March 2012 Archives

School Visits, the Extended Version


After sharing my last post with others I got great feedback from other writers, so asked their permission to share their wisdom, too. Of course, as usually happens, what they say makes me think of other things, too.


Affordable Rates

Trudy Ludwig also recommends, "due to lack of public school funding, authors can make their school visit rates more affordable for schools by recommending schools in close physical proximity join forces in co-sponsoring an author visit. That way, the two neighboring schools can share the author's travel expenses and author visit fee."

Cost Cutting Ideas

"Sometimes I offer to stay with a teacher or administrator at their home to save them lodging costs," says Trudy. "Another way to help out schools with tight budgets is to ask if there are any school parents who would be interested in using their frequent flier miles to obtain an airline ticket for the author to save the school the airline expense. A public school in NYC actually approached me with this suggestion and I gladly accepted."

"I've written/had published 19 NF children's books and have struggled with getting school visit gigs in these tough economic times," Mary Meinking says. "I recently did a school visit at a neighboring town's elementary school (I live in rural Iowa), which I do for free since they're in my community. Anyhow, since I didn't charge them a fee, I sold books and kept the profit instead. I ended up selling 94 books, which actually made me more money than my usual $300/day fee. So it ended up being a win-win situation for everyone."

School Visits via Skype

Rachelle Burk shared Skype an Author Network created by author Mona Kerby and Library Media Specialist Sarah Chauncey. Under "Author Visits in Your Library or Classroom" there are directions for authors and directions for teachers and librarians. Authors can ask to be included in the list. There are also Illustrators on this list.


"I've just started doing school visits," Helen Landalf told me, "but one thing I've come across recently is schools canceling a scheduled visit. I'm not charging for my visits right now, since I'm a newbie, but when I do start charging, I'll have to think about adding a cancellation fee to my contract."

This reminded me of something I've had happen--as the teacher turned the class over to me, she said, "They don't know why you're here." Aaugghh! She hadn't even told the students they were having a special speaker. At least ask the teacher or librarian to introduce you. But better yet is if the kids are anticipating your visit! It's worth giving one of your books or magazine stories/articles to the class ahead of time and asking the teacher to read from it. I've also sent printable-ready "about the author" flyers to help teachers/librarians have something tangible to share with their students. One school's technology department had the student's visit my website. That teacher used facts in my bio for the kids to figure out how old I was. So include something in your letter or contract about the school preparing the students for your visit. -Sue


Still worried about what to do for school visits? Or have some issues or concerns? Deb Lund, author, teacher and coach, will be speaking about school visits at the Oregon SCBWI conference this May. Plus Deb is offering a free webinar in May to those who subscribe to her blog. Meanwhile on her blog there's a chance to win a school visit coaching give-away by Deb. Drawing is April 1st!


Author Kim Norman runs a site called Author School Visits by State. You can ask to be included by emailing Kim; see the directions on the site itself.

About the authors/illustrators interviewed in this piece:

Rachelle Burk is a magazine and picture book author and a children's entertainer. Read more on her blog.

Helen Landalf's new YA novel, Flyaway, is recently out from Houghton Mifflin. It sounds fascinating! Read what else Helen has done here.

Trudy Ludwig is an award-winning author who specializes in writing children's books that explore the colorful and sometimes confusing world of children's social interactions. Read more about her and her books on her website.

Deb Lund is a picture book author and a writing coach. See all she does on her website.

Mary Meinking is an author/illustrator who does nonfiction books and magazine pieces. Check out her work on her website.

Kim Norman writes fiction and nonfiction for children. See what she has coming out this year here. Plus Kim has a blog about school visits and writing.

Thanks to Clarita on for the above image.

To read comments or add your own, click on the title above.

One day I work on

One day I work on a picture book, another day I write an 8-12 year old book, then another day yet, I'm writing an adult book—sometimes co-authored and sometimes on my own. I like being diverse and wearing different hats—but I freely admit it goes with my personality and my temperament. It's not for everyone.
Terry Whalen

Going Back to School

Have you ever thought of going back to school? To elementary, middle or high school that is? Many authors and/or illustrators supplement their income by doing school visits. But money definitely should not be your only reason to go back to school.

