Tag Archives: School Author Visits

Practical Matters: School Visits

With my new book coming out in early spring, I’m beginning to book school visits again after a three-year lapse. In that interim I’ve learned a few practical things – beyond the fun of preparing the presentation – that I thought I’d share, and I’d like to open a “suggestion box” for everyone in this talented group to pitch in with their own ideas.

Before the visit:

  • It helps to establish a fee structure that is both realistic and fair to you and the school. I’d suggest that before you book your first visit, talk to colleagues and find out how much they charge. Remember to include expenses, especially if your visit is at a distance. Most authors do Skype visits for free or a nominal fee; a lot of authors offer free or low-cost visits to local schools.
  • I try not to book more than one visit a month unless they are back-to-back in the same region. Writing comes first!

When the visit is booked:

  • If the visit includes fees, expense reimbursements, and an understanding of technology requirements, I find it helps to send the school a contract. SCBWI has a model contract in their resource database for members that I modified for my use.

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    My packet (center) with cover letter and poster – made using Word.

  • I send that contract, together with a packet I’ve created, to the school contact person. In the packet is the following:
    • A brief cover letter that directs the contact person to my website and my free downloadable study guides and cover jpegs, and expresses my excitement about the visit.
    • A complete brochure that details each of my books, with synopsis, awards, and reviews.
    • A ready-made poster with the date left blank that the contact person can fill in and post.
    • A swag packet of bookmarks, etc.
  • I’m now following the suggestion of some colleagues to supply one copy of each of my in-print books to the school. I order the books to be drop-shipped to the school as soon as the visit is booked. This accomplishes several things: I’ve found that the school doesn’t always have copies of my books on hand; students who are interested can read ahead of the visit; I get credit for the book sales; I create good will with my contact person. I’ve found that the expense is small, and I fold the cost into my fee.

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    Swag and interior packet materials.

During the visit:

  • I try to bring bookmarks or other swag to hand out.
  • I try to have someone take a few photos (quality video is even better if possible) that I can post to my website or use for publicity.
  • If a bookseller is not involved with my visit, I’ve arranged with my local indie to bring a one-page order form for my books with me. Many kids won’t buy books before the visit but will be excited afterwards, and that’s when they’ll want to order. I ask the contact person at the school to collect the order forms and checks made out to my indie (I add something for shipping) and send the forms to me. My indie orders the books, I sign them, and then I send them in bulk back to the school.

After the visit:

  • I send a brief thank-you to the contact person, following up with any reimbursements and orders.

That’s what I’ve got – if you have suggestions please add!


 

IMG_8226bJanet Fox is the author of a number of books for young readers. Her debut middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, launches on March 15, 2016 from Viking.

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Filed under Advice, School Author Visits, Uncategorized

How I Became a Real Writer

Hello, internet friends. Newly hatched Emu Adi Rule here, optimistically flapping my vestigial wings. Bear with me, as I’m still learning which forms to fill out, where the cafeteria is, and that a “Wordpress” is NOT a type of helmet that squishes brilliant drafts out through your eyeballs.

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Line edits HURT SO GOOD.

Last year around this time, I was asked to be on a panel at a high school. Answer questions about Being a Writer. Judge student work. Free sweatshirt.

So I went. And I talked the talk. Query letters this and protagonists that and blah blah critique groups, whatever. But little did the students know that, unlike the poet laureate on my left and the successful author on my right, I was an IMPOSTOR.

Shocking, I know.

I grew up in a writing household. My friends and I were more likely to be found at a reading than a roller rink, not necessarily by our choice. My mom taught fiction at a nearby university. Sometimes I would go with her and draw dinosaurs on the blackboard.

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An ancient beast that struck fear into the hearts of small creatures everywhere. With a tyrannosaurus rex drawn on it.

As a kid, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Poems, short stories, my own NASHNUL NOOSPAPR (“TODAY AT THE RULES HOWSE, BABY DUCKS GROWD BIGR”). My first play was produced at my elementary school when I was 13, and garnered rave reviews from everyone’s parents, who were probably just relieved it was only 17 minutes long. (After all, you never know what sort of Hell an elementary school gymnasium will hold.)

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Dante and Virgil just wanted to support the arts. Two cacophonous hours later, GO FOR THE THROAT.

At 13, my road to writerdom seemed reasonably assured. Then more plays, more prose, a novel, an MFA, a blog, and two more novels. And four cats, who are lousy editors.

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Seriously. Look at them. Dipsticks.

So what was my terrible secret, a year ago, at that high school writing panel?

I wasn’t published.

It’s true. I’d had several plays produced, but not published. And I’d just gotten a short story accepted, but the anthology wasn’t out yet. I had no agent, no other contracts, no shiny books to sign and sniff and make piles of in the yard to roll around in (that’s what authors do, right?).

So every time a student asked, “What’s the matter with adverbs, really?” a small part of my brain squeaked, “Don’t answer that. You know nothing about adverbs.”

Fast-forward a year — or, um, skip ahead? Do we say “fast-forward” anymore? — to this past October, and I’m at the same panel. Sitting in the same chair. Eating the same doughnuts. Only now I’m represented by a fabulous agent and I’ve got a two-book deal at a bighuge press. I’ve gotten The Call.

