By Brenda Gurr
School visits: what authors need to know
Experienced children’s authors do them. New children’s authors ought to do them. They have the potential to change young lives and foster a love of reading. I’m talking about school visits. If you are an aspiring or new author, this post is especially for you!
Now please allow me a moment to put on my author hat … there. I’m pleased to share with you some tips for successful school visits, based on my experience in Australian schools. I’ve also enlisted the help of picture book authors Amelia McInerney and Katrina McKelvey, both of whom generously agreed to share their expertise with us. Thank you so much!
Preparing for visits
· BG:Before contacting schools, think about what you would like to offer. Writing workshops? Author talks? A book reading followed by activities? Create materials to advertise your services, such as flyers and business cards. I recommend visiting schools in person to leave such materials with them.
· KM:I make a public Pinterest board full of craft ideas for each of my books. Then I supply this link to any school that books me so teachers and students can do some craft as they get ready for my visit or complete follow-up activities after my visit.
· KM:I ask schools NOT to read my book before I arrive so I have their full attention during my visit. As the author, I also get to receive that priceless, initial reaction from my readership.
· AM:Knowing the ages and number of children you will be presenting to is vital to your planning. Perhaps you can be quite flexible and adjust your visit according to what the school would like (based on factors like location and spread of ages) or offer a choice of set presentations with parameters set by you.
· AM:Prepare plenty of visual material; for example, images you can show on a screen or actual props. But be prepared to present without audiovisuals in case a technical hitch on the day means you are on your own!
Presenting to all ages
· BG:It’s fine to speak to age groups that aren’t the precise target audience for your book/s—children can get a lot of value out of hearing how authors vary their writing for particular audiences.
· AM:If you've written picture books and you're going to be talking to older primary kids, perhaps try to present to them separately so you can adjust your presentation. Speak with them as if they are writers too, not just readers. Discuss elements of writing (suitable for their level) and the reasons why you made certain choices in your book/s. Give them more 'behind the scenes author stuff', rather than pretend they'll be as into the book as the younger kids.
· KM:I always have my picture book constructed as a slideshow so if I’m reading to a large group of children, every one of them can see the pictures. I usually ask a child to be my ‘special helper’ and use my clicker to move through the slides as I read.
Fostering excitement for writing
· BG:Let your passion for writing shine. Tell your audience a little about your struggles and successes. What do you love about writing? What keeps you motivated? How do you keep improving your skills? However …
· AM:Don’t make it all about you! Keep bringing it back to the children: ask ‘Who likes to read?', ‘Who likes to write?', 'What are your favourite kinds of stories to read/write?'. Give them tips on how to generate ideas and create basic story structure. Discuss a writing technique you used in your book/s and how it could relate to their writing. Allocate time to answer their questions. Let them know they don't have to write the same kind of books you do and that there are many different kinds of writing.
· KM:I always have some type of visual showing while I’m presenting so children have a reason to look towards the front of the room. I also have a ‘clicker’ so I can change slides while I wander around the space. If you’re using a slideshow, use some real photos—kids love them. Keep the text to a minimum. Short videos work well too but remember to check they’ll play before you start! It’s better to have the video embedded in the slideshow rather than using a live link back to a website. It’s more reliable and you won’t need access to the internet during your presentation.
· BG:If possible, leave teachers with a list of follow-up activity ideas, writing tips or simple worksheets based on your book/s. An as ex-teacher, I can guarantee these will be gladly received!
· BG: A few days after your visit, send a friendly email to the school and ask if they could provide you with a short testimonial. These are fabulous to use on your website and other promotional materials.
Amelia McInerney lives in the lower Blue Mountains and is the author of The Book Chookand Bad Crab (both Scholastic). And she has loads more picture books coming out soon! Check her out at www.ameliamcinerney.comor Amelia McInerney Author (Facebook) and @ameliamcinerneyauthor (Instagram).
Katrina McKelvey is a children’s author with over 10 years of primary school teaching experience. She’s currently working on her first chapter book series while developing new picture book stories. No Baths Weekand Up To Somethingare Katrina’s recent publications, following her successful debut picture book, Dandelions. Two more picture books are coming in 2020. Katrina lives in Newcastle, Australia, with her family and a naughty puppy. Google her or visit www.katrinamckelvey.com