How to ensure a GREAT author visit

How to ensure a sparkling author visitThis is the true story of a pair of author visits I did in the same week. The schools were very similar:
• Rural K-12 shared campus
• Elementary borrowed the high school auditorium for my assemblies.
• Both schools included 6th graders in the program for older elementary students.

My days in these schools should have been very similar, right?

Wrong.

At the first school, the kids in the older assembly were… I’ll be honest… a bunch of “wet blankets.” Very low energy and low response rate. The audience included a trio of blonds who were too cool to participate, except for a couple of silly, verging on rude, questions to entertain their giggling friends.

Hey, I get it. That’s what you expect sometimes from middle-schoolers. They’ve left behind the starry-eyed enthusiasm of 2nd graders. And maybe it was the demographic. Kids descended from stoic Germanic farmers. So I was prepared for a similar experience with the middle-schoolers at the 2nd school.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

They were engaged and enthusiastic. They asked appropriate questions. They even asked me to sing to them — which I NEVER do with that age group, because I’m aware of their sensitivity to being treated like babies. I didn’t even have my song CD cued up. But no, they insisted. So I began to sing, a capella, to a roaring roomful of kids in an auditorium nearly identical to the space I’d occupied the day before. This energetic group clapped and sang along.

Here’s the best part: It was the day before the high school’s spring concert, so there happened to be a disco ball — a DISCO BALL! — hanging over the stage. Once the song got going, the teenaged tech guy (bless his spontaneous heart) turned on the disco ball. The kids went nuts.

It was one of the most fun and memorable assemblies I have ever done. WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.

Aside from the timely turn of a disco ball, what was the difference between these two assemblies? Did I change my program from one school to the next? Nope. The difference was…

PREPARATION.

In the first school, which had agreed to join in on a sharing arrangement with another nearby school, it was clear there had been no preparation. It’s even possible the students had no idea why they were filing into the auditorium. This does happen, occasionally. Once or twice at previous visits, I have overheard students whispering, “Why are we here?” as they assemble.

With the second school, I had seen hundreds of hits on my website, for months in advance, from this school district. (Everyone at the school deserves a shout-out for this: Hi awesome students of Clarion-Limestone Elementary in Strattanville, Pa.!!) When I spoke to their librarian, Pete Beskid, he told me he had encouraged students to visit my website, to get to know more about me and — more importantly — about my books. I feel certain that teachers and PTO parents also worked hard to prepare students for the visit. THAT’S why a bunch of 6th graders, “too old” for my “Storytime Boogie,” were happily singing along that day.

The old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” is wrong. Familiarity breeds… FAMILIARITY…. and friendliness and enthusiasm and a feeling that students really know you.

Honestly, I appreciate any school that takes the time to bring me in to talk to its students. The previous school wasn’t all bad. The few staff members I met were kind, and we had some fun that day. But we’d have had a lot more fun, with a greater number of takeaways back to the classroom, if the students had known what to expect.

I take partial blame for the first school’s lack of preparation. Because it was a school that had merely piggybacked onto the already-arranged visit to another school, my contact at the school was someone working in the office. She was pleasant and efficient, but she does NOT spend all day with the kids. I should have asked to be put in touch with the reading specialist or librarian, someone who could prepare the students, reading them my books and perhaps using some of the advance materials I make available as downloads on my website. In my defense, this was a complicated week of visits in different eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania towns, and it was a little overwhelming remembering the details of contact persons and whom I had sent what, even with my “FM4TOC” system (Folder Method 4 the Organizationally Challenged.) The FM4TOC* has improved things over the years, but it’s far from foolproof. (*I’ll post about this sometime soon.)

Aside from requesting the name of a teacher and/or librarian in the school, there are other ways I dropped the disco ball on that visit. I hope, by sharing my mistakes, it will help others avoid similar problems.

Here’s what I should have done:

1. After receiving the name/contact info for that crucial in-touch-with-students person, I should have sent her documents to prepare students for the visit. Yes, they can be downloaded from the site, but that’s asking her to take an extra step. If they’re right there, attached to my email, she may look at them and decide she wants to use them. Those items include:

a. Teacher guides to some of my books. These offer student activities teachers can do before (preferably) or after the visit (2nd best option.)

