Friday, May 9, 2014

Planning, Preparing, and "Performing" School Visits by Caroline Starr Rose

This has been a busy season for me. In the last six weeks I’ve given seventeen presentations at six different schools. If you are an author or aspiring author, it’s never too early to plan ahead for visits of your own. Here are some tips on preparing school visits, from start to finish:

What in the world will you talk about?
What age group will your presentation(s) best be suited for?
Will your presentation work best in a small (classroom) or large (assembly) setting?
How long will your presentation run?
Will you need props or technical equipment?
What will you charge?
Will you offer free visits? If yes, what will your guidelines be (a certain number a year, for example, or free visits to your children’s schools)?

These are just a few of the things you need to consider before scheduling your first event. If you’re not sure just exactly how to create a presentation, look to your book for inspiration. Think through topics, settings, characters or themes and see what ideas naturally arise. You can also mine experiences from your own life. Perhaps you have a unique background or skill that can be the basis for a school visit. As long as you connect your presentation to reading and writing in some way, there are limitless directions you can take.

Be Professional:
Once your planning is well underway, it’s time to present yourself to the world at large. I’ve posted here once before about school visits, and that post covers several ways you can do this in your community. Today my focus will be on your author website and/or blog.

Be sure to devote an easily discoverable page to author visits. Give a brief overview of topics (ideally you’ll have more than one). It’s also helpful to include what kind of setting (small or large) and age groups your presentation is best suited for. Here’s my page as an example.

Should you include fees on your presentation page? That’s entirely up to you. You can read more here as to why I’ve chosen to do so.

Pick Brains:
Check in with author friends who more experienced and ask them for advice. This is how I learned I needed a City of Albuquerque business license and an Albuquerque Public Schools vendor number. I also found out I would have to pay gross receipts tax for any visits conducted within the state of New Mexico. If you’re not sure what official steps might be required of you in your state, I’d start by talking to other authors in your community. If you have no connections there, check with your city and state government or with the schools in your area.

One author friend gave me an incredibly useful school visit contract she created, which I've adapted to best suit me. The contract covers what the author commits to doing, when and where the event will take place, the author’s fee, a Plan B for unforeseen illness or weather issues, and ways the school can best prepare for the visit. It’s gold. If you’d like a copy, I’d be happy to email you one.

Your presentation is ready. Your author visits page is up and running. A school has scheduled you for an event. Now what?

Practice, practice, practice! Know your material. In other words...

If you need special props or materials, be sure to organize everything ahead of time. If you plan to create a powerpoint presentation, be sure you’ve checked with the school to see if they have access to an LCD projector or SmartBoard. If you’re working on a Mac, it would be wise to buy an adapter, as not all schools use Apple products.

Look up the school’s address. Pack your bags. Have everything ready to go. So that you can be…

Don’t dash around madly the day of your event, remembering the last school you visited didn’t have an extension cord and perhaps you should swing by Wal-mart on your way across town, and after you get back on the road turn on the wrong street, miss the school’s entrance, and get lost finding the front office. 

Ahem. I know no one who did that last week.

You’ll probably be a bit keyed up to begin with. It’s really helpful (and saves on the sanity) if you give yourself a bit of extra time. Plan for busy traffic, faulty Google Map directions, or trouble finding the visitors’ parking lot.

Play it cool:
You will at some point have technical difficulties.
Office staff might have no idea where to direct you.
Some days kids will be rowdy.
Other times the payment the school has committed to have ready the day of your visit (in your contract, right?) won’t be there.

Repeat after me: go with the flow.  Ask for help if necessary. Wing it if your projector acts up (you prepared ahead of time, remember?). Correct those kids who are squirrelly, or ask teachers to help you out. If there are payment issues, be gracious and understanding. It will all work out in the end.

Have any of you done school visits? What advice might you share? Anyone with questions?


  1. Caroline, This is great! And timely advice for me, since I'm retiring from teaching at the end of this school year, and I will want to start doing author visits in the fall. Because I've been a teacher for 25 years, I know I will be at ease with the kids. It's the setting it all up that I'm nervous/unsure about.

    Bookmarking this post right now!

  2. Excellent advice, Caroline. 'Tis the season, indeed. I am leaving on a 6am plane for Chicago for a library event tomorrow. I read your piece and made a check list! Arriving unprepared sucks lemons for everyone. THANKS!!

    1. Have a great presentation! I keep meaning to create a master list of things I need, so I can print it out and jot down any extras. Haven't done it yet...

  3. Great post, Caroline! I joined a friend last week on her school visit because I'd never seen one and I'm a bit terrified of doing one. This post helps ease the fears a bit :)

    1. Getting to see someone else in action is really helpful.

  4. Wonderful post, Caroline! I've never done a school visit, but they sound fun and rewarding for both students and presenters :)

  5. Caroline, I love those photos AND the advice! Thanks. With three sons in school, I know how much they've loved author visits.

    1. I never, ever had a author come to my school. It really would have rocked my world.

  6. This is great, Caroline! I don't remember any author visits from when I was a kid. What a great experience for the students!

    1. I didn't have any, either. Part of this six - week run included three days in a town of 1200. The elementary school has had thirteen authors in the last fourteen years. Absolutely amazing.

  7. This post should be in every writer's "save" file. Wonderful!

    1. Thanks, Michael! I look forward to hearing about your future visits.

  8. Thank you for sharing your advice and experience. Someday I hope to need these words of wisdom.

    1. I love knowing that for some this advice is helpful now and for others it will be helpful later. Here's to the later, Manju!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!