You can build a jazzy website, pay for expensive brochures, spend tons of time networking online and in person, but nothing will ever be as powerful as one librarian telling another librarian about how great your author visit was. Marketers know: word-of-mouth is king.
But librarians and reading specialists are busy people. The minute you’re out the door, your host is onto the next item on her looooong to-do list. So how can you keep yourself in her mind long enough to make it into a conversation with her colleagues? Here are three things you can do near the end of your visit, or afterwards, that may impress her enough to recommend you.
1. Surprise her with an unexpected gift.
I always donate a few books to the school library, but if I have an extra, I sometimes offer one to my host, as well. Something just for her, to keep or give to a young loved one. Like a surprise free chocolate offered at the end of a restaurant meal, the sweetness of the surprise may work its way into a future conversation.
2. As I mentioned in a previous post:
…Align with other authors who’ll talk you up and leave behind your brochure at the end of a visit. I do this for several of my friends, and they do the same for me. My host always seems glad to learn about authors she might not have considered, otherwise. It’s likely those brochures will go into a folder she’ll pull out next year, ready to jog her memory. Leave more than one, and she may share extras with colleagues. That’s one reason I spend a bit more for my brochures. They’re full-color, larger than usual (9″x16″ flat; folded down to 4″x9″ with four panels on each side), glossy and just plain “perty!” It’s easy to toss a brochure that looks like flier for a local car wash. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I honestly believe book-loving librarians are less likely to discard something so substantial. If my author friends share my brochure with their hosts and only a handful of people hold onto one of those 500 brochures I printed, it’s likely at least one of them will hire me – which means I’ll have recouped the printing cost. (Clicking the image on the left will take you to the author visits page of my own website, where you can download a copy of the brochure. You’ll need to scroll down a bit to see the brochure. My website is being overhauled, but I think this link will continue to work in the future. If not, visit www.kimnormanbooks.com and find the author visit page.)
My two favorite online printers are Gotprint and Vistaprint. I think I remember calling Gotprint once over a minor technical issue and being pleasantly surprised to hear an actual human answer the phone; not only that, he was an actual human right there in the shop, able to pull up my job and resolve my problem on the spot. Likewise, I’ve had good customer service from Vistaprint. I once received an order of faulty business cards; called to let them know, (this time, I’m pretty sure the operator was overseas, but friendly and efficient) and they shipped out a new order immediately, no questions asked.
Oh, and I also leave behind a couple of my OWN brochures, as well as my friends’, so my host will have something tangible she can share with colleagues.
Don’t get me wrong about brochure quality: ANY brochure is better than no brochure. Because I was a graphic artist in a former life, fancy brochure layouts are easy for me. I know they’re not for everyone, so don’t be embarrassed about a nice simple brochure you make up in Microsoft Word and print up on your own printer. I really believe in the power of a physical object to leave behind. And preferably something larger than a business card. I know VistaPrint offers great deals on business cards, but personally, I tend to lose them when someone hands me one at a conference. Brochures… not so much, even if they’re simple black-and-white affairs printed on plain bond paper.
3. Send a thank you note.
I’ve discussed this with other authors, and we seemed split about 50/50 among those who do and do not send post-visit thank yous. Women, probably more obedient to “what mama taught,” appear to have a stronger habit of sending notes. Men seem to get as many visit invitations as women, regardless of whether they send notes, so obviously it’s not a deal-breaker, in terms of later word-of-mouth recommendations.
For that matter, when you consider the proportion of male authors and illustrators in the kid lit biz compared to women – many more women in the industry – men probably get a disproportionate number of school visits. This is partly because educators like to demonstrate to boys that books should be an important part of their lives and not just a “girl thing.” Among schools fortunate enough to manage a yearly author event, some librarians and reading specialists have told me they like to follow an every-other-year pattern: invite a man one year, then a woman, then a man, etc.
Not much female authors can do about a schedule like that, even if women’s names appear on more than 50% of modern children’s books. It IS important for boys to look up to male role models. But one thing we can all do is make sure that we’re remembered fondly after we leave. You never know what may help lead to a glowing reference among colleagues. It’s likely the second you leave, your busy host is on to the next thing, and your visit is quickly forgotten. If a thank you note, read in a rare moment of leisure, jogs her memory, it can’t hurt, right? And besides, your mama will be proud of you.
I confess, when school visit season is upon me, I sometimes let my mama down, and those thank you notes never get written. (Or sometimes, they never get SENT. Last week, I found a thank you note in an old folder from an event six months ago that I wrote but clearly didn’t remembered to mail. Sigh.) When I do write, I thank not only the coordinator who chaperoned me for the day, I also thank principal and other staff, as well as the students. It’s possible your thank you note may be read during morning announcements, as a teachable moment about manners. Or it may be tacked up on a bulletin board in the library or read to students during their library time.
As I write this, I’m bobbing up and down on the windy Cape May Ferry, headed home from a fun visit to a school for disabled students near Cape May, NJ. Because it’s a beautiful a resort town, hubby came along, and we tacked on a few off-season days of R&R. Yesterday, I bought a packet of notes printed with gorgeous watercolors of Cape May’s famous Victorian homes. I’ve promised myself as soon as I get home, I’ll break the seal and make my mama proud.
Here’s a unique idea to help yourself stand out: Send a video thank you! Many schools show morning announcements over in-room TVs. How great would it be for the kids to hear and SEE your thank you on a simple little video? If you’ve got a smartphone, make a quick video and email it to your host.
4. Bonus 4th idea for illustrators (or artistic writers):
Leave behind a sketch just for them. I’ve been given tours of many schools where sketches from previously visiting illustrators have been elegantly framed and hung for posterity. My hosts pointed out the pictures proudly, still glowing from the gift even years after the artist’s visit. Could there be a more powerful way for you to linger pleasantly in your host’s memory than for her to see your artwork every day?
One more note about the importance of being memorable: Kids grow up quickly. If you have different programs for younger and older students, (I hope you do!) you could easily return to the school in a few of years, and your presentations will be fresh for every student. New to the little guys, of course, but also new to now-older students who enjoyed your younger assembly during your previous visit. It’s nice to be asked, but it’s even nicer to be asked back.
Have I left anything out? Share in the comments what you do to encourage word-of-mouth. I’d love to learn from you.
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