You have a million things on your plate. You’re probably expecting that unannounced observation any day, have classes to prepare for, books orders pending, the list goes on and on. Why bother adding event planning to your list? Happy kids, that’s why. Author visits = happy students. Not only are you promoting reading, you are bringing the shelves to life. You will be creating lifelong positive reading memories for your students, and they will think of you as a rock star because you know a celebrity!
My colleague, Scot Smith, and I presented at our state librarians’ conference a couple of years ago on this topic. Combined, we’ve hosted around 80 authors at our schools. Here’s a post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club Blog on why I host authors each year. We’ve learned a few do’s and don’ts that we’ve compiled here to make your job easier. Also, take a look at the Author Visit Checklist for a list of items to help you plan this magical day.
Whom to Invite
Dream a little. It’s ok. Who would you love to host? Who would your students love to meet? This is where I always begin. Then, I take the following into consideration:
- Run a report of your top 10 titles.
- Check your state book awards list.
- Think about authors whose work connects best with curriculum.
- Think about authors you’ve heard or met before in some capacity through conferences or other events.
- Has a colleague hosted an author recently?
- Do you need an author who will appeal to all grade levels or just certain grades?
An author visit after-shock captured! Students reading Alan Gratz and Nathan Hale, two recent author visitors.
It’s impossible to find THE author that every single student will enjoy; however, all of your students will take away something positive from the presentation. Your writers and readers will drink this experience in, your reluctant readers will have made a connection to a cool person who writes books, making books and reading seem less intimidating, and those in the middle will be clamoring to put a hold on the books mentioned in the presentation. You will see the “after-shocks” of an author visit for months, even years, to come.
Would you take the whole school on a field trip? Think of how many busses you’d need, admission per student, etc. It’d be astronomical! No way! An author visit is a reasonable funding request to make, especially if comparing to the cost of taking the students on a field trip. A $1500 honorarium split among 900 students is $1.67. Really? That’s a great investment for your students, who will remain in school, have minimal disruption to their school day, while an amazing author takes them back in time, to the future, or on an adventure through our world today.
- Ask administration.
- Ask the PTO/ PTA.
- Utilize book fair profits.
- Research donations and write grants.
I often operate on the rule of 3. I ask my administration and the PTO to each contribute a portion, and I kick in funds from book fair profits. Research your options and do what works best for your school’s budget.
Cost Effective Options
- Consider sharing an author visit with a nearby school. Perhaps the author’s honorarium includes up to 4 presentations per day. Schedule two at your school and two at another school in your district. This will allow both schools to split the honorarium and travel expenses. Make sure this is agreeable with the author first.
- Research local authors. You’ll find significant savings in the travel costs department, as you’re replacing airfare and hotel costs with reimbursement for mileage.
- Partner with a local bookstore. There are two bookstores in my area who often bring authors to visit area schools- for free!
- Partner with your state’s literary festival. For example, Humanities Tennessee sponsors Student Reader Day, and they provide a fee-free visit to a school, and when possible, each student gets a copy of one of the author’s books.
- Skype. If your technology is reliable, this can be a good option. I will never trade a Skype for the author live and in the flesh, but it’s a solid option if your budget will not accommodate an in-person visit. Here is a great list of authors who do free Skype visits.
Now that you’ve dreamt, and your budget has brought you down to reality, it’s time to get down to the details.
- Start with the author’s webpage. Look for information on events. Authors who are regularly visiting schools will often post their visit schedule, helpful information about their presentations, and provide a way for you to contact them, or a representative, about setting up a visit. It makes my day when I am researching authors to bring to my school, and authors have a dedicated and updated school visits page. Puts a smile on my face!
- Visit the publisher’s website. Perhaps the publisher handles event scheduling for the author.
- Be prepared to not get a response or to get the response you hoped for. I typically have 2-3 authors I have in mind when I am planning an event. Schedules and life do not always line up. Do not be discouraged, just move to the next author on your list. Plan something with your top choice next time.
