YOU WANT AN AUTHOR TO VISIT (Part Dos)

Nobody, especially me, said that organizing an author visit to a school is easy-peasy. It requires time and planning. The sooner you ignite enthusiasm among your faculty, the easier it will be. Contacting the author you hope to catch early in the process will also help because then you’ll be able to collect his or her books and share them with your students. Some librarians do this by passing a collection among the faculty, who in turn share the titles with their students and begin planning their own Author Day celebrations. Others hold the books in the library to share when they are teaching the classes of students that come in. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to hosting an author visit is budget–especially in times when school and library budgets are tighter than a whale-bone corset. So, too, are the budgets of authors. Authors work hard and contrary to the popular notion that all authors are rich, most aren’t. Their compensation for writing is, in large part, getting to hold a published book. Speaking–or often some other job–is part of their business model. That said, let me share with you what some schools I have visited have done.

  • Some librarians are lucky enough to have a budget that INCLUDES an annual author visit. They have fought for this, arguing with Administrators that author visits can help inspire a love of reading (and writing), which in turn can help those all-important-to-administrators test scores. Reading and writing are the basis of critical thinking and of all education and life-long learning.
  • If you don’t have an author visit already built in to your budget, don’t give up hope. If your school has a PTO/PTA/Parent Association, you might suggest to the Cultural Arts Chair (or its equivalent) that an author visit might be of more educational value than a juggler, magician, or dog-and-pony show.
  • IN ARIZONA, schools lobby for parents and residents to make school donations via a tax credit available to them when they file their state income taxes. Although many librarians don’t realize it, this tax-credit money can be used to host a cultural activity that will benefit students–i.e., an author visit. Several schools in Arizona have told me that this is where my fee came from.
  • Title I funds and those for Gifted and Talented have been used to bring me in. As it was explained to me, these funds may be used as long as Title I or Gifted and Talented children are included in the presentations. While I can’t vouch the legality of this or that it still applies, it might be something to investigate.
  • Many schools have an assembly budget. This is money set aside for the principal to use for a school-wide assembly. Most authors, myself included, present to the entire school when making a visit. Ask your principal about it, and see my juggler, magician, or dog-and-pony comment above.
  • Would the ASB (associated student body) have funds it could donate? I have been to some schools where the ASB, through various avenues of fund-raising, has money available for programs that will benefit the entire school. It might be worth looking into.
  • Most states have a Cultural Arts Foundation, which provides grants to art-related activities. Writing is both a craft and an art. Getting a grant requires the librarian or “sponsor” to request funds by writing a proposal. These groups and their proposal forms are usually found online, and often the form doesn’t require a Ph.D. in grant-writing to fill out. They usually want to know how much you’re asking for, what the money will be used for, if granted, and why you think it’s important (or how will your students benefit from an author visit).
  • Local businesses often are willing to underwrite an author event at a local school. In one small community I visited, local businesses kicked in $50 to $100 each to help a school bring me in. At another, large businesses–like Target, which has a foundation through which it offers grants–brought me in. In Michigan, Lilly Pharmaceuticals brought me in to visit three or four schools over a week. Nike brought me in to Ecuador, while a parent with oodles of sky miles donated my flight. Another school visit was funded by a local Lions Club. Things can happen, but it takes a librarian, a teacher, or a school administrator who thinks author visits are important to knock on doors, to ask.
  • In another instance, local doctors were asked for donations, and this inspired them to set up a permanent endowment which in time will generate enough income to be self-sustaining.
  • When I was in town for a book festival or educational conference, a librarian found out and I was able to reduce my school visit fee substantially because my expenses were being met either by the publisher or by the conference/festival. If you stay alert to what’s going on locally, you’ll know who might be coming to town. Then with a quick web search, you’ll be able to contact authors to see if a visit might be arranged.
  • One of the most common ways that author visits are funded is through book fairs, bake sales, and craft fairs. Also, the sales of an author’s books, when ordered from the publisher(s) at a discount and re-sold to students can help generate funding for future author visits. If you do this, be sure to ASK FOR THE AUTHOR VISIT DISCOUNT.
  • Many authors, myself included, let schools know when they’ll be in an area (either state-side or abroad) to conduct research, visit relatives, or even for a little R&R. This is an ideal time to invite an author to visit for a day or two. But typically it must be done before flights and/or tours are booked so the visit can be worked in to the author’s schedule. Some even announce travel plans on Facebook, so if you’re not following an author’s Author Page, perhaps you should. (https://www.facebook.com/LarryDaneBrimner/)
  • In last week’s post, I suggested that you should negotiate if the fees for your preferred author are problematic for your budget. Some authors charge a thousand dollars or more for a visit, but are more than willing to negotiate if you can bring in another school or two. Some have a local- or in-state fee and an out-of-area fee, which is usually higher. You’ve heard the term, “Shop locally.” But don’t think that you’re limited to authors in your immediate area. Many out-of-area authors keep their fees reasonable by offering “bundling” deals–i.e., multiple schools booked consecutively in an area might be discounted, or perhaps the author will cover his/her own travel and lodging expenses for visits longer than a single day. My school visits in New York or Texas or Oklahoma are as reasonable as a local author’s, given the right circumstances. Visit author websites to see what is being offered. (brimner.com)
  • Don’t be taken in by the “FREE” author visit. These often are offered by self-published authors in exchange for sales (often guaranteed sales) of the author’s books. Often the authors of “FREE” author visits have little or no experience presenting to children. This doesn’t mean that all such author visits lack quality or that self-published books lack quality, but approach with caution and do your homework.
  • Perhaps the most touching way a school paid for an author visit was by saving and cashing in aluminum cans. The librarian contacted me a full year ahead of my visit to find out my fee and to reserve time on my calendar. At that point, the children and their families began collecting cans for cash. A parent with a truck took the cans to a recycling center. What a way to get kids, their families, and the community to buy into a program. Three months before the date we had settled on, the librarian phoned to say they were close, but still about $300 short. I booked my flight, and we had a special, special day. And an anonymous donation meant they had a healthy start on an author visit the next year. Six years later, this school is still collecting cans and hosting an author each spring. It has become a community-wide effort.

I hope the ideas above will spark your own ideas about hosting an author event and how you might go about funding it. It is time consuming, but I think the excitement your students show will make it well worth the effort. Authors work hard, not only to produce their books, but also to make their school programs relevant to what’s happening in your school.

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