order to visit your school or library, they not only take time away from writing to be there but also in their preparation for the visit. That said, most authors are willing to negotiate price.

If your school or department or district has cut (or eliminated) funds for author visits, there are some ways you can raise money:

  • Ask local service groups such as Kiwannis, Rotary, and regional or state arts and humanities organizations to sponsor all or part of the visit.
  • Research grant opportunities in your area. Many cities, counties, and states have annual arts and literary grants.
  • Don’t forget your school PTA/PTO home and school organizations. Be clear when you will need the money and how much.
  • Consider splitting the author’s visit between two schools, within easy driving distance, of course. Many authors will give a reduced “group price” for doing multiple schools or classes.
  • See if you can partner with your local public library or bookstore.
  • Never underestimate the power of a grass-roots effort! Hold bake sales, used book sales, special food sales at school events such as concerts, plays, and sporting events. It’s amazing how much money hot chocolate, hot cider, and soft pretzels can do!

Author visits are an exciting experience for kids and go a long way towards fostering a love of reading. With advance preparation, clear communication, courtesy and creativity, you can provide an enriching and meaningful experience for the kids and the author.

Author Becky Hall and fans

Bobbie Pyron and her shelties, Teddy and Sherlock, are looking forward to school visits after her next book, A Dog’s Way Home (HarperCollins), comes out March 1st.

8 Responses to The Care and Feeding of Your Visiting Author: tips for a successful classroom visit

  1. Great tips! I just did a school visit that went really well, but the lunch they fed me gave me a nasty case of food poisoning that night. Tip #17–Try not to make your author sick! :)

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! As someone who does author visits, I just wish that schools took your advice to heart! School visits can either be tremendously exciting and renewing, or exhausting and dull (both for the kids and for the author) — and a lot of that is determined by exactly the kind of details you discuss here.

    Great post!

  3. Diana Greenwood

    Great tips here for authors and teachers! I’ll be visiting this post again, Bobbie.

  4. Thanks for all the advice. Author Lee Wardlaw will be coming to my elementary school in the spring and this will help me to make sure she has a great visit. We were able to afford it because of a PTA donation and matching grant.

  5. Great and informative post, Bobbie!

  6. Thank you for this post! I am trying to plan some author events for my school so this is very helpful!

  7. This post is so helpful for both authors and schools alike! Thank you for putting this all together in one easy place, Bobbie!

  8. I think this is a great primer for authors and what we would like to expect. I’m sure I will be returning to this post over the next year. :)