Consider what’s available at your school for an author visit. The location you choose can affect the number of presentations and how many students can attend. Consider the best space where the students will be the least distracted. Each setting has its own positives and negatives. Pick the best fit for your situation. I’ve christened every large space in my school with author visits- the gym, the cafeteria, classrooms, the library, the auditorium, and the band room.
Most authors despise the gym situation, but that’s all I had for twelve years until an auditorium was constructed on my campus. If the gym is the only option, be aware that authors may have some preferences. For example, they may not be ok with students sitting on both sides of the gym. They’ll also want to make sure the lighting can be adjusted so that students can easily see the slideshow. Mics are a must in large spaces, and insist on it, even if the author insists that he/she is naturally loud enough. If the students can easily hear, that is a deterrent for bad behavior.
Ruta Sepetys speaking in the gym vs. the auditorium. You have to work with what you have. She had to speak in my gym, but she got to speak in Scot’s auditorium. Now that I have an auditorium, I’ll never go back to the gym setting.
You also want to avoid high traffic areas for the author presentation, so that usually means the cafeteria is a no-go. Your students have seen someone walk into a room a million times, and they can’t help but look every. single. time. Avoid a location where people will be passing through so that disruptions are at a minimum.
In any venue, the Q&A at the end of the presentation can be tricky, as it can be virtually impossible to hear students’ questions. I’ve learned in the gym or auditorium to set-up 2 mics- one for the author, and one for me to use to intro/ dismiss and to use for student questions.
Schedule for the Visit
Start scheduling the details of this day with all appropriate school personnel as soon as possible. I have an author visit team at my school, which includes: my principal (approval of my choice), my assistant principal (for any alternate schedule required), the theater teacher and music teacher (auditorium scheduling and sound), my bookkeeper (paperwork and payment), the school secretary (adding event to the main school calendar so the talent show is NOT booked that same day- not that I know anything about that).
Shout out to my P. E. teacher! He’s a huge help to me on author visit days with logistics. It also helps that he gets thanked with food.
Then, it’s time to communicate with faculty about this day and generate excitement among the students and staff. Collaborate with teachers on ways to connect the author visit to the curriculum before and/or after the visit. Create fliers they can post on classroom news boards. Hopefully, your teachers will remain with their classes during the presentation, but if you feel this may be an issue, kindly ask teachers ahead of time. Your administrator may be willing to communicate this on your behalf. Teachers at my school stay with their classes, and I greatly appreciate that it’s a non-issue. I’ve heard author visit horror stories about faculty dropping their students and bolting, which makes the author feel like a babysitter.
Consider an exciting author visit reveal for students, signage, online information, contests, giveaways, and in general, how to best generate buzz about this upcoming special day. Also, think about giving certain students jobs in helping prepare for this day. Students can help make welcome banners, greet the author as he/she arrives, introduce the author to the principal, help during the book signing, etc.
This is a BIG day for your school! Get excited!
Details, Details, Details
This is the time to become great friends with your bookkeeper. Help make all of this as easy as possible. Schedule time with your bookkeeper to find out what is needed for their record keeping. An author visit is a big paperwork deal, and we all know that the bookkeeper is a person to have on your team anyway! Provide whatever information they need- purchase orders filled out, all receipts submitted, W-9, etc. The author will need to be paid the day of their visit, so have your ducks in a row.
The author will book the flight, and you’ll need a copy of the air fare receipt to give to your bookkeeper. Most authors will book a coach flight and use their own points for an upgrade. I’ve only had one author request a first class flight, and that author did not speak at my school. Not that I’m opposed to first-class flights, it’s just not in my budget. Shocking, right?
I like to chauffeur my authors, which is nice because I get to spend more time with the author. I’ve had numerous conversations about my school, the presentation format, the q&a session format in the car with the author. It’s given us a chance to work out last minute details of our day. Occasionally, they prefer to do their own driving. Let them know if a rental car is in your budget. If an author is renting a car, make sure you’ve provided detailed directions, and the author has ample time to get to your school, directions on how to get in your school, and your cell number.