Why else do school visits?
You like to share with young people
A desire to learn and grow
To be encouraged - there really are kids out there who read!
Connection with your audience
To gain speaking experience
For inspiration and ideas

How do you get connected with a school?
If you have students (your own children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews) in school, volunteer to talk to their class about your art and/or writing.
If you live near a school, talk to the librarian, a teacher or a PTA member, about the school and ask if they have any special programs to encourage creativity. They may have, or participate in, the following and be looking for help:
- - - Young author programs
- - - PTA/PTSA Reflections
- - - Art programs
- - - Reading tutors
- - - Career days
If you're visiting or live in your hometown, call or write to the schools you attended and ask if they'd like to have a "homegrown" guest speaker.
Talk to librarians and bookstore owners; they may know of schools looking for authors and illustrators.
Check with local writing organizations; many have speaker lists they provide to the community as a service.
Ask friends, business associates, and acquaintances for information about their children's schools. Tell them why you're interested.
Look on the internet for information about local schools.

How do you plan a program?
Start by asking yourself questions, such as:
- - - "What is one thing that excites me about creating?"
- - - "How did I get started down the creative path?"
- - - "What was hardest for me to learn, but when I got it, it was like the proverbial light bulb coming on?"
- - - "Where do I get my ideas?"
- - - "Is there something I do that is unusual or few others are doing?"
Plan and prepare for your talk...
- - - Pick an area or two from your starter questions--something you feel strongly about--and outline what you could tell a class.
- - - Consider whether you need to expand your knowledge with research or narrow your topic more.
- - - Think of examples and personal anecdotes to illustrate what you are talking about.
- - - Adjust outline accordingly.
Think about activities you can do with the students that would relate to your subject:
- - - question and answers
- - - brainstorming
- - - writing or illustrating exercises
- - - sharing illustrating or writing exercises
- - - reading a section of a story
- - - having students act out a story
Think about visuals - what can you show during a talk?
- - - Resources/tools you use when working
- - - Pictures
..........Content: personal pictures (you as a child or your studio/office now); stages of book production or illustration; information you researched doing your book
..........Format: slides; overheads; videos (often classrooms have televisions);PowerPoint presentations (you may need to provide your own computer and hookup to a television)
- - - Artifacts
..........Objects that inspire you
..........Objects used in a story

Practice. Planning done, you'll obviously want to practice (outloud!) what you'll say, how you'll say it and how you'll use your visuals to best effect.

Don't over commit. Agree to speak to one class and see how it goes. You may decide you need to make changes in your program before trying it out again. Learn from each time you speak. Feel free to ask teachers for feedback and recommendations on what you can improve.

How to keep control in a classroom
Require a teacher to stay
Be prepared for smart remarks, students talking while you are talking, items being dropped, and other interruptions. Here are a few ways that work for me:
- - - Saying an obvious joke myself, rather than leaving it to the class "show-off" to spout off, seems to keep the student's attention.
- - - Stop talking and wait for the room to quiet.
- - - Ask someone talking out of turn to answer a question.
- - - Move close to students talking.
In elementary classrooms, student's names are often on their desks, making it easy for you to call on students by name.

Be prepared with answers for questions students often ask. Typical questions include:
- - - How much money do you make?
- - - How long did it take you to write or draw the pictures for your book?
- - - How old are you? (It's not rude--adults ask them this question all the time!)
- - - Why do you illustrate or write for kids?

How much should you charge?
Until you have a bit of experience, you may want to charge nothing, or consider an exchange such as "may I observe your students for an hour if I speak to them for an hour?"
Speaking fees vary based on a number of factors:
- - - How well known you or your books are
- - - Your speaking experience and how well audiences receive you
- - - What schools in your area typically pay
- - - Length of presentation (Is it an hour presentation or will you be presenting all day? If presenting all day, how many times will you speak?)
- - - What other authors/illustrators charge in your area
- - - Travel requirements
- - - Audience (one classroom or the whole school in an assembly)
Don't forget prep time when thinking of fees. A day spent in a school can require a day or more of preparation.
If possible, have schools pay for supplies used in classrooms (i.e. photocopies of a handout, drawing paper) or include the expense of these items in your fees.
If you need to travel for a visit, you may want to get reimbursed for mileage, have airfare, hotel and food costs covered, or charge more.
Be sure to specify how many presentations you'll do per day and how long each presentation will be when discussing your fee.

