School visits, if done well, can be win-win situations for the school, the author and the sponsoring bookstore. Bringing authors into a school is a gift for students, and often one that stays with young people for the rest of their lives. Often, if school visits are part of an author’s tour and that author is already going to the bookstore, the visit will be free. This is a huge boon to schools. The best school visit usually require at least one school staffer, often the librarian, to help organize and cheerlead the event. Below is a list of tips to make them as successful as possible.
– If a school, even the one that is most local to the bookstore, doesn’t actually order books from the bookstore, they are not likely to get offered visiting authors. This is definitely a case of helping the school that supports the store.
– Someone at the school must actually be excited about the visiting author. If there is tentativeness on the school’s part there is the potential for a bad visit. It’s totally okay to say no. The flip side of this works for stores, too.
– In a perfect world there would plenty of time to plan and perhaps do an author study and get the kids excited about meeting the author. We all know this is not a perfect world. But even with limited notice there are ways to get kids excited for author visits by reading the first few chapters of a book to the class in advance of the visit. It doesn’t take much to get kids intrigued by authors.
– Order forms must be easy and given to the school in a timely way. We offer our standard school discount to all books purchased for an author event. All order forms must be turned back to the bookstore at least a week prior to the event. I’m always surprised at what books the kids want and it’s often not the one the author is touring in support of; it’s usually the one you never expect and the one that’s hard to get. Allowing enough time to get the books in is vital.
– Bookstores must be really organized about the book orders and how the kids want them signed. I usually let Elizabeth do this for us. She’s meticulous and her system really works. Each child’s book(s) is rung up, the receipt stapled to the form and then the book is wrapped in the form. Then the books are organized by classroom and brought to the school for the author to sign.
– Authors need to make sure their computer/flashdrive/Power Point, etc works. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a Mac and only having PC things. I know it’s more to lug around, but if you bring your laptop from home, then you’ll know everything will likely work.
– Don’t schedule every minute of the day for the author. I know it’s a case of wanting to get the most out of the visit and getting as many kids to see the author as possible, but this is hard work and authors need time to eat, go to the bathroom and just breathe. Allowing breaks during the day just makes for better presentations throughout the day.
– Last tip: thank the author with something that’s easy to carry on a plane. Puppets and dioramas (I am not making this up) are lovely, but are really hard to travel with.