Author visits at schools and libraries are special days for the children in your community. They show students they too can achieve their dreams. Author visits validate the lessons teachers and librarians like you tell to kids who are always skeptical. And author visits bring books and topics to life, like writing, art, science and civil rights.
All the authors and illustrators at The Booking Biz have been vetted by us to give the best presentations at schools and libraries. But what happens before the speaker arrives is also important to the success of an author visit. Here are 10 ways to make sure your next author will be the best.
And some of our authors have offered some of their best author visit moments, thanks to the wonderful teachers and librarians who organized them.
1) Time the Author Visit
Author visits are wonderful throughout the year. Some work with all subjects, like speakers focusing on writing or science. Others might fit well with a particular unit you’re teaching.
When you’re looking at your curriculum, see if you can schedule speakers that complement your lessons.
Says author Cynthia Levinson: “It’s nice when a school visit is scheduled to converge with what the kids are studying. At Mariposa, the kids were about to report to the rest of the school on what they’d learned about civil rights and had been using WE’VE GOT A JOB. Arranging for me to come that week was great for them, because they really wanted to learn more, and for me—because they wanted to learn more!”
2) Do Paperwork Early
There’s always paperwork for any school visitors. Getting it organized early will make sure there are no last-minute stresses on visit day. Here are some of the types of paperwork that could be required:
- Background checks are required by many school districts.
- Itineraries can be distributed to teachers, the principal, parents and, of course, the speaker, two weeks before the day.
- W-9 from the speaker for processing the honorarium.
- Getting the honorarium check cut so it’s ready on the author visit day. Speakers spend a lot of time creating their presentations, often tailoring it to specific schools. J.K. Rowling aside, most authors and illustrators create books because they love it, but they don’t get paid a lot. Sharing their knowledge with children in school visits is their primary job. (Get 21 Ways to Fund Author Visits.)
3) Coordinate With Your Local Bookstore
The primary objective for an author or illustrator during an author visit is NOT to promote or sell their books. The books are used as tools to inspire and teach children. However, having their own personal copy of a book and getting it signed in person by the author or illustrator is very special. It can turn any young skeptic into an excited reader.
- Get book order forms from your local bookstore and send them home with your students.
- Arrange for a local bookstore to sell the author or illustrator’s books on the day.
- Or you can sell books for the bookstore via consignment, sometimes with a portion of the sale going to your school.
4) Get Your Whole School Involved
The best author visits are ones when the children, staff and parents are involved in the event. Children who know about the author or illustrator are more excited about the visit, can get more out of the presentation and have questions ready to ask.
Says author Miriam Busch, “When students spend creative time with our stories prior to our visits, they seem to have a sense of ownership of the story. We’ve had super-successful presentations as a result.”
Here are some ways to get your students involved:
- Ask your students to write a bio of the speaker. The children who write the best ones can read them to introduce the author or illustrator before the presentation.
- Do art and craft projects around the author visit that fits the speaker’s book or topic for the presentation. For example, students can create a welcome banner or glass case display.
- Have your children write reviews of the speaker’s book or books or draw a favorite scene or character and showcase them on the walls of their classroom.
- If available, download the study guides for the speaker’s book and do the exercises with your students. This will familiarize your children with the work, as well as help them create a list of questions to ask during the presentation.
- Show parents how much you’re doing for their children. Make a flier to send home with the children. Encourage parents to read the speaker’s book or books with their students. If you include a link to the author or illustrator’s website in PTA emails or on the school website, parents can learn about the speaker at home along with their children. This will make the event more exciting for the whole family.
Author Christina Soontornvat says, “One of my favorite school visits was to an elementary school in Chicago. The librarian had been preparing her students for my visit all week, and had made a welcome poster, and all of those wonderful things that you have no idea how librarians find the time to do! But my very favorite thing she did was that she invited her students to research me on the web ahead of time and write a short bio of me. Then she chose two students from those who wrote the bios. Those students introduced me to the entire grade on the day of my presentation! It was the best intro I ever had and it gave the students great motivation to research an author.”
5) Plan the Day Down to the Minute
Speakers usually have busy schedules when they come to schools and libraries. They often do two hour-long sessions in a half day, three or four in a full day, plus meetings with students and book signings. With a schedule as tight as this, you don’t want any delays. Make sure everything will go smoothly by planning ahead.
- Create an itinerary and share it with all the teachers, your school’s principal and the speaker two weeks before the visit.
- Give enough time between sessions for children to leave the presentation room and the next group to come in.
- Also make sure to schedule enough time for those important book signings. These allow personal, one-on-one time between speaker and child, and every student will come away beaming. It’s a moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Consider around 1 minute per child.
Note from author Miriam Busch: “Time is often tight during visits. Educator Carol Rounds at June Creek Elementary covered every tech detail before we arrived! It was terrific. We hit the ground running and transitioned from video to slides to white board to drawing pad with no wasted time.”
6) Check the Tech
Most speakers will need a screen and projector to show a presentation. To help preserve their voice throughout the day, they’ll also need a microphone.
Test your screen, projector and microphone two weeks before. If something isn’t working, that’ll give you enough time to fix it. Set up the equipment an hour before your speaker is due to arrive and test it again to make sure nothing has broken.
7) Give Your Speaker Directions
Let’s face it, not all GPS’s are made equal. If your speaker hasn’t been to your school before, give them the address and easy-to-use directions with landmarks so they won’t spend time driving around. Schools and libraries often have multiple entrances, so tell your speaker where to enter the campus.
If you can, reserve a parking spot for your speaker close to the front desk and let them know how to find it. This will help them get inside quickly and have less distance to lug heavy books and/or props they might be bringing.
It’s also a good idea to provide a contact for your speaker. Give your speaker the contact’s cell number in case any problems arise. And have the contact meet your speaker at the door or front desk so they won’t get lost in your school halls.
8) Food and Water
You teachers and librarians know how easy voices can get tired when you’re keeping children inspired all day. When speakers are presenting to large or small groups back to back, it can be difficult to maintain the same energy throughout. Keep some bottled water on the speaker’s table or podium. If they’re with you all day, give them a healthy lunch to boost their energy for the afternoon.
Just like you need a break in the teacher’s lounge ocassionally, speakers can use that too. However, most authors and illustrators are also happy to have lunch with students. Ask your speaker ahead of time if they will need to be on their own at lunch or can eat with members of your staff and/or class. If they’d like to eat with students, you can offer a contest to see who gets to enjoy this fun honor.
9) Help the Speaker With Your Students
Experienced speakers, like the ones we represent at The Booking Biz, will be able to keep your children’s interest throughout their presentation. However, no one can get their attention better than you because they know and interact with you every day in school or the library.
- If you have a signal you use with your students when you want their attention, let the speaker know what it is so they can use it.
- Don’t leave the speaker alone with your students. If the author or illustrator needs help, they’ll turn to you.
- Keep an eye on your children while the speaker’s presentation is going on. Again, you know them better, and you’ll be able to see signs of unrest and nip them in the bud. The speaker will be concentrating on their presentation and could easily miss those signs.
With all the organizing out of the way, you can enjoy the day of your author visit as much as your students. The teachers and librarians we talk to, say they get as much out of our speakers’ presentations as their children do. At the end of the day, you can pat yourself on the back for continuing to inspire and educate your students.
Then start looking through our authors and illustrators for your next speaker.