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.

b. Posters she could edit, inserting the date, and then post around the school

c. Bookmarks that could be distributed to students

2. A link to THIS PAGE on my website entitled “Tips for a great author visit.”

3. I don’t do this for every school, but perhaps this would have been an especially important school for me to record a “howdy” video for the students. I’ve done this occasionally, for schools, just talking directly to my iPad for a minute or so. Something like “Hi Livingston Leopards! (or whatever the school mascot) I’m excited that soon I’ll be visiting YOUR school to talk about my favorite things: books!” etc. etc. Short and sweet, with lots of pep. Maybe you could toss in a little riddle you’re hoping someone can answer once you get there. Most schools have video morning announcements, and it’s possible your coordinator could arrange to have your video played a few times before your visit.

4. And speaking of video, even if I never got around to creating an original hello video for that school, I could have sent a video I usually play as students assemble during my visits. It gives them something to concentrate on, and helps them get to know me better before I start. But there’s no rule saying I couldn’t send that video, in advance, to be played during morning announcements as well. HERE’S A LINK to my assembly video, on YouTube. Dash, an ori peiAs you can see, I not only show my book covers, but include some cute/funny dog images to keep it entertaining. It’s already out of date. I need to add two new book covers and one new dog! (And possibly two, if our adoption of Dash pans out. Isn’t he cute?!)

Since that amazing disco ball visit on the 2nd day, I’ve had an epiphany about how differently students behave when they really feel they know you and are looking forward to your coming. Seeing hundreds of hits on my website from that school, in advance of my visit, gave me an idea for another way to prepare students for my visit. I created a “scavenger hunt” of my website, asking 6 or 8 simple questions about things students could find on my website. Questions like, “What is the animal you see on the home page of Kim Norman’s website?” I offered multiple-choice answers for each question. In the year since I devised the hunt, teachers tell me they’ve enjoyed sharing it with their students. 

Of course, there is no REAL guarantee that folks at the school will take advantage of these resources. Plus, educators are SUPER busy people, so it’s a balancing act, offering your materials and not being a pest about it. But I’m sure if I had done a FEW of those things before that wet blanket visit, everybody would have had a better experience that day, even the giggly blondes.

But all in all, it’s comforting to know that those of us without gold stickers can compete with the stars as long as we’re entertaining and/or educational and leave behind happy memories of our visits. At last, a job where my drama queen skills may finally pay off!

 

Comments

  1. says

    Great advice. I have a new picture book out–my first–and I haven’t done any school presentations yet. I’m a bit apprehensive–I need to make a powerpoint and I’ve never done one before. Procrastinating…. it’s worked so far, but in the Fall I’ll really need to start presenting. My goal this summer… GET IT DONE!!!

    • bigbosslady says

      Setting a goal is so smart, Marcia. Sometimes it’s the only thing that makes me finally proceed with a project, especially when I’m intimidated. And I’m easily intimidated by things I’ve never done before. If you don’t already have PowerPoint (or Keynote, if you’re on a Mac) you’d probably find Google Drive’s “Presentation” program would work just fine for you and for FREE. Here’s a little tutorial about it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caxuMthWFN8
      Kids love to hear about your childhood, so if you’ve got a few photos of yourself as a kid, they’d love that. Also, if you can read your whole book on the screen by dropping in each page, one by one, onto digital slides. If you’re traditionally published, be sure to check with your publisher that they’re okay with your doing this. My publishers don’t mind, as long as it’s just for limited assemblies such as school visits, and I’m not sharing it all over the world on YouTube or anything like that. Pop back in, as you progress, Marcia, and let us know how it’s going!

    • bigbosslady says

      Okay, thanks, Bobbi! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has had the occasional “un-disco-bally” sort of visit. LOL!

  2. says

    Excellent suggestions to ensure a stellar author visit. Here’s my nudge and encouragement to complete your book, How to Ensure a Sparkling Author Visit By Kim Norman. Sounds like an outstanding resource for authors and illustrators as one prepares for school visits. Puddle Pug is so delightful. Thank you.

