As a children's author, you should be looking to spread the word about your work, especially to the younger generation. And what better way is there of doing this than through a school author visit? But this just doesn’t apply to storytellers. Oh no, what if you are an illustrator, a poet, a video creator, a dancer, or a musician? It doesn’t matter what area of creativity you are in if your craft compliments what is being taught in schools then school visits are a must for you.
Now I appreciate that standing in front of a group of people is not the easiest of things to do. I’ve been doing it for many, many years and I still remember the first time. It was a nerve-
I recall once taking an illustrator into a school during book week and that was daunting for me and I wasn’t doing anything, so I am not sure what it was like for the artist. Mind you, I think he had become an expert at that point as he had the kids literally eating out of his hand. Especially when he did caricature drawings of the two lady teachers – one with long curly hair, whom the class recognised immediately, and the other as a witch flying on a broom. The latter teacher took the drawing as a compliment, laughing the most at it.
But how do you present a good school visit? Well, in today’s podcast, we are going to give you a few short helpful tips on what to do to help you be a classroom success. Let’s start:
1. Build a Buzz
There is nothing more rewarding than when you hear pupils whispering, ‘It’s that author we like!’ as you stride into the hall or classroom. That is a sign that the teachers and/or librarians have put some effort into sharing information about you and your writing prior to the visit, which adds some sparkle to your reputation. It’s not that you want to be treated as if you are a celebrity (although wow, wouldn’t that feel cool), no, it just means that the audience has been primed to fully engage with your presentation.
So, to help them create this buzz why not ensure that the schools are provided with some posters and literature about you and, of course, your work? That way the librarians can put up library displays about you and your books. Some schools may show the children videos of your work, if you have them, and ask the children to check out your website. Do anything that will advertise you and your work.
2. Take your Time
When it comes to any author visit timing is crucial. This means you need to be sure that the school will let everyone know that there is going to be a presentation. None more so than the teachers whose time you are occupying whilst visiting the school.
When you set up your programme always add some time for a breather. This will allow you the opportunity to interact informally with the children. Perhaps offer to do a story reading time for the younger pupils not at the presentation, using your books if appropriate. And, if possible, include time for you to be able to sign some books. This is also a good moment when you can discuss with the children what was the last great book they’d read and -
3. Streamline Book Sales during the visit
One of the things many authors find difficult during school visits is trying to sell books AND do signings at the same time. It can be a painful experience, especially if you are terrible at counting change. Remember, book sales do matter to authors, none more so today when public libraries and bookshops are closing down. After all, you aren’t like the mighty Amazon who can sell their books at a massive, toe-
Here are some ideas you could suggest to teachers/librarians to boost your visit:
• Send the children home with a letter informing their parents about the visit and that the children will have an opportunity to buy books, signed by the author.
• Try and arrange a sale or return order of your books from a local bookshop that might kindly give the school a discount on the grounds of getting future orders.
• If not take a number of your books with you and arrive early so you can set them up ready for selling afterwards.
• Ask them to send a reminder for the children to bring money on the day.
• Maybe the school could take advance payments and try to come up with a solution for those children who turn up on the day saying, ‘I forgot my money, miss.’ (Maybe the librarian could get the children to ring their parents on the spot for permission to buy?)
• If possible send a further reminder the day before.
• Perhaps place the book sale table with sales happening away from where you are safely sat at a table with a bottle of water and a pen ready to sign.
• Try and time your presentation to happen before a break time so that the children are not rushing away to another class or lesson.
4. Be techno-
One of the greatest worries when giving a talk is that of a Powerpoint presentation that suddenly goes wrong! It does happen, I know, I’ve done a few in my time. It’s preferable if the school can have the technical stuff already set up for you. You know, screen, computer, connectors, plug extensions. And make sure there are no obvious distractions such as say a massive mirror on the wall facing the audience. If there is ask the school to cover it with a black cloth so that the children won’t be distracted by looking at themselves!
5. Plan your Presentation carefully
Ensure you plan what you are going to talk about well in advance and practice your presentation techniques. Use prompt notes if you need to, but try to keep them to a minimum.
Where possible try to engage the children either in talking or in writing exercises. There is nothing more rewarding than getting youngsters to discuss their ideas and then letting them run wild through either talking a story together or writing a short story. You could use their written work as a competition and give away a book or two as prizes.
6. The Important necessities?
While in school never be left alone with children. Remember, you are not a substitute teacher and as such are not insured for the role. However, you will need to have your own Public Liability Insurance. This is required for any event where you are performing, presenting, or appearing in your official capacity as an author. And I mean any event. So, check it out with your Insurance provider.
Also, you must be DBS checked when working with children. It’s an easy process that can be done online so don’t forget to register. You can find the details to do this in the search engine, making sure you choose the official Government website.
And that’s it. In the beginning, school visits can and probably will be quite scary, especially if you haven’t interacted with children that much, or, you are shy by nature. But, like all things, you will quickly gain confidence and will enjoy the experience more and more. Children are invigorating and energetic so have fun with them. Your visit is something different from the everyday humdrum school life so they want to make the most of it. And so do you.
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