Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Six years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week we all get tips on the perfect school visit…
Getting Schooled About School Visits
by Marcie Colleen
So we’re going to talk about school visits. But first, let’s quickly squash negativity and acknowledge the elephants in the room.
I am sure you have heard…
1) Because of stringent budget cuts, schools have very little money to spend on author visits these days.
2) Because of the Common Core State Standards, teachers have very little classroom time to devote to special events like author visits.
So we should all just give up the idea of school visits, right?
You see, school visits to kidlit authors are like crowd-surfing to a rockstar. It’s the perfect way to connect with our audience on an intimate level. In fact, these visits have the power, if done right, to transform even the most reluctant child into a lifelong reader and maybe even a writer.
It is true that with a majority of focus being devoted to the Common Core State Standards, instructional time is scarce. And, with increased budget constraints, there isn’t a lot of money.
“So then how do you propose we do school visits, Marcie?”
I’m glad you asked.
Today I give you two tips that will set you on the path to successful school trips.
1) Make it as easy as possible for the teachers
2) Give teachers the biggest bang for their buck
Let’s break these both down individually.
Make it as easy as possible for the teachers.
Yes. Teachers are overworked and underappreciated. And although they might really want to bring you into their classroom, sometimes it just seems like way too much for work them. How can you make it easier?
· Provide a FREE downloadable Teacher’s Guide or a few lesson plans. Not only can teachers use these materials to quickly introduce your book to their class, they can also use these materials as a validation for your school visit. No longer will they have to write a proposal or spend hours in a meeting convincing their department or administration that your book has value. The Teacher’s Guide or lesson plan packet will do the convincing for them.
· Create a Pre-Visit Package. I was recently reading How to Promote Your Children’s Book by Katie Davis. First off, I highly recommend this e-book. The chapter on School Visits is very informative. In it, Davis discusses her “school visits packet” that she provides before the actual visit. This package includes posters to hang all over the school announcing the upcoming event, “backpack flyers” to send home with the kids, and a handy checklist which lays out what the teacher can do in the 6 weeks leading up to the visit! Again, we are making it easy for the teachers and in doing so, you will be hyping kids up and getting them (and the teacher) invested in your visit. This is priceless and well worth the few hours it will take to initially develop these materials.
· Make your visit affordable. I said AFFORDABLE, not FREE! That’s right. I don’t believe you should be doing these visits for free, but you can provide a few options that schools can choose from based on their financial situation. Skype visits can be a wonderful option and cut down on travel costs. Having two schools share the cost for a combined workshop at a host location is another option. Or giving discounts for second school referrals or second day workshops can provide incentive for the school to save money while also garnering you more work. The key here is to provide options that are fair to both you and the school.
Give teachers the biggest bang for their buck.
So, you are not going to do school visits for free which means you have homework to do. That’s right. Reading your fabulous picture book to the class of 25 first graders will take all of 5-10 minutes. Not good enough for a school visit. Time to get creative.
· Shadow a successful school presenter. Learn from the best. Before you baptize yourself with fire, think again. Are there other authors in your area who you might be able to accompany on a future visit? Ask them! I have learned that the kidlit community is very generous. The worst they can say is no. And maybe if you can’t actually go to the school with them, you can at least pick their brain to help you plan your own presentation. Another wonderful resource is Alexis O’Neill’s website. Alexis is the goddess of school visits! Learn from her.
· Remember it’s a presentation! Although the “best of the best” make presenting look easy and off-the-cuff, it is a presentation. Meaning, you have to prepare. And if you are going into schools and kids are involved, nothing is predictable. So be armed with a presentation which will serve as your plan to success. Nothing will take as long as you think it will. That “introductory speech” about who you are and where your ideas come from that you think will take up the first 15 minutes will only take 3. Therefore, plan and over plan.
· Always include a hands-on component. This is where you can slow things down and make a 5 minute activity into a 15 minute activity. So, develop a craft or a writing assignment (taking into consideration the age of the students) that fits your book. It’s a wonderful way to take the spotlight off of you, if you have a little stage fright. I recently attended a bookstore event. The author was kind of shy, yet she handled the session beautifully. First, she gave a little background on herself and the creation of her book. She followed with a reading of the picture book. And then, she taught a simple craft that tied into the theme of the book. Suddenly she didn’t have to be “onstage” anymore and was able to sit on the floor and engage with her biggest fans. In addition, kids and teachers love it when they have something concrete to keep after the visit.
Even if you are not currently published you can start to develop your plan for successful school visits. Hopefully the tips above will help. But most importantly, remember…this is school so DO YOUR HOMEWORK and you’ll be crowd-surfing visiting schools in no time!
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher, an actress, and a nanny, but now she spends her days writing children’s books! She is the award-winning author of THE SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS chapter book series with Macmillan/Imprint, as well picture books, LOVE, TRIANGLE, illustrated by Bob Shea (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins), and PENGUINAUT!, illustrated by Emma Yarlett (Orchard Books/Scholastic). She lives with her husband and their mischievous sock monkey in San Diego, California.
You can learn more about Marcie at www.thisismarciecolleen.com