Want readers? Do school visits.
Pro: During a school visit, you’ll reach hundreds of readers at one time. Schools provide a captive audience of the right age/grade. What’s not to love?
Con: It’s public speaking. But your audience is only kids. Really. If you screw up, they won’t remember the next day. This is the perfect place to practice your presentation until it’s smooth and easy.
Great School Visits Require Audio Visual Presentations
School Visits with a Picture Book
If you’re speaking to more than one class, your picture book is too small for everyone to see. That means you need to make the book bigger and the easiest way to do that is with Powerpoint or other slide show.
Schools generally have good audiovisual equipment and you should be able to hook up your laptop to a projector. If you use a Mac, take both the VGA and the HDMI dongles because you don’t know what equipment they will have.
To create the Powerpoint, scan the book pages and insert into a Powerpoint. Save it where you know where it can be found easily.
Also, save it to a flash drive, and take that with you. Sometimes your computer just won’t work easily and you must use the school’s computer. Then you can drag and drop from the flash drive to that computer’s desktop and run it from there. Be sure to delete the slide show from the school’s computer after speaking.
Buy your own wireless remote controller and take that. Otherwise, ask a teacher to advance the slides for you, so you don’t have to worry about the behind-the-scenes machinery.
Ask for a microphone, preferably a wireless lavaliere microphone that clips to your collar. The wireless means you can move around as you wish.
School Visits with a Novel
If you’re talking about your novel, slide shows are optional, but helpful. Give the audience interesting photos to look at, preferably some of you in action. For example, you might use photos of you reading as a child, working in your office, with your pets, with your family, at other school visits, etc. Make the photos fit with your presentation, but don’t feel like your whole presentation must be present in bullet points. Only add the photos to visually reinforce what you plan to say. Kids do not need a business presentation!
Yes! You should sell books during your school visit. You’ll have to open an account with your publisher to order books at wholesale prices. Depending on your contract, this may or may not be easy. If it doesn’t work, contact a local bookstore to see if they could sell books for you and give you a percentage (10-25%) of proceeds for providing the sales venue.
Design a nice-looking order form that schools can print and send home with students. If you don’t get the form sent home with students, then expect zero sales. Kids won’t have random money the day of your visit.
Schools will need the order form one to two weeks before your visit. On the form, add a book cover, short synopsis of the book(s), format/cost of book, who to write checks to (Or cash only, if you prefer), delivery date (if you don’t have books that day).
Personalize. Provide a spot for parents to write a child’s name so you can personalize the signature.
Bundle. Consider an option for parents to bundle books. For example, if they order all 3 titles in paperback, they’ll get a 10% discount as an incentive. Try out several bundles till you find what works for you and your books. About 20% or so of parents will opt for the bundle, but it can increase your profits and sales.
As a general rule, I sell to about 5% of a school’s population. For example, if there are 500 students at a school, I sell about 25 books. In affluent areas, that has risen to about 25%, but in poor, rural areas, it might fall to only 1%. For local schools, I will often wait to order books so I don’t have a surplus inventory. For distant schools, I try to take books, but if I run out, I mail books later. Of course, that’s more cost, so I try to avoid it.
You should be paid for your school visit. I once went to a school and did a free presentation. While there, I learned that the week before they had a “fantastic” presentation by the yo-yo people, who got paid $1000 and got to sell yo-yos! Never again, I told myself. I am more educational than yo-yo demonstrations. If a school only wants entertainment, get the yo-yo people. If you want education – and entertainment – ask for me.
Negotiate. You’ll have to decide what to charge for yourself. I’ve seen everything from $100-$3000 for a day. For that fee, the number of presentations is negotiable, from one up to six. $100/day is usually beginners; $3000 for one presentation is usually Newbery winners.
If you’ve received starred reviews or some of the minor awards, your fees go up. If you live in a poor rural area, your fees go down. Crossing state lines, which usually includes overnight travel, makes the fees go up. If they want a five-day author-in-residence, your daily fees can go down – or not. In other words, your fees are negotiable, depending on circumstances. Set a reasonable fee, but be ready to negotiate up or down.
W-9. When you speak, schools must have a record of your tax information. Have a W-9 form filled out and ready to go when asked.
Other information required. Some states or districts ask that you are carefully vetted for safety issues. Ask if you can be exempt from this because you’re only there one day and will never be alone with kids. If they still require vetting and that vetting costs money, ask for them to cover it. In the end, it might not be a good school to visit. You’ll have to decide if you want to meet their requirements at your own expense or not.
Donate to a Great Cause
Finally, consider the possibility of donating a portion of your proceeds to a conservation cause. For the last four years, I’ve designated one school visit each year as an Authors for Earth Day visit. This means that you choose five conservation organizations. The students vote on which organization they prefer. Then, the author donates a portion of their speaking fee to the conservation organization in the name of the school. Started by Brooke Beesesen, Authors for Earth Day is responsible for thousands of dollars in donations yearly. See participants here.
Doing an Authors for Earth Day school visit involves kids in learning about five different conservation organizations. I’ve chose local ones such as the Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary in Greenbrier, Arkansas. It accepts old or “problem” elephants from zoos, circuses, etc. For many elephants, it’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to be part of an elephant herd.
Doing an Author’s for Earth Day school visit isn’t much help for conservation. But it’s something I can do in the course of my work with very little extra effort. Could you join the effort, too?