Perfect Planning School Events

Josie Leavitt -- September 22nd, 2011

In this season of amazing author events at the Flying Pig, we’ve had more offers of authors wanting to go into schools. Most schools leap at the chance to have an author come to their schools. But a good school event needs to be planned and all too often I’ll get a rather blasé email from publicists three to four weeks before a scheduled store event, saying, “Oh, so-and-so would love to go to a school.” That’s great, but schools often need more time to plan a good event.

Here is my dream list of planning a great school event:

– Allow me time to plan the event. In a perfect world, planning at least six months ahead gives me the best chance to get the teachers not only excited about the visit, but gives the kids time to read the books, thereby increasing possible book sales. Curriculum in Vermont is determined by individual school districts and while there is some flexibility, it’s hard to justify a visit from a fantasy author if the kids are spending the year studying Early American history.

– Please include what sort of presentation the author would like to do when sending the initial email. This saves me having to write an email asking what sort of presentation the author likes to do. A really handy thing would be a paragraph or two I can send to schools explaining what the author will do. Including educational criteria in the proposal would be extraordinary. The more curricular links I can help teachers out with, the better likelihood the event will get approved and the books read.

– Any promotional material that supports how the author will tie into the curriculum is a great thing for me to send to the school. Some teachers, especially those in public schools, really have to fight for authors to come to their school. I once had a teacher pass on a Newbery winner because her principal said the author visit “was intrusion, not enrichment.” As more and more schools are bound to their test scores, this is more and more likely to happen, unless the visit can fit in the school’s academic vision. Personally, I think any author visit can fit in instruction by working on writing or research skills, but often this just needs to be spelled out.

– Sending a book or two (or 10 as the case was with one publisher recently) to the school is a wonderful way to get the kids excited about the event, especially if there is no money left in the book budget.

– Know that not every school visit is about selling books at the visit. Some kids are reluctant to buy books when they haven’t yet met the authors. Some schools don’t turn in the order forms in a timely way. Often, we’ll do more book sales after the authors have been to the school. There are kids who care deeply about getting a personalized book, and some who don’t. Often what happens here is after the authors visit their school, kids will then come to the store event and buy heaps of books.

– Lastly, keep sending authors to schools. Kids and teachers love them, but give us a little more time to plan them successfully.

What else should be added to this list? Please chime in and I can create a master list incorporating all the comments.

 

4 thoughts on “Perfect Planning School Events

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    ALL authors, IMHO, whether for school or bookstore visits, should have a paragraph or two about what they plan to do, and possible variations on their standard presentation. For years I was too timid to suggest this, feeling I would impinge on the author’s “creative freedom.” Hah. A defined program helps EVERYONE: the author is more assured and practiced, the bookseller can give hints, (“Well, how about handing out funny stickers instead of chocolate? We really try to keep the food and the books as far apart as possible.”), it helps give the press something to latch onto, it helps pull a display together, it helps prepare interesting flyers and posters, it helps inform the staff who then inform the customers, it helps the customers form appropriate expectations. And all that helps sell books.

  2. ron hirschi

    Thanks for the great information about school visits. In my more than 20 years of author visits, I find each school to have its own needs and interests. As a biologist, author, and artist, I’m often invited to wear all these hats, but sometimes schools focus on my nonfiction books and my work as a biologist. This can lead to some extended projects with schools that go well beyond the typical author in a school routine.

    I’ve helped schools create and restore wetlands while kids designed, wrote, and created art projects associated with the projects. I’ve also simply stopped by a school to share writing experience.

    These days, it is definitely important to tie in the visit with curriculum. If a well planned visit can help a school use an author to integrate curriculum, it can be an enriching experience to be sure. A blending of art, ecology, writing, and local culture is what I try to bring to my visits. I think each of us probably does this since, as writers, we help kids see how their world is connected to something larger. Bringing them any extra piece of our planet is a good thing.

  3. Foundation for Children's Books

    Thanks for your great ideas and your support of high-quality school visits, Josie. We bring authors and illustrators into underserved schools in Boston for visits and residences. One thing I’d add to your list is to ask a school librarian or reading specialist (or in our case, dedicated volunteer school librarians from other towns) to do a book talk about the visiting author several weeks before the visit. This is also when we send in donated books (unless the author writes longer books, when we send them in months ahead). After a lively book talk, the class sometimes does an author study. By the time the author or illustrator comes to a school that is so well prepared, the kids think they’re rock stars–and they are!

    1. Josie

      Hi there,
      Great idea about having the librarian or reading teacher do book talks before the visit. Anything that helps familiarize the kids with the books is always a good thing.

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