Okay, so it’s kind of a cheesy title. And what I say won’t be secret once this is posted, but I got your attention, didn’t I? The first, and most obvious, thing you must do is to set a fee. An easy way to do this is to visit other authors’ websites to find out what those in your area charge and make your fee comparable. You can charge by the “day” or per presentation. For most authors, a full day is four presentations of 45 minutes each, with 10 to 15 minutes between each presentation to regroup (and visit the restroom.) Be sure to get a signed contract that states exactly what you will do, what your fee is, and that you expect to be paid at the conclusion of your visit. Here are some useful links: “10 Must-Haves in Your School Visit Contract” and AUTHOR VISIT CONTRACT – Prokidwriter.
If you are booked for the day, make sure to factor in an hour or more for lunch. If you are expected to sign books, add another hour (preferably in a quiet room) to complete this task. Some schools will invite you to eat with teachers at a pot luck they graciously set out in their lounge. Others will buy your lunch and bring it in. Some will ask you to eat lunch with a table of students who are aspiring authors. I’ve experienced all these scenarios, and all are fine with me. I ask only that I be told in advance which (and when) to expect.
Next, you need to decide how far you are willing to travel. I limit myself to schools within an hour’s drive from my home, and have turned down several invitations this year from schools that are too far away. Unless multiple schools line you up for a visit of two or three days (and will pay your hotel and travel expenses), you must figure what your time is worth. For example, a school on Lake Michigan (four hours away) invited me in January for a full day visit. When I asked about arriving the day before, the teacher said the school could not pay for a hotel. I wasn’t going get up at 4 a.m. to arrive at 8 a.m. and then drive four hours home. When I politely declined her invitation, the teacher appreciated the link I sent her from SCBWI that listed contact info for authors in northern Ohio.
Of course – and most importantly – you need to let schools know you are available for visits. However, not all schools host authors. To find leads, check the websites of other children’s authors in your area. The more popular ones post a calendar showing where and when they are visiting. Bingo! Schools that have hosted authors/illustrators generally have a budget to host others. You’ll then go to each school’s web site and find the email address of the librarian/media specialist. If none is listed, email the principal or assistant principal. Send a short email describing yourself, your book (along with excerpts from good reviews), your availability and an attachment depicting the cover. Some authors list their fees on the sites; others ask that schools contact them via email or phone.
You can follow up your initial email a month or so later with a postcard showing your book(s) on the front and your email, website address, phone, and other info on the back. You can design a pretty postcard on Vistaprint and get multiple copies made for 10 cents or less per card. Many schools book a year or more in advance, and schools rarely book more than one author/illustrator in the same year. Be persistent but not pesky. Follow up one way or another every few months. You are one among many authors looking for a gig.
School visits are a good – and more importantly – fulfilling way to supplement your income. I always get lots of hugs, high-fives, and pictures from the elementary school students I visit. Writers spend far more time alone than those in other professions. It’s nice when the children who read our books can show and tell us what our books mean to them.
Carole Gerber is the author of 18 picture books and three chapter books. Her latest, STINGRAYS! UNDERWATER FLIERS, is coming from Random House Children’s Step into Reading Series on May 26, 2015. TEN BUSY BROOMS, a Halloween picture book, will be published by Doubleday in fall 2016, and A BAND OF BABIES will be released by HarperCollins in 2017. TEN BUSY BROOMS is her debut book with EMLA agent Ammi-Joan Paquette.