I’ve had a few friends ask, “How do you get so many author visits?” While I have quite a few colleagues who do a far greater number of visits than I do, I did manage, sometime around my third year of doing school visits, to triple the number of events on my calendar, (from 12 to 36) and that number has stayed fairly consistent since then. I think this jump was mainly due to some key changes I made to my website.
When friends ask what happened, I reply, “Take a look at my website. It’s not designed to sell books; it’s designed to sell SCHOOL VISITS.” Naturally, I’m happy when my books sell well, but I can’t really compete with my publishers when it comes to selling my own books. I do what I can, of course, and school visits do help to sell books, which makes my publishers happy. But — while I haven’t done a word count — I’d venture to say there are more words on my website about my author visits than about my books.
Here’s a list of four things every author should have on his/her site, to maximize invitations. (Of course, it goes without saying, you DO have a website… right? If not, that’s your first order of business. Perhaps in a later post, I’ll address a few simple ways to get that done.)
Item #1: A page specifically dedicated to author visits/appearances
As the moderator of a website called AUTHOR SCHOOL VISITS BY STATE, I often hear from authors asking to be listed on the site. Generally, I’m happy to oblige. But it always surprises me when I hear from people who don’t even have anything on their site ABOUT their author visits. If you don’t mention author visits, or if the info is hard to find, trust me, folks will shop elsewhere for a visiting author, unless your and/or your books are very well-known.
On that page, you’ll want to include:
Item #2: Photos of yourself, preferably in action during a presentation.
I know it’s not always easy to acquire photos during school visits, since some schools are protective of students’ images. In that case, give your camera or cell phone to the coordinator or a helper and ask her to take photos at the rear of the assembly, so you’re shown from the front, but students faces are not in view. At the very least, snap a selfie or two standing near bulletin boards or signs around the school that were displayed to celebrate your upcoming visit. I’ve been charmed by hundreds of cleverly designed displays, and thousands of adorable works of art created by the students. Put your photos to work, doing double duty, not only to liven up your author visit page, but as publicity, when you post them to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Sorry, we don’t have the luxury of vanity, when it comes to photos of ourselves in action. If I thought too hard about the way my profile has changed in the past 20 years, I’d sink into despair. But I know I’m the only one who really cares about how unglamorous I look. Schools just want to know that I’m interesting. If you have a nice, studio-shot author photo, that’s fine; go ahead and include it somewhere. But most of us don’t look all that interesting in our author photos, even if the lighting is better. I’m convinced some of the least flattering shots are the ones that make us look the most entertaining.
Item #3: At description of what you DO during your visits.
Some authors list several options of topics they’re happy to cover, giving each type of presentation a catchy title, such as “Working in my PJs,” for a talk about how the author spends her time.
Item #4: Contact info! Easy-to-FIND contact info.
You’d be dismayed at how often this important item is buried so far down in the site that visitors give up and move on to another author.
Now that we’ve covered the Must-haves, we’re down to the “nice to have” (NTH) items…
NTH item #1: Testimonials from people who have hired you in the past.
Obviously, you won’t have testimonials right away. But as soon as you have a few visits under your belt, write to formerly-visited schools and ask if they’d mind sharing some feedback about your visit. If they have something nice to say, ask if they’d mind your including their comments on promotional materials. Of course, you could just make UP testimonials, but I know you won’t do that, and visitors to your site will assume your testimonials are honestly written by real and genuinely satisfied customers. It’s a powerful form of social proof that begins to build trust with potential customers.
NTH item #2: Your fees… or not.
Your mileage may vary. I prefer to list my fees on my website because it eliminates the possible embarrassment and confusion that might come of someone contacting me when they don’t realize that authors generally charge for their visits. If you’re not comfortable publicly listing your fees (and there are legitimate reasons you may not want to, such as leaving yourself more room to negotiate) then you’ll want to include a contact form or simple contact information and a sentence like, “Contact me for information about my fees.”
NTH item #3: A list of schools you have visited in the past
…even if you don’t have a testimonial from them. This is another powerful form of social proof. It can even have a “neighborly” effect on a visitor to your website, if they see that you have been to schools in your area. Their thoughts will be something like, “Hey, she must be good if Riverdale Elementary hired her!” Obviously, the longer your list, the more obvious it will be that you have experience.
NTH item #4: Advice for coordinators
…about how to plan a great author visit. Several times per year, I’m hired by folks who have never planned an author visit before. If you offer advice that guides them — perhaps even a 1-2-3 to-do list — they’ll feel much more comfortable choosing you as their first visiting author.
NTH item #5: Downloadable documents
These will be helpful for schools can use in advance of your visit. On my website, schools can download an editable poster about my upcoming visit (something to print and display around the school prior to the event), a sheet of bookmarks, and even teacher guides to some of my books. These include activities such as art projects students can do before I come, to get to know more about me and my books. (Well-prepared students who know you’re coming make for a MUCH better visit for everyone.)
I know this is a long to-do list, but if you work quickly to assemble the first four must-haves, you can take your time as you write and gather the last five.
Is there anything I’ve forgotten? What enticing items do you have on your site to encourage schools to hire you? Share in the comments below.