For some time now, I’ve been offering four free twenty-minute Skype visits during the academic year. These are intended to reach those schools with legitimate financial woes or those in underserved areas. Realistically, any school should be able to afford an author visit if they 1) look to local talent, 2) tap into their business community, or 3) look into grants provided by local or state (sometimes national) arts programs. That said, the twenty-minute free Skype visits I offer are Q and A sessions meant to give students and teachers a taste of what an in-person visit might offer the academic environment. They are not meant to replace an in-person visit. You see, no amount of technology can replace the enthusiasm, warmth, and connections of a live presentation.
Over the last week I visited with five elementary schools where I presented four to five programs a day. The average enrollment of each school was 950 students. I shook hands with the majority of them. I had lunch with many of them. I answered their questions–sometimes silly, but more often serious–about writing and my love of reading. I encouraged them to read and write, pointing out that every one of them has a story to tell. Not all of them will become writers, but some will. Not all of them will fall in love with reading, but many will give books a chance. In the few minutes between programs, one youngster shared with me her love of Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and I was able to tell her how Ms. Ryan is one of my closest friends, if not my closest. At the end of the day when one first-grade boy came up to me and whispered that when he grows up he’s going to be a princess and live in a castle, I was able to say I hope all his dreams come true. Over lunch, I was able to meet with a small group of sixth-grade boys and girls to do the kindergarten and first-grade dinosaur dance (from my book, Dinosaurs Dance) because they were too shy to mention they wanted to do it during their assembly, No, technology cannot replace a live, in-person author visit. It never will.
Yet, recently, teachers have been taking advantage of my generosity. Some not only request a free twenty-minute Skype visit, but also bring in an author at some point during the school year. Others have asked for multiple twenty-minute Skype visits during a day. A few have talked about how their schools have provided a laptop or iPad to every student in an effort to go paperless and/or bookless and now, because they can no longer afford an in-person author visit, request a free twenty-minute Skype visit. This was not the intent of my original offer.
Most authors are not wealthy people and earn only ten-percent of the sale price of a book, if that. The Authors Guild recently said the majority of authors earn less than $5,000 per year. Most writers write for the love of writing. Most need to speak-for-pay in order to keep a roof over their heads and to feed their families. I have been fortunate that my books provide me with a generous income and that I am able to do some philanthropic work, but I am now forced to rethink my offer of free twenty-minute Skype visits. I will keep you posted as to my decision.