    • bigbosslady says

      Aw, thanks, Suzy! And gosh, maybe you just revised my title for me, which wasn’t nearly as sparkly. I even have a cover already designed (“The Author’s Guide to Paid School Visits”) but there’s no saying I can’t change the title! Wish I could figure out a way to display it in this comment, but I guess there’s no way to do that. Maybe I’ll just show it off in a blog post sometime soon. Thanks for the nudge!!

    • bigbosslady says

      Okay, I like that, Anita. I’ve been thinking about something like “an Author Visit in a Box.” Wouldn’t be a real box, of course. Maybe something like partially prepared digital documents, like a PowerPoint template, contracts, invoices… that sort of thing. Thanks for the vote!

  3. says

    Great description of two totally different visit outcomes. I’ve found the same thing. One school I visited twice and have now boycotted, purchased a set of books for the library one year. The next year I visited, the books were in the same spot, on the top of the media specialists filing cabinet, gathering dust!

    I absolutely love your welcome video, and your Storytime Boogie video. You are one talented lady. If I tried to sing, kids would be running for the exits!

    Your suggestion to get to the right person, is a great one. Never take for granted that an administrator will get the word to the media specialists or the teachers.

    • bigbosslady says

      Oh my gosh, Mary! Dust on your books! How frustrating! You gave me a good laugh about your singing. Hahaha!

    • bigbosslady says

      Oooo! Excellent, Karen! This summer, I will try to rise to the challenge. I’d really love to try my hand at a free webinar. As I told Marcia, above, I tend to drag my heals when I’m intimidated by a lack of knowledge. Just need to decide on a webinar platform, do a practice run with a few forgiving friends, and go for it!

    • bigbosslady says

      Thanks, Barbara! I’ve recruited a friend to crack a whip over me. Goal to have it ready for school visit season in the fall. There! I said the goal out loud! (Well, sort of.) 😉

  4. says

    I found your tale of two schools fascinating. I think I might have been mortified at the first one. I’d love to see something for newbies who are scared to death to do their first visit.

    • bigbosslady says

      Luckily, I remembered being an obnoxious middle-schooler myself, so I wasn’t too phased by it. (Somehow, my friends and I always seemed to have a little hairbrush clutched in our hands. These days, I suppose it’s a phone!) Thanks for the vote, Lauri. I’ll put on my thinking cap for that “scared to death” offering!

  5. says

    I tend to like things in print form if I’d go back and read again, so I love your book idea. However, the webinar and free course I’d also be all over. (How do they differ? I’m sometimes a little clueless.)

    You’re such a pro at these. I need to figure out how I will stand out…If I try to sing it would be memorable, but I would not be asked to return!

    • bigbosslady says

      Haha! Maybe you could duet with Mary, above. Hey, if Joe Cocker could make a living at it, right? 😉

      For the courses, I was thinking first a free webinar with a more intensive paid course later, offering video and… the works! It can be such an overwhelming topic. At first it seems simple and straight-forward: show up and talk to the kids. But I’m at about 25,000 words so far on the book, likely coming in around 30,000, and those don’t overlap much with the things I’m putting on the blog. Before I started the blog, I brainstormed more than 150 article topics. (!!!)

  6. says

    This was very helpful, especially in terms of specific ways to generate/nudge/stimulate that pre-visit interest and enthusiasm. So far (limited experience) the advance prep has been fantastic, but planning ahead just in case is wise advice.

    As for ideas that would be helpful in future posts, maybe I’ve missed it, but how about a checklist or examples of ways to make our “for teachers” tabs on websites as user friendly as possible? ideas of what is ESSENTIAL and what could be left out? Other ways to share quotes and images from prior visits so teachers will easily find them without cluttering up the website/page?

    As for your complete book here’s a nudge to finish it- soon.

    Thanks,
    Sandy

    • bigbosslady says

      Excellent suggestions, Sandy. Thank you so much! Your comment about the sharing of quotes and images reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to do on my website for AGES. And that is adding photos of folks who have provided quotes. You know like those little round head shots you sometimes see on website sales pages? Oh wait, here’s an example from a friend of mine who has a new book out that she self-published about making natural cleaning products at home. I really like those little round thumbnail photos of the people offering the quotes. So that’s one thing, but I’ll also give your other suggestions a thought. Thanks! Oops! Almost forgot to post the link to my friend’s site. Here ‘tiz… (scroll down a little to see the photos.) http://aromaticwisdominstitute.com/green-cleaning-course Of course, I haven’t a clue how one splits the text area into 4 columns like that!

