Laurie Lawlor: Beginning to Make the Author Connection

Beginning to Make the Author Connection










Questions Answered

Why?

Why do authors make visits to schools and libraries?
Why are they invited?

Who?

Where can teachers and resource center directors find authors?
What are some recommended strategies to be assured of good speakers?

When?

Practical scheduling considerations: what are they in making arrangements for an author visit?

How Much?

What is the range of honorariums schools/libraries can expect to pay for author visits?
What additional author expenses can schools/libraries be expected to pick up?

What?

What kinds of brainstorming should take place among teachers prior to the author's visit? Why is it important that authors know why they have been invited?

Where to find funding?

What are some possible sources for funding an author visit? What are some strategies to consider?

How are arrangements made?

What is a practical checklist to facilitate planning prior to the visit?


Introduction

Children need to know that authors are people -- black, white, male, female, fat, skinny, old, young, tall, and short. By meeting an author in person, they make the connection that the book they enjoyed reading was written by a real person. A visit by an author to a school also helps children make a larger connection. They realize that every book has an author. If empowered to think of themselves as authors, children can make the next leap. They are part of an extended community of writers all over the world.
With enough time to ask questions and share ideas with an author, children gain a first-hand appreciation of everything from frustration to satisfaction. Children discover there's nothing magical about writing books -- something they probably already guessed. It's work. It's craft. It's a willingness to take risks and follow the imagination. The goal of an author's visit should not be to convince every child in the room that he or she should grow up and become a professional published writer. As children's author Betty Miles explained during a symposium sponsored by The Author's Guild, "I would like every kid to feel that reading is a little more fun ... (that they might think) 'because I have met an author, and I could write a little better than I do now., and working at that is really possible.'"
The experience of meeting an author should be joyful. It should make children excited about their own writing and reading. An author who really cares about writing generates enthusiasm that has lasting impact in a school long after the last good-by.

Why?

The Author's perspective:
Authors use school visits as a way to let more people -- young and old -- know about their books. A comment from a school librarian that is music to an author's ears is: "Every since your visit, I can't keep you books in the library. Someone is always checking them out."
Momentum from national reading initiatives and the whole language movement has encouraged more schools to invite authors into the classroom. One elementary teacher in Geneva, Illinois told me "I'm so glad you came. Everything you said backed up all that we've been trying to do in my class this year to help make the children feel like real authors."
Teachers often admit that one area they find difficult to transmit effectively is the importance of revising. Having an author describe the revision process he or she goes through sometimes comes as a big surprise to kids. Seeing an author's series of marked-up manuscripts helps children understand that the same process they face in improving their stories is not so different from the editing that every published author experiences.
Teachers often make great pains to introduce "star" writing pupils to visiting authors. Sharing their work can be a very rewarding experience. However, there are also students, who, sometimes unknown to the teacher, look upon an author's visit as a chance to reveal their hidden writing talents. "I am glad you came to my school," a third-grader from Iowa confided to me in a letter, "because I like to write stories too. But I don't show them. Maybe I will try."

Who?

Sources and strategies to locate children's authors:

  • Society of Children's Book Writers Membership Booklet, PO Box 296, Mar Vista Station, Los Angeles, CA 90066.

  • Writing or calling the publisher of a favorite author's book is another place to start. At the publishing company, a publicist or promotion director's job is to make available updated information on authors and books in the form of "bio" brochures and catalogs.

  • Some publishers actually handle all author visit arrangements, including honorarium negotiations. It's a good idea to ask the promotion director about his/her procedure. In general, publishers are helpful in forwarding your inquiry directly to the author.

  • Attending author evens at libraries or at professional conferences is a good way to view an author in a speaking role. But keep in mind that a dining room of six-hundred adults is different from a mediate center filled with fifteen children. Interpersonal skills with students are important.

  • Word of mouth from librarians and other teachers is probably the best method to find out about which authors have had successful visits in schools. You might want to seek more than one recommendation.

  • Don't forget to inquire from authors you contact about names of fellow writers who enjoy going into schools.

  • Contacting professional organizations: American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English. These groups may be willing to recommend children's authors they have had as speakers, in the past.

  • Local and state organizations: Search out local cultural affairs committees, state humanities organizations affiliated with the National Council for the Humanities, arts councils, and so forth.

  • Keep your eyes open in local newspapers for book reviews or interviews about authors in your area. Making a local connection is helpful in reducing the expenses involved in an author visit.

  • Consider bringing in an author that represents a diverse culture -- a culture that is not a majority in your school population.
    Illustrators are also an interesting approach. To contact these individuals, the suggestions above are equally helpful.

When?

Because school visits take away from time devoted to writing, many children's authors limit the number of appearances they will make during a school year. It is not uncommon for authors' calendars to be quite filled twelve to eighteen months before the coming school year. It is unreasonable to assume that you will be able to locate a willing author one week before Children's Book Week. Contact authors as soon as a set of dates has been identified.