Sparkles and rainbows and ponies and sunbeams and puffy stickers!

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My life after The Call.

My induction into the Writers’ Guild was glorious. One humid July day, Joan met me at the airport, and we flew first class to a secret location. I was, of course, blindfolded, which did ruin the in-flight movie (Thor), but I sensed we were going north.

Two flights and a helicopter ride later, we began our trek into the heart of a dense forest. Imagine my surprise when, after several hours, Joan stopped before an unremarkable tree and fitted her signet ring into a knothole to reveal a secret door. We had arrived!

All the real writers were there, each one wearing a glittering tiara sized to represent their commercial success (J. K. Rowling and Stephen King couldn’t even stand up under the weight of theirs, and had to lie in a corner conversing softly). The evening was a blur of toasts and speeches and ritual sacrifice. Particularly touching was the moment when William Faulkner impaled himself on his National Book Award as a tribute to the bleeding souls of writers everywhere.

And then it was my turn. I received my tiara (very small), drank from the Cup of Ink (minty), and groveled at the feet of the Writer Queen (identity protected), who smiled with refined condescension. And when she touched her gilded scepter to my nose, I became a real writer!

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Ah, the majesty of tradition.

Actually, I’m lying.

What can I say, it’s the only thing I’m good at.

What I wish my 2012 panelist self could have told my 2011 panelist self is that publication does not make you a writer. The hours you spend with a keyboard under your fingers or a book in your hand do that. Believe it or not, you will know exactly as much about adverbs the day you sign your contract as you did the day before.

And you were a real writer then, too.

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Filed under Anxiety, Happiness, Introduction, School Author Visits, The Call, Writing and Life

Is Your Book Ready for School?

There are exactly 320 days left until my debut book, FLYING THE DRAGON, releases on July 1, 2012. (Not that I’m counting, mind you.) Before I wrote the first words of this book, I knew it would be about a kid who moves to the U.S. and doesn’t speak English. I wanted to hand my ESL students a book about a character who struggles with the same issues they do—culture shock, missing home, learning a new language, feeling out of place, and ultimately finding where they fit in with new friends, a new school and a new country. Once July 1, 2012 rolls around,  how will I connect my book with kids outside of my school?

A few weeks, ago, I wrote a guest post on Cynsations–the fabulous blog of super author and super nice person Cynthia Leitich Smith–about teacher’s guides and how to get your book noticed by teachers and librarians.

If you’re planning on reaching out to schools (with or without a curriculum guide),  I’ve got some questions for you.

1. What’s your book’s “kid” hook?

We hear so much about hooks, those one-liners that answer the question: What’s your story about? If you’ve got a good hook, you’re sure to catch an agent’s or editor’s attention.  But as a teacher and librarian, I want to know more than just what your book is about; I want to know what’s in it for the reader. Will it help a kid understand the Civil War? Shakespeare? Patterns? Will it help the kid who’s just moved to a new school? The kid who’s being bullied? The kid who’s struggling with losing a best friend?

2. Once you’ve identified your book’s kid hook, how does it tie in to your state’s curriculum?

I guarantee that your book has ties to the curriculum, even if you don’t write historical fiction or books about kid scientists. Really. Does your book have a setting? Conflict? Character development? Have you used simile and metaphor? Sensory description? Then your book ties into the curriculum of all 50 states, and even the U.S. Territories. I promise. Most people think of the school subjects as math, social studies, science and language arts (reading, writing, and oral communication)—but there’s also a health curriculum in every state that covers things like bullying, eating disorders, friendship, family issues, and the list goes on.

3. What kind of information will you send to schools about your book and school author visits?

Teachers and librarians will want to know specifically how your book and/or presentation ties into their curriculum.

Know the name of your state’s learning standards, and find out if your state aligns their Language Arts and Math standards to the national standards, called the Common Core Standards. If they have, find out if they still teach their state standards, as well. While most states have agreed to implement the national standards, many No Child Left Behind standardized tests still cover state standards.

For example, let’s say you plan on talking about revision in your school author visit program. Fine. Down in Texas, they expect their kindergarteners to “revise drafts by adding details or sentences” (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Over in Maryland, kindergarteners “use descriptive words and other details to expand and improve student’s own writing” (Maryland Common Core Curriculum Frameworks).

Want to talk about sensory writing? Great! Kids in Virginia “identify sensory words” (Virginia Standards of Learning), while up in New Jersey, they “use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely” (New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards).

Will you be talking about the writing process to high schoolers? In Montana, teens “strengthen focus through various pre-writing activities, organizational structures and revision strategies” (Montana Essential Learning Expectations), while their peers out in Massachusetts “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience” (Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks).

You get the idea.

Now picture a teacher walking up to the school librarian and saying, “I’m looking for a book about___________________________,” or: “I need a book for a kid who ________________________.”

If that teacher were looking for your book, how would this conversation go?

Once you fill in the blanks, you’re on your way to connecting with teachers, librarians, and kids.

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Filed under Book Promotion, School Author Visits