  7. says

    Great article! Love that disco ball. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned. Very valuable, and deeply appreciated. And yes, that dog is way cute. 😀

    • bigbosslady says

      Thanks, Verlie. Isn’t he though?! The adoption is taking FOREVER, though, so I’m still not sure if/when it will happen. He’s scheduled for a cataract surgery, (he’s not that old– 5 years. It’s called a “juvenile” cataract) and the rescue organization is generously paying for it. Bookie is hoping he’ll have a new brother soon!

  8. says

    I am happy to report that I would enjoy “all of the above,” and am very much looking forward to what you come up with! Thanks so much!

    • bigbosslady says

      Okay, thanks, Tina! I’m trying to decide on the webinar platform. I have learned a lot from free webinars over the past few years. They’re fun!

  9. Angie Quantrell says

    I think all of those ideas would be great – the book (hint, hint), a free webinar, a course…I love your ideas and how you share your experiences with us. Thanks!

  10. says

    I’ve gone to a BUNCH of school visit webinars, workshops, believe me, and such–yours is by far–leaps and bounds faraway, the BEST, most informative animated—resourceful and helpful.

    I’ve learned a ton–thank you!

    I just had a school visit–yesterday and it was a smashing success. When the Parent Coordinator hugs you and kisses you, and the kids do not want to leave–it’s an awesome feeling. And here’s something else, I had visited that school 6 years ago and did not realize it. The Parent Coordinator came out holding up my autographed copy!

    I may not be a “friend-friend” but I am a HUGE fan-friend -please feel free to use me as a webinar guinea pig

    I love the sparkly title —but if I may add a suggestion—I would subtitle the getting paid part,
    or figure a way to combine both—both are important in my world

    How to Ensure a Sparkling Author Visit
    The Author’s Guide to Paid School Visits

    🙂

    • bigbosslady says

      Oh my goodness, Kathy, thank you for your kind words! I may just pester you for a testimonial, too! 😉 I like the idea of the subtitle. I think they really help readers understand what the book is about. Catchy titles are nice, but sometimes just tellin’ it straight is the best way to go.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. So smart to send those guides. I don’t think teachers are taking advantage of them on my site because they don’t know they’re there. As you say, no guarantee they’re using them, but it can’t hurt, right?

  11. says

    PS–I sent Teacher Guides-and what I call Author’s Essentials. Whether or not–they used the suggestions in the Guides—I could not tell–but the kids were over the top amazing

    • bigbosslady says

      And that’s so often the case, isn’t it? How great the kids are? They’re just so full of potential, with a long life ahead of them… it’s exciting to be with them.

  12. says

    Love your blog posts and this is extremely helpful. I am working on my school visits for this fall so it is great to have an inside view of what could/will happen when traveling to different schools!

    • bigbosslady says

      So glad it’s been helpful, Dana. Good luck with your fall visits. Pop in and let us know how they went!

  13. says

    Wait…what?
    You can get PAID to do this??
    Omg, you are my new favorite person.
    Webinar, book, course-yes, please!

    • bigbosslady says

      Hahaha! You made my day, Kari. Yup, half of my income some years comes from author school visits. In a lean year, in terms of book sales and royalties, it could easily surpass it. I think there are some authors who routinely earn more from author visits than from book royalties. Okay, I’m on it! (Your list, I mean.)

  14. says

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Kim! I guess a little bit of preparation goes a long way for all parties involved. So cool about the disco ball–that must have totally made your day!

  15. says

    This post was a big help. I love the idea of making a poster to send in advance to schools as well as a scavenger hunt for your website. Thanks for the tips!

  16. says

    I’ve been gearing up for–and feeling terrified of!–school visits for when my first book comes out next year. This post was so reassuring and encouraging! Things go wrong, you figure out why, and move forward. Kind of like revising my writing. I can do that! Thanks!

    • bigbosslady says

      What a sweet comment, Annette, thank you! And congratulations on your book. How exciting!!