Due to the amount of planning, pre-writing, and reading that should go on prior to the author's visit, you probably won't want to schedule an author two weeks into the school year. Also consider your audience. Having an author visit the day after spring break or your winter holiday may not be extremely productive. don't select a time when you now the children will be extremely preoccupied with vacations, state-wide testing, or the school talent show production.
When you contact an author, be prepared to offer several possible dates and see what you can work out that seems comfortable for both of you. Try to be flexible.
Another word of caution: do not over schedule the author you have invited under the false assumption that you will be "getting your money's worth." You won't. If you plan for seven talks in the course of one school day you are guaranteed one limp author at the beginning of the afternoon (Note from web keeper: Many authors and illustrators include three to four presentations as part of one day's visit. Additional presentations can sometimes be negotiated for an additional fee -- such as an evening PTA presentation). Schedule the class visits the way you would want to set up a teaching schedule. Authors need time to sit down, put their feet up, drink a cup of coffee, and remain silent -- just like any other human being. If you put your author through the wringer, you can be guaranteed that that particular author will never come back. Writers know where they will be treated well and where they will be "worked."
If autographing is to be part of the day, be sure to allow enough time. For many children, it is a very personal experience to be one-on-one with the author. It does not work well to schedule book signing in between individual class visits when everything is very rushed. Invariably, the signing takes longer than expected. And when it does, it cuts into the time and energy that should be devoted to he next group of children the author is supposed to visit.

How Much?

Fees depend on the number of books an author has written and how well known an author is. Honorariums range anywhere from $250.00 a day up to $2,000 a day. Some authors will visit on the basis of a half-day rate. Others will not. If an author has to travel out of town, the entire day (or more) has been devoted to a particular visit. Under these circumstances, an author probably will not negotiate a half-day rate.
There are schools and Young Author Day events that many writers will visit on a sliding scale basis - -depending on the situation.
When calculating the entire cost of an author's visit, don't forget to include all expenses: travel (plane fare or auto mileage) and other dining and lodging accommodations. Authors appreciate having their honorariums ready the day they visit. Like all working people, they do not appreciate hearing that their "check will be in the mail." Expenses reported should also be paid promptly -- preferably with a thank-you letter.

What?

In an informal survey of Chicago area authors, the topic that received the strongest reaction had to do with the quality of preparation of the children. Speaking before an audience that has read an author's books makes all the difference in the world. "Meeting with blank stares when you mention the titles of your work is about the most awful experience I can think of," one children's author confided.
To facilitate this process even further, teachers need to brainstorm with their colleagues long before the author visit in order to think about expectations and rationale

Where to Find Funding?

Schools often fund author visits through PTA grants or by applying for special district-wide arts funding. Two or three schools may share expenses of having an author visit. Schools and the local library often work in partnership with a local business, which has donated "good will" money, to make a combination school visits and community-wide lecture and book sale part of the school visit day. Many state arts councils and humanities councils offer matching grants for visiting writers. The cost of having a visiting author can be offset in part through the sale of books. Books can normally be obtained from the publisher at a 40% reduction of list price. Those books ordered in conjunction with an author visit may be returned (you pay the postage). The profit from selling the books at list price will help defray costs of the author visit.
There are other "non-financial" offerings that can make all the difference in convincing an author to return to a particular school. Common (and uncommon) courtesies are often cherished by road-weary writers. Lovely home-made cooking at a special luncheon with teachers, in the principal's office; a handmade book box, flowers, a delightful tour guide - -all go far beyond the honorarium.

How are arrangements made? A Planning Checklist

Careful planning is essential for a worthwhile author visit. Plan on contacting and keeping in touch not only with the author, but with the publicist from the publisher as well. Make sure everything is written down and agreed upon prior to the author's arrival.

Important topics to discuss prior to the author's visit:

  • How many presentations are you willing to make in one day?

  • What size groups do you prefer?

  • Do you have a grade or age preference?

  • Do you have any special equipment needs during your talk? (AV equipment: overhead projectors, slide projectors, and so forth)

  • How many breaks and of what length do you require between requirements?

  • Expenses

  • Do you charge for mileage? (Standard business mileage?)

  • What about other travel expenses: parking, tolls, the cost of renting a car.

  • If you are flying or taking a train, do you prefer that the ticket be purchased by the school and sent to you or do you want to handle yourself and be reimbursed?

  • Ca you send us your travel plan in writing?

  • Do you prefer to stay in a private home or a hotel/motel?

  • How do you prefer to have the accommodations paid for? (In advance or billed directly to the school?)

  • Do you prefer to have other dining expenses paid during the course of your visit?

  • If you are going to be the "guest of honor" during a lunch or dinner, do you have any special dietary requirements we should be aware of?

  • If you are visiting locally, do you prefer to drive yourself to a series of schools during the course of a day's visit, or would you prefer to have a volunteer escort you during the day?

  • Promotion Material and Books

  • Can you supply a current list of your published work that is in print and available?

  • What is the name of the publicist at your publisher? Is a discount offered for the purchase of books for autographing? (Most publishers offer a 40% discount and send books on a fully refundable basis.)

  • How can we secure photographs or other publicity material (brochures, resumes, book covers, bookmarks) prior to your visit?

  • How many weeks should we allow for the publisher's publicity department to send material?

  • How much time should we allow for ordering of books?

  • How much time do you prefer to devote to autographing books?

  • Will you autograph slips of paper children bring to you? If not how do you wish this to be handled to make your preference known?

  • Do you allow videotaping? If so, do you have permission statement you will sign specifying under what conditions the videotape will be used?

  • Will you do critiquing of a class's writing? What kind of financial compensation do you require?

  • Do you prefer to pick up your honorarium check the day of your visit?

  • What is your social security or Federal Identification number?

  • Can you send us a contract to confirm your visit?

©2002 Laurie Lawlor. All Rights Reserved.