Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tips for author visits

On the Scattered Authors blog, I noticed Emma Barnes had blogged about a school visit she had done recently. Now, as a school librarian, I have some experience of organising these things. To name drop: I can count Paul Dowswell, James Dawson and Jon Mayhew as authors who I've arranged to visit my assorted school libraries, to name but a few. In the near future I'm hosting S C Ransom, Gemma Malley and Sophie McKenzie.

I was asked to give some tips on the Scattered Authors blog, but there was nowhere near enough space in the small comments box. So without further ado, here's some tips for authors from a librarian's point of view:

1. Charge a fee: you're working after all! But keep it as low as you can. In the UK, most authors charge £350+ VAT for a full day, and the vast majority of schools either can't afford that, or can realistically only get one author a year in with that sort of money! If you charge below average then more schools will be interested.

2. Make it clear what your requirements will be. I've heard all sorts of horror stories about authors being stranded at train stations because they haven't been picked up, or overwhelmed by a rowdy audience of kids because teachers didn't realise they had to be present, or had their perfectly prepared presentation ruined because a laptop and projector wasn't provided etc etc.

3. Don't be a prima donna! They want you in, yes, but they're doing you a favour too. They're paying you, and helping you sell your books. Be too picky and particular with your demands (e.g. refuse to talk to an audience below 100), and they'll look for someone less choosy. Only when you're an A-list author can you make diva-ish demands.

4. It would be lovely for all the kids to have read your books beforehand, but unless you're an absolute top grade author then the kids won't have. That, and it's unreasonable to ask the ridiculously overworked English teachers at the school to squeeze a couple of lessons in to an overcrowded scheme of work just so they can force your books on to them in a prescriptive way. You have to make them want to read your book with the talk. Otherwise why the heck would you need to do the talk in the first place?

5. See if you can get on the books of a website that specialises in arranging author visits. Here's a UK one to give you some idea of what I mean. It makes it easier for librarians and teachers to spot you.

Tips for librarians

1. Make sure the kids get letters sent to parents about the event. If they're not aware, then they won't bring in money, and can't buy books, and that does not a happy author make.

2. Get books from your local independent bookstore, rather than through a publisher. Any good one will offer you a discount if you bulk buy copies of the author's book(s) on a sale or return basis. What's more, said book store will then become your friend for life, and your local independent book store is a good friend to have indeed.

3. Teachers are ridiculously busy people: I won't hear a word said against them. So really, really make sure you organise the talk to cause the minimum disruption to their regular timetable as possible. It's particularly useful to try and organise it when most of the audience would be in English.

4. That website I mentioned above? Use it. And also this one, this one and this one.

5. Sometimes, the big name authors aren't much cop, whilst a little known author can often put more effort in and thus the kids get more out of it. If you're paying the author, they should be giving a damn good performance I reckon!

Anyone got anything to add?


  1. How I wish someone like you was around when I was at school! Do you ever approach authors directly or do you always wait for them to contact you? You must have seen some lovely authors' tricks to catch the children's imagination in your time. Coo! Over 300 quid a day!

  2. I approach them directly, normally through the websites I've linked to above. Some of the authors I've seen in action have been excellent, so I know what I need to do if I ever find myself doing a school visit!

  3. I've only just seen this, Joe - thanks very much for linking to my post, and it's great to hear it from the other side. I agree with all you say, pretty much - I certainly don't expect the kids to have read the books ahead of time. And I never act like a prima donna! (I hope.)

    I agree too there are huge pressures on teachers, and I'm very aware when I visit primary schools that the teacher will be doing the visit organisation on top of everything else - very few primary schools are lucky enough to have a designated librarian.

    On payment, I think authors would like to point out that any daily fee covers a lot more than a day's work - if I do a day of workshops in the schools, then those workshops will be based on the needs of that particular school, and involve a LOT of preparation. (It's different if I'm just giving a talk - when I charge a lot less.) Just corresponding with schools and all the other admin eats up a lot of time too.

    1. Good point re: the workshops Emma. I haven't seen those in action...yet. Paul Dowswell's doing a couple at my school in July. I'm sure you and other authors very much earn your corn doing those, which must be a lot more demanding than a straightforward talk!