When you visit your school library, look to see if there are clues that point to former author visits. Front and center at the Winchester Trail School library (3-5 building) is a wall that is signed by every author since 2004.
How Are Authors Chosen?
Ask your librarian how they choose authors and how they plan to make the visit successful for the school, the author, and themselves. Often, school librarians ask each other through social media if other librarians in their area have had a certain author for a visit or if another school/district would like to share an author and expenses. An author's reputation with school visits, his/her book titles and how they fit into the curriculum, as well as travel considerations are all factors in choosing authors.
At Winchester Trail, librarian Janie Kantner has an interesting student population to consider, also: Third graders and fifth graders can be light years apart in reading and interest levels. This year an author who writes graphic novels is under consideration because his books are accessible to the youngest demographic and still "cool" enough for fifth graders.
1. Librarians become super stars, too. With the right PR ahead of an author's visit, kids become enamored with the author and by association, the librarian.
2. You may be surprised to learn that the school librarian's roll and visibility are heightened, too, with a successful author visit. Superintendents, school board members and local media are often invited by savvy librarians who need to build capacity and credibility in order to have funds for future author visits.
3. Funds come from many sources: book fairs, grants, and the book budget which keeps shrinking as book prices rise. As an author, think about how you can keep costs affordable. Could you stay at the librarian's house instead of a hotel the night before? Would a Skype visit be just as impactful? What value-added piece could you add without changing your price structure?
4. A vist begins long before an author sets foot in the door. A librarian usually buys multiple copies of the author's books for the collection, reads them all, and book talks them through class visits. They create lesson plans that harried teachers swamped with tests and mandates can use before/after the author visit. Simple evaluation tools and feedback forms may be used to see if the visit was successful. Data talks these days. The school librarian becomes a "jobber" and secures books for students to buy and sends letters home to parents regarding the book buying procedure.
If you have book flyers already created, evaluation sheets made up, a teachers' guide of your books, you have made the librarian's job much more efficient. Author Miranda Paul has great tools on her web site already in place. Check them out here to get ideas of your own. It is no coincidence that Miranda visited the Canal Winchester K-2 building last year. Miranda was traveling to an Ohio SCBWI convention, stayed at my house overnight, reduced her fee for a half day visit and sold a ton of books. (I was Miranda's escort to the SCBWI conference so this was a special circumstance, but Miranda's flexibility made this event possible.)
5. With a great visit, the author's impact is felt long after. As I shelved books this past Friday, many books by Blue Balliet were on the cart, They fly off the book shelves still because Blue was our featured author last year. Today when checking the library catalog, most of multiple copies of her many titles were on hold or checked out. ( I counted 36 books by Blue Balliet in the collection.) She did large group and small class visits. Students were inspired to write plays from her MG works, discover the writing process from a published author's point of view, and create word mobiles of their favorite words from her books.
1. Ask your local school librarian if you can visit and help out during the next author visit. You could organize the stacks of books to be signed, help set up an author luncheon, ferry the author to and from the school if the librarian is busy.
2. Take your writer's notebook and shadow the author if possible, but be discreet. Note how the author introduces him/herself, how they interact with students and adults, how they personalize books, what added value they bring to the visit.
3. Even if you are pre-published, you can interact with students in small ways now. Offer to read at story times periodically at your school library, help out during book fairs, suggest sharing how you conduct research as a "real" writer when the librarian conducts research units with teachers. Make sure to have permission from administrators and teachers before you plunge in. I've been lucky enough to interact in all these ways the past two years at Winchester Trail.
4. If you have no real connection or feel shy about approaching a school librarian, maybe one of your published author friends will let you tag along on a visit. The more you can connect with schools, school librarians, and students before you conduct your own author visits, the more confident you'll feel when you make your debut. My very first pre-pub writer visit was with a middle school student writers' club after school. They treated me as a true author and even gave me roses. You never know what is possible unless you put yourself out there and create opportunities that benefit students, teachers and you!
If you have questions on visiting your school library that I haven't answered in Part 1 (here) or Part 2 of this series, leave them in the comments and I'll answer them or do another post.