How to Choose the Best Author or Illustrator for Your Event

Many children’s book authors and illustrators spend a lot of time visiting schools and libraries to teach, inspire and encourage young readers—and even those children who aren’t so enthusiastic about reading. But with so many amazing speakers available, how do you choose? Here are some guidelines:

Decide your age group

Do you want a speaker for elementary students, secondary, high school? Some authors and illustrators focus on age groups, while others can speak to a wide variety. Look at the speakers’ books to get an idea of their focus.

Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cynthia Leitich Smith

For example, author Dianne White writes picture books, but Cynthia Leitich Smith writes everything from picture books to young adult.

Identify your goal

Authors and illustrators can speak on a number of topics. Some presentations are based around their books, others are about curriculum-based topics, and still others are designed to simply inspire.

Before you choose a speaker, figure out what you want the presentation to achieve. Are you trying to convey a particular theme or message to your students? Do you want to supplement your teaching on a subject?

For example, perhaps you want to inspire science-minded children to read. Then you might book an author like Christina Soontornvat, who’s also a STEM educator and teaches children how writing a novel is similar to designing an airplane. Maybe you want to add to your lessons about World War II. Then you might book author Meg Wiviott, who teaches about the second world war in her presentations about her books BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS  and PAPER HEARTS.

Maybe you want to teach about poetry, so you book award-winning author Melanie Crowder for older kids or K.A. Holt for younger. Or maybe you want to encourage young artists. Then you might book an illustrator like Larry Day or Evan Turk.

Some goals for author visits might be:

  • Inspiring children to believe in themselves
  • Encouraging children to work hard for their dreams
  • Supplementing teaching of curriculum topics, like writing, reading comprehension, science, history, etc.

There are speakers who do all of these and more.

Figure out the structure

Authors and illustrators have a wealth of knowledge, and they can do hour-long presentations to large assemblies or smaller classes, as well as interactive, hands-on workshops that dig deeper into a subject. Consider the age group your want to present to: Younger children will benefit more from a smaller group, while older children can easily enjoy a large assembly.

Interactive presentations get children involved, helping them experience the topic even more than if they just listened. For example, in her presentation “You’re Never Too Little To Make a Difference,” award-winning author Cynthia Levinson gets children to:

  • discuss issues they’d like to change
  • create signs
  • write new words to a motivating song
  • and even march.

The presentation teaches about Black History by looking at 9-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks, who stood up for civil rights in 1963. Cynthia Levinson wrote about the young activist in the acclaimed picture book biography THE YOUNGEST MARCHER and the award-winning middle-grade non-fiction book WE’VE GOT A JOB.

Authors and illustrators have a variety of presentation styles, and most will be happy to tailor their work to what you need.

Research authors and illustrators

Once you know your goal, you can research authors and illustrators who can help you accomplish it. Look at the books on your shelves for authors that will match your goal. Perhaps you’ve been inspired by a particular message in a book, like the idea of being the change you want to see in Bethany Hegedus‘ GRANDFATHER GANDHI books.

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life
Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

You can also search reviews on websites like School Library Journal‘s for keywords such as “myths,” which could lead you to P.J. Hoover‘s TUT: MY IMMORTAL LIFE books. Keywords also can be put into the search field on our home page to see which of our clients will fit your needs.

Once you have a list of speakers who will help you achieve your goal, look at their qualifications: experience, testimonials, etc. What others say about a speaker will help you determine if they’ll be a good fit for your students or event.

Search for videos of them speaking and see if you like their style. For example, Tamara Ellis Smith‘s bio features a link to a video made by a teacher at an elementary school. That’s a testimonial and opportunity to see Tamara in action rolled into one.

Detemine your budget

School funds are limited, but with the benefits that come from holding author visits, you want to make sure you get the most out of your budget.

Talk to your principal, PTA and any other fund-raising groups to form a budget for your event. If funds are not available—or not enough funds—try one of the fund-raising suggestions in our 21 Ways to Fund Author Visits article. You can also apply for a grant, and here are 3 Tips to Write Winning Applications.

While some school visits are available free through publishers and bookseller programs, these are often limited and geared more toward promotions of the book than topics that can enhance your student and teaching experiences. For authors and illustrators who create their own school visit presentations, book promotion is not the goal: It’s to enlighten the children in the topic they’re covering.

The rates of authors and illustrators vary for many reasons: awards, experience, schedule. The more in demand a speaker is, the higher rate they’ll be able to command.

Donna Janell Bowman
Donna Janell Bowman

In-demand speakers are worth every penny. But a higher rate does not necessarily mean they’re better than other authors or illustrators. For example, many well-known authors do wonderful presentations about kindness, but newer author Donna Janell Bowman, whose three-starred-review picture book biography STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS covers the topic, is an experienced presenter whose loved by the children she visits—and her rate is easier on budgets.

Also, authors and illustrators who are coming from out of town will require travel expenses, but wonderful speakers could live in your area. Look for presenters in your area if your budget is tight. Or consider joining with other schools to share the travel expenses of an author or illustrator from out of town.

Invite your speaker

Once you know your budget and your goals, match them with your list of authors and illustrators. Rank them by priority, then reach out with invites and prepare with these 10 tips for amazing author visits.

You and students will have the best of days when your author visit arrives.

If you’re still unsure which author or illustrator will be right for you, ask a booking agent like the ones at The Booking Biz. We’ll be happy to make recommendations that will fit your needs.