Should you have a contract or written agreement with the school?
YES! This will cut down on painful misunderstandings.
- - - Even if you are volunteering, a letter confirming your agreement which includes what you'll be doing, length of program(s), date(s), time(s), etc. is a necessity for a successful visit.
- - - If you are getting paid, some schools provide a written contract that each signs. Others won't, so be prepared to provide a contract that spells out ALL details. You can get sample contracts online, from books or from other experienced speakers.

What if you feel you've failed?
Consider these thoughts.
Was your audience the right age group for what you wanted to teach/share? An older or younger group may be a match when this one wasn't.
Does your talk need more pep? Or do you need more audience participation? Take what worked well and try it again. Change what didn't work.
Perhaps you merely need more practice. Try it out on someone you trust. Volunteer again.
Consider providing a feedback form to the teacher so you'll know what someone else thought of "what you did."
Remember, kids are sometimes "too cool" to show they're enjoying themselves. One author reported speaking to a class of seventh graders who were slumped in their seats throughout her talk. She thought they were bored stiff. Fortunately, when the class was dismissed, she overheard one student say to another, "That was really interesting."

Going back to school as a guest speaker is challenging and is not for everyone. But many who have given it a try have found joy in communicating what they know with the next generation. Plus it is a way to augment your writing income.

School Visits Experts is a great resource by author Alexis O'Neill. She also writes articles for the SCBWI Bulletin on the topic.

I think the most important

I think the most important thing to keep in mind about all these "first tries" is that each taught us something about writing—yes, even the ones we never finished—and without all those baby steps, we wouldn't be the authors we are today.
Tera Lynn Childs

Another time and now - Blessing's Bead

Blessingsbead.jpgIsn't this a beautiful cover?

Blessing's Bead (Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) by Debby Dahl Edwardson is an interesting mix of historical and contemporary. I'll be honest I felt the historical section was a bit slow at first--maybe because there were so many characters--but once I got going it was good. The contemporary section pulled me in right away. I loved how the cultural information was done. It was great how the two stories meet up.

Here's a brief look at each section:
It's 1917 and Nutaaq watches her sister Aaluk and the young Siberian wearing the string of cobalt beads. Nutaaq does well in a race and gets one bead. Her sister goes off to marry the Siberian, then illness strikes the village and very few are left.

70 years later, Blessing and her little brother are sent away from their mother to live with their grandmother. Blessing feels like an outsider with the Inupiaq, but then begins to learn about her family's history. She finds a blue bead, which she treasures without quite knowing why.

Debby writes with authenticity about her adopted culture in Barrow, Alaska. Read more here and the kudos for Blessing's Bead. Debby's site has many extras, so you may want to spend some time there. I did and now I'm putting her other novel and her picture book on my TBR pile!

Another place - Island's End

Island's End.jpgIsland's End (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011) by Padma Venkatraman is modern day fiction that almost feels historical. But that's because it is inspired by people who live as their ancestors did on the Andaman Islands near India. It's a great story that you won't want to miss.

Here's a brief intro:
Living on an isolated island, Uido is woken by a dream that tells her to go to the beach where she and her little brother witness strangers arriving by boat. The siblings chase them off, but the strangers keep coming back and tempt the tribe with things not available on their island. Meanwhile Uido is chosen to be trained as the next oko-jumu (spiritual leader). When her brother is struck with a disease brought by the strangers and is dying, Uido must decide what to do for her brother and her tribe.

This is the second book by Padma. Read more about her here.

Now after reading about her award winning first book, I need to get a hold of it, too! Check out the website for Climbing the Stairs.climbing.jpg

It's amazing what happens when

It's amazing what happens when you understand your MC's biggest weakness, pieces of the rest of the story fall into place.
Susan Taylor Brown

The trouble with's hard

The trouble with's hard to stop. Just about every book contains something someone objects to.
Studs Terkel