It's the end of August in North Carolina, and schools here and everywhere are gearing up for a new term. As a children's book authors, it's also the season to gear up and reconnect with students, educators, media specialists and authors. I edited and added new content for this first of a five-part series (accessible now by clicking on the titles below) about authors in the classroom. You'll find tips from my years in the classroom and advice from other writers and teachers for moving your author school visit to the head of the class.
After two decades behind the chalkboard with kids or on the podium with adults, I was still nervous about venturing into elementary schools for a KidLit author visit.
It was a tall order: get students excited about reading, wow teachers and librarians with dynamite learning experiences, and generate interest in my books without a hard sell. No pressure! However, after visiting 600 children in grades K-4 in three states and in three days, my confidence is back.
I forgot how exciting it is to be in the classroom! Being with the kids is the shot of magic elixir that reminds me why I write. I am over the moon when they share their ending toFinding Fuzzy. And I melt into a puddle when a shy first grader pulls out a notebook to show me her stories. I wish I had more time to encourage them all.
In this first of four posts about authors in the classroom, I walk you through a five-stage process, from pre-visit to follow up, to offer ideas to add to your writerly tool kit.
Tips for Kid Lit Author School Visits
Part 1 of a 4-part series
PART 2: Kid Lit Pros Share Their Top School Visit Tips
PART 3: Five Tips for Photographing Kids in the Classroom
PART 4: Giveaways on a Shoestring Budget
2. BEFORE THE VISIT
Save angst down the road by establishing mutual expectations from the start. It’s fine to deviate, but it’s wise to have a starting point.
Create, produce giveaways (bookmarks, rack cards, etc.) on a shoestring budget.
Stay Tuned ...
More about budget-friendly giveaways in part 4 of this school visit series.
3. DURING THE VISIT
Have directions in hand and on GPS (because you will be nervous and/or stuck in traffic), and check in at the front office to wait for someone to show you around.
Bring extra copies
Bring EVERYTHING....books, business cards, giveaways, etc. (More about giveaways later in this series). Have back-ups on a portable usb drive or Dropbox/Google Drive folder if you’re projecting visuals. I print out 8x10 copies of my presentation to use in a pinch. A list of materials to bring helps me, too, because travel trauma and adrenalin usually kick in, and I lose track.
Check the tech
If you use own or the school’s AV equipment, make sure those gadgets are loaded and working. I always arrive early and ask for an on-site AV person to help with set up and test.
Seek the library/media center
Librarians (nowadays called media specialists) are an author's best friend: be sure to meet him or her, and donate a signed copy of your book to the library.
Connect with kids
Get the group in your corner right away through a personal connections.
Share a story about your writerly journey:
I wasn't sure about role playing with K-3 kids, but after consulting with teachers, we settled on a ‘controlled’ role play: I played Mama Cat, a character from my book, and teachers selected children to interact with me 1:1. It was a huge hit with the students and a total joy for me.
Channel wiggles and giggles
Thanks for raising your hand.
Stay tuned ...
More about photography in part 3 of this series when author, illustrator, and professional photographer Carmela Dutra shares secrets for taking your school visit photography to the next level.
Don't laugh. You will be so excited that you may forget! Before leaving, remember to thank students and staff. Energy and enthusiasm is highest at the close, so this is also the perfect time to let them know you welcome a return visit.
Include Your Call to Action
An author visit isn’t a hard sell event, but it's a chance to build relationships and find readers. I ask students, with the help of an adult, to send me drawings, story ideas, and photos of them reading my books. My giveaways include urls to sell sites and social media, so I direct follow up with me there. I especially encourage adult subscribers to my newsletter. (Note: In the USA, children under 13 years old cannot legally subscribe to an online newsletter.)
5. FOLLOW UP
Just like a job interview, demonstrating appreciation after the event goes a long way to augment your standing as a professional and keep your presence in the forefront.
After each visit, I send an e-note of thanks to my sponsors and school staff, including a link to a video I create from visit photos. I use free, user-friendly software, such as i-movie or the Animoto app to make the videos.
The video showcases photos taken during my visit as well as illustrations from my book illustrations and author links supporting my call to action.
Congratulations! You finished your first round. Now sit back and relax. But don't rest too long. It's already time to start planning your next school visits. The next blog posts in this series may help, so stay tuned.
Coming Next in this Blog Series
PART 2: Kid Lit Authors Share Their Top School Visit Tips
PART 3: Five Tips for Photographing Kidsin the Classroom
How do these school visit learnings work for you?
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The writing journey is a long one. And with all that social media and technology in the mix, it's easy to feel overloaded. To make it easier, I share angst-saving tips found along my way. I'm still learning, so please join me. Let's travel this writing journey and learn together.
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