For hotel accommodations, book the room sooner, rather than later. The author does not want to stay with grandma or in a guest house. Book a comfortable hotel in close proximity to your school with free wifi, breakfast included, and one that will give you a great rate. The hotel will need a tax exempt form. This will exempt the school from state taxes, but it will not exempt the school from local taxes. I like to pay for the room ahead of time, so I mail the school check with the tax exempt form in advance The hotel will need a credit card for incidentals, so think about how you want to handle that. My school does not have a credit card. I have the author provide his/her own card at check-in. I have yet to have an author trash the room or charge any incidentals, so I typically am not worried about this.
A comfortable author is a happy author. They are away from home and from their normal routine. Any hospitality you can show in thinking about these essentials is always appreciated. I assemble a welcome package of protein bars, bottled water, dried fruit, a sweet treat and a couple of locally made products. My grandmother would roll in her grave if she saw me not extending southern hospitality to my guests.
I always offer to pick up coffee or have it provided during the day at school, and I order out lunch. I email a menu ahead of time and have them select what they’d like. I have lunch delivered or enlist a volunteer to pick it up. You will be glad to dealt with this the day before, as you will have no time to take care of this the day of the visit. You should be reimbursed for any food you purchase for the author. Provide any meal receipts for your bookkeeper, and remember, you likely will not be reimbursed for tax.
Some schools will want to plan a “lunch with the author” event. Always ask the author if this is OK. If the author is eating with students, be aware that the author is “on” and is not often able to eat. Some prefer downtime at lunch and would be just as happy eating on the sofa in your office. Downtime is essential but might be difficult to schedule if you are sharing a day with another school.
Wendelin Van Draanen had just finished 4 presentations at 3 different schools plus a lunch with a group of students before her red eye back to CA. Authors are hardworking!
I always offer to take my author out for a nice dinner after our long day, and sometimes, I invite other local authors to join us. If you have a great local restaurant, consider going there. One local author ended up writing a biography about a visiting author because of one of these dinners. I’ve taken authors bowling, and to see the sights in Nashville, so it all depends on what your guest would like to do, and what you can do.
What does a visit include?
Most authors, if you host them for the day, will do up to 3-4 presentations. However, I’ve seen many variations, such as authors who only present twice or even only once. The fewer the presentations typically means the heftier the honorarium. It just depends on the author. You can ask them if they are up for additional activities or alternate presentations during the day, such as the following:
- Meet and greet with a small group
- Interview with the school paper student editors
- 2 presentations to large groups, 1 writing workshop with a group of 30
- Breakfast or lunch with students
- An evening session for families with a book signing
Sarah Weeks is interviewed by the newspaper editors.
Consider how you are handling book sales or a book signing. If you are having a formal signing, prepare the space accordingly. Also, factor in that some students may not be able to attend. Designate a location for students to drop books off to be signed and information on when these can be retrieved.
Alan Gratz signs books following an evening presentation for families.
I typically host an author during the week of my book fair. The visit is the highlight of our book fair week! Book sales are built into my book fair, so the book fair vendor is obtaining the author’s books in addition to the books they are sending for the fair. Also, this is the time I prefer to have the author for a full day. Therefore, I am booking an author for 3 presentations during the school day, and a 4th presentation that evening for students and families. It’s usually a small group and ends up being mostly q&a, followed by a book signing. So far, all of my visiting authors have not charged extra for this. Just ask what is feasible and what they are comfortable doing while at your school.
Visit Day Logistics
There are several items to consider to help make the presentation go as smoothly as possible. First, make sure the author is clear on the start and end times. I provide an itinerary of their day at my school, with the presentation times in large print. I always point out where the clock is in the room. Do they need a “high sign” when 5 minutes are left? We all know the bell will ring, and the students’ inclination is to bolt, even if the author is still talking, so be sure the presentation ends a minute or two early so that you can have students applaud and you can give reminders about a book signing, evening event, or even just directions for dismissal.
