Many authors, myself included, rely on school visits to make ends meet. An author typically earns 10% on the cost of a book. This is called the “royalty.” In other words, each $15.00 book will generate about $1.50 in royalties, once the book has earned back the advance. Think of an advance as a loan to the author from the publisher. Now if the book has an illustrator, the author splits the royalty. Suddenly, that $1.50 becomes 75-cents. Writers–authors–write because of love, or lunacy. While our reasons for writing are likely a combination of both, I prefer to think we do what we do out of love–love of words, love of story, love of our chosen audience. That said, it is necessary for most authors to turn to other things to make writing possible. Some teach. Some sell real estate. Some make bagels. Some speak in schools.
If you are hosting an author to your school, there are a few things you can do to make sure the visit is a success:
- Contact the author (or illustrator) well in advance of the planned date. Three to six months ahead is not too soon to begin reaching out to your preferred guest.
- When contacting an author, make it personal. Show that you’ve done some research into what the author has written. Go to his or her website. Avoid mass letters or emails addressed to “Dear Author” or worse, with no salutation at all. Like everybody else, authors like to feel special.
- Realize that the bulk of author visits occur during February, March, April, and May, and the calendars of many authors fill early. Consider hosting an author event in the fall. I guarantee authors will appreciate being able to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas for their families.
- Have a budget in mind. The fees that authors charge might seem outrageous, until you stop to consider they have to provide for their own medical insurance and retirement, and still keep a roof over their head. They have no sick days to rely on. I read somewhere that the average author earns less than $5,000 per year. (Love or lunacy? You choose.) Some authors publish their speaking fees on their websites, but realize that most are willing to negotiate. If their standard fee is problematic for your budget, suggest something that will work for you. What about asking a neighboring school to piggyback onto your visit?
- The best, most successful author visits result from creating buzz about your guest. Sponsor a door decorating contest. Decorate bulletin boards. Keep a calendar and count down the days until Author Day. Share books the author has written with your students. Create a book display of the author’s books. Brainstorm questions they might like to ask the author. Have a writing contest. Perhaps the students could perform a skit based on one of the author’s books. Some of my fondest memories are of schools that made the day a special one–a pizza lunch with winners of a writing contest, lunch with the kids who volunteered in the library, and lunch with the book club. While I love having lunch with students, be sure to clear it with your invited guest. Believe it or not, some children’s book authors do not like children. Go figure!
- Encourage the faculty to be active listeners during the author’s programs. Many authors, myself included, have teaching experience. Sometimes we toss out a bit of information or a strategy that may be useful in the classroom as a teaching tool or extension activity. Besides, it’s good manners.
- It’s a lot of work, but you might consider working with a local book vendor to sponsor a book sale. Authors are always happy to personalize and autograph books for children. If there isn’t a local book vendor, contact the publishers of the author’s books. Publishers usually offer a discount to schools hosting an author event–around 40%–which might be passed along to students or used to add to your budget.
- Take photographs, and be sure to share some with the author. Make an “after visit” display.
- If there are any faculty or student comments, please share them with the author. Many of us rely on word-of-mouth to book future schools. Supportive words from people who have actually seen an author’s programs are wonderfully helpful.
- Finally, enjoy the day.
Next week we’ll explore funding sources.