A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
School visits are one of the strangest parts of an author’s job. Writing books? You signed up for that. Talking about your books at festivals? Not part of your dream author vision, but at least you’re standing in front of an audience of guaranteed bookworms. Talking about your book IN SCHOOLS, in front of a random group of children who might HATE BOOKS? Gulp.
But I am here to tell you that if you do it right, school visits can be not just OK, but absolutely brilliant. I promise! Just follow these tips …
At the beginning of my career, I was shy about asking for money straight off the bat, and felt awkward stating absolutes about class size and session length. Several misunderstandings later, I’ve learned my lesson. Now, in the very first email I send to a school, I state:
This all sounds kind of pushy, doesn’t it? But trust me, stating your case helps both you and the teacher or librarian you’re dealing with. There won’t be any argument over fees later, and if they try to radically alter numbers or year groups you can point to your initial email and calmly discuss the situation with them.
Book your trains as soon as you can! Make sure your Powerpoint presentation is all ready to go! (And know what you’ll do if for some reason you have to do the session without it). Laminate activity cards and sort out pencils, scope out how you’re going to travel to the school itself and ask the teacher if you’re not sure. Get the teacher’s contact details in case something goes wrong on the day. Make an itinerary for yourself. Buy throat sweets.
You get the idea: act like you’re planning for a business trip. Because this is a business trip. The most fun business trip ever, but still – it’s important, and it deserves to be treated that way.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you may not have had the best time at school. A lot of authors didn’t. We were the kids who got picked on for being weird, right? And I know that a lot of authors are worried about going back to schools for that very reason. What if the kids SENSE THAT YOU ARE A WEIRDO?
Yes, you are a weirdo, and that’s why the kids can’t wait to meet you. You are a magical, mystical, amazing being. You are an author. Not only do you make up stories in your head that get published, which is very cool and unusual, you are not the maths teacher, or the science teacher, or in fact any sort of teacher at all. You are getting these kids out of a French lesson. They love you already. Walk in there knowing you are fascinating and play up to it. Be the best version of you you can be. HAVE FUN.
You need to walk into the school on the day of your visit having ticked off the first three things on your list. You need to be sure you were clear, you need to be sure you are prepared and you need to know you are awesome. Because …
Things will go wrong. Things that you can’t even imagine could go wrong will go wrong. Mr Ibsen