Many authors like to take questions at the end of their talk. Ask the author ahead of time for their preference on the format for the q&a, and have a solid plan in place. This is a tricky part of the presentation to navigate. Behavior can take a turn for the worse. I’ve watched a few phenomenal presentations crash and burn in the Q&A portion of the presentation. There are some things you can do to help this go smoothly.
First, I like to reward students for thoughtful questions. I let students know at the beginning that I have signed copies of the author’s books to give away, and I’ll be listening for great questions at the end. Their questions have to show they really listened to the presentation. Recently this backfired on me a little because they were 1-upping each other with their questions. As students asked one profound question after another, the entire audience looked back at me each time like- Is this the winner? I gave away two copies and let the other 2 students be the first to check out the copies I bought for the library. Excellent questions are a good problem to have.
Also, I will choose the students who ask the questions. I jokingly refer to this as the “Oprah method.” I like to have a second mic on hand so that I can move about the room with it, carefully selecting students, and thus, helping everyone to hear the question. I can do this easily in my school’s auditorium. This method would not work for me in the gym. Occasionally, I’ve asked students to submit questions prior to the presentation, and I’ve either selected the best, or shared a Google form so all students could vote on the questions that should be asked.
Sometimes, there is no time for questions, so students are encouraged to email me their questions or submit them in the library, and perhaps the author may be willing to answer them via email or video later.
I always prepare my students with the types of questions to ask a visiting author. I emphasize with my students to ask questions about the author’s work.
Let the author know what you feel works best for your students with this portion of the presentation. I am uncomfortable with the rapid fire q&a method where the author takes questions at random. This often results in a smh moment. That student, you know, that one, will raise a hand, and the author will, as if drawn by force of nature, call on said student. The author will then be asked if he owns a pony, which is fine if the author writes books about ponies, but typically, this is where the fabulous presentation starts to crash and burn at the end. In general, this format is a no-go at my school.
Disruptions are a fact of life. It’s school, after all, right? Disruptions, major or minor, during the author presentation are always a possibility. No matter the level of misbehavior, deal with the situation as quietly as possible. It causes even more of a scene when an adult loses it and reprimands, or worse, berates, the student in front of the assembly. Proximity is best deterrent in this situation. Hopefully, faculty members are with their students, but you can quietly move near the source of the disruption, make eye contact with the student. Subtle but stern. It’s like attending live theater. The ushers quietly deal with disturbances so as to not further disrupt the performance. It takes everyone out of the moment of the experience, so handle with care in the least disruptive manner possible.
After the Visit
The effects of an author visit linger well after the author has left the building, like after shocks following an earthquake. The library copies of the author’s books will consistently be checked out, kids will comb classroom libraries for those books, so try to have additional copies on hand to feed the enthusiasm. Kids love to talk about special experiences, so give them an opportunity to share their takeaways from the presentation. This can be done in class discussion, a think/ write board, a Padlet wall, a Google Forms survey, a journal entry, or blog post, etc. There are many creative ways to give your students an outlet for sharing how the author’s visit made an impact.
Be sure to thank everyone involved. Thank the students for being great hosts, the administration, the PTO, or your grant foundation for their help in making this day possible. Thank the teachers for giving up instructional time for this school-wide literacy celebration. Then, share the success! Your students will love seeing the pictures from this special day. Create a display of these in the building, and share online, according to your school’s guidelines, of course. Think about what avenues you have to share with parents, too, and provide a write-up for the newsletter, the email announcements, the school website, about the joy of this day. Communicate with fellow librarians or educators about the visit. Word of mouth is the best way I find out about great authors to host at my school, so share widely.
Then, smile! You did it! Your creativity, planning, and hard work pays off! So enjoy seeing and experiencing all of the “after-shocks” that materialize in the days and years ahead. And, start dreaming again.