Author visits to schools can be inspiring, instructional, and a powerful way to engage students. Or they can be expensive boondoggles with fidgety kids and a frustrated speaker. There are tricks for getting it right. Below, a guide. But, first, why schedule author visits to schools?
I’ll share my own personal experience. I grew up undocumented and poor. I loved books, but in my early days as a book nerd, I had no idea that “author” was a job. I was in the third grade when, somehow, my teacher brought in the cartoonist who created the old character Heathcliff. I was electrified. To see this man in the flesh, talking about how he got the idea for the character, and how he came up with stories for him… it was transformative. I can’t say he alone put my on my path to being a writer (if I’d followed his example completely, I’d have been a cartoonist), but I can say that that afternoon greatly expanded my idea of what was possible. A few years later I would write in my diary, “Most of all, I want to be a writer.” It would take some doing to figure out how to do that, but it all began with seeing it as a possibility.
But, you may me thinking, not all children want to be writers. True enough. But when you’re looking to inspire students to try hard, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more resilient bunch than authors. Becoming a published author often involves years, if not decades, of honing craft and coping with rejection. I like to tell students I meet on my author visits that when I talk about what it took to achieve my dreams, they should insert their own. Everyone wants to achieve different things. But everyone benefits from interaction with someone who has worked hard to make her dream come true.
A guide for author visits to schools:
- Author visits to schools take planning. If you’re here, you’re doing just that. Congratulations! A few questions to ask yourself:
- What grade levels do you want to take part in your author school visit?
- What configuration (classroom visit, assembly, small meetings with creative writing classes? Most schools land on some combination of those three, but if you have another idea, definitely feel free to ask your preferred author if they’d be game… we often are!
- How many kids would you like to have participate? Authors often have a cap, to make sure everyone has an optimal experience. For very large groups or a wide variety of grades, you might consider spreading the visit over more than one day.
- What is your budget? This is important. If your answer is “zero,” that should not be a deterrent to working to get author school visits. But you should know you’ll be more likely to find success with beginning authors, or those who are local to you.
- More on budget: even if money is tight, there is often a way to find the funding to bring in an author your kids will love. Schools often partner with parent/teacher organizations, approach local businesses to help fund the visit, or run a fundraiser. Think creatively! The benefits to the kids will be worth it. Put together a proposal, start with the administration, and get them on board with your plan to secure the funding. Average school visit honoraria can vary from author to author, so do some digging. Note that many authors will have in their contract a provision that you’ll agree to order a certain number of their books prior to the visit – this is for good reason! Kids who have read the books get far more from school visits. See below for more on that.
- Get creative when finding an author. We all are prone to checking the best-seller lists when picking books to teach, books for our book clubs, and authors for our author visits to schools. While bestselling authors can be amazing, there are a ton of others who will also wow your students. Visit for local independent bookstore… they’ll very often know who is local. Do a bit of Googling. Do you have a particular topic you’d like to see covered? For example, people often find their way to my site when they Google “immigration author” or something along those lines. Many of my author school visits are booked because educators want to put a human face on the topic of immigration.
Now that you’ve done the planning, picked an author, and secured your funding, here are tips for making the visit as smooth as possible:
- As I mentioned above, pre-order enough books for every child who will be at the presentation to have one. For young adult readers, I recommend the kids have the books in hand at least three months in advance. Pre-orders can be covered by the school (your grant, PTA funding, or fundraising proceeds), or you can send order forms home. Note that this method sometimes can make kids feel excluded, so come up with a plan for how those kids whose families can’t or won’t purchase a book can still have access to it.
- Schedule group activities so that kids can hash out their thoughts and questions ahead of the visit. Read-alouds, extra-credit opportunities, mock interviews with the book’s characters… all these and more are great ways to get students interested in reading the book.
- Work the themes or topics of at least one of the author’s books into lessons/art/activities in the month leading up to the visit. Some ideas include having children conceive and create a mural based on the book’s story, essays about how the book made kids feel, alternative ending exercises, character dossiers… the sky is the limit. The more the students can engage their imagination with the story and its characters, the more excited they’ll be come Visit Day.
- At least three months in advance, be sure you’ve secured lodging or made any travel arrangement necessary. (I bake my travel expenses into my presentation quotes, but every author is different).
- At least a month in advance, provide a detailed schedule to your author. Include everything! Sometimes schools schedule impromptu lunches or other “meet-and-greet” style events during times authors might have had an expectation of privacy… This is lovely, but be sure to check with your author ahead of time. Many authors are introverts, and being “on” during school visits can be a lot, so be mindful of that as you build out your schedule for the day. Leave time for creature comforts or a bit of downtime. Also be mindful of dietary restrictions… not every author can eat pizza.
That’s it! A quick guide to successfully integrating author visits to schools into your students’ lives.
I reserve a select number of dates for visits. Let us know about what you’re planning and we’ll let you know about availability and fees. Email firstname.lastname@example.org