Four website MUST-HAVES to win more author visit invitations

MustHaves_150I’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.

Author Kim Norman, jaws unflatteringly in motion, at a crowded library in northern Virginia.
Author Kim Norman, jaws unflatteringly in motion, at a crowded library in northern Virginia.

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

This is a poster that coordinators can download from my site, edit to fill in the date, and display around the school before I come.
This is a poster that coordinators can download from my site, edit to fill in the date, and display around the school before I come.

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.

Comments

  1. Kathy says

    Love this! I’ve been doing school visits forever–but wished they’d be more consistent. I just learned two new helpful ideas!

    Kim–you are the best. I have attended many a workshop online and off for School Visits but you’ve truly nailed it. More! more!

    Thank you 🙂

    • bigbosslady says

      Oh my goodness, Kathy, what a kind thing to say! Thank you!! Well if you have anything else you’d like me to cover — and that you’d like to comment on, as well — just pop in with a suggestion. I’ve got a lot list of blog post ideas, but one ‘o these days, I’m going to run out!

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing so much good information, both in this post and others. You are a wonderful resource for authors who visit schools — as well as schools who invite authors!

  3. says

    Kim, OH MY STARS!! This is wonderful information. This is exactly what I need. You are a godsend to me. I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn!! I can’t believe you would just give us this amazing info to help us all. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I know this will help to give me a jumpstart. I am so behind. I have a story that has really slowed me down in promoting my book. I would SO LOVE to present and read to children. That is a real heart’s desire of mine. I am so excited to download this information with all the goodies and start laying out a plan. Even though the school year is nearing it’s end, I know I can get in some experience just reading to some daycares in my area for fun and get some pics and feedback that way. Such great help…as you can see I could go on an on. WOW! I could weep. This is the kind of help I have been praying for!
    Be Blessed,
    K.J. Massey, Author
    Everyday Things with Morgan

    • bigbosslady says

      Hi Kelly,
      Oh my, you have made my day! (And it’s only just started!) I’m pleased you are finding the blog to be so helpful. This is a great time to get your feet wet with the readings. I can tell you’re a bundle of energy and the kids will LOVE you! Pop in anytime to let everyone know how it’s going!

  4. says

    Dear Kim,

    Thank you for this very useful essay. I found it helpful. Best wishes!

    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the poetry books Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011), the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990), the award-winning book for kids about bullying How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006), and the middle-grade book for kids The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).
    My websites are http://www.janetruthheller.com/ and http://wattpad.com/JanetRuthHeller

  5. Carrie Talbott says

    Very helpful, Kim. My book was published in November, and I’ve done a few of readings at schools, but I hadn’t thought about putting that info on my about-to-launch website. I do not enjoy self-promotion, but having free credits to be able to list… sweet. Gracias!

    Carrie Talbott
    Pete and His Gigantic Feet

    • bigbosslady says

      Congratulations on the new book, Carrie! Have fun making up the new site. I know it can be overwhelming. Even after all this time, with a variety of sites and blogs under my belt, I still resorted to paying a clever lad to redo my primary http://www.kimnormanbooks.com website. Only so many hours in the day, right?

  6. says

    Encouraging, resourceful and common sense to the core, Kim. Exactly what busy writers are hungry for. Now if you could simply do our author visits for us, that would be a massive bonus. 😛
    Cheers!

    • bigbosslady says

      Ha! Well, if I can also have the fee, I’d be happy to comply, Shelley. Or maybe I could work out a commission deal. LOL!

  7. says

    Thank you for sharing. I particularly like the section on downloads. I do a number of events at bookstores, museums, etc. and your suggestions will come in handy with these venues as well.

    • bigbosslady says

      Thanks, Beryl. Glad you found it helpful! I realized, belatedly, that I left off one other “nice to have item,” — a calendar of your upcoming events. Another great form of social proof, to show you’re in demand.

  8. says

    This is great, Kim. Of course, I wouldn’t have expected anything else from you! ; )

    I’ll be sharing this with clients, teachers, and authors…

  9. says

    Can’t wait to put this checklist to work (one day). Very useable post! Looking forward to digging into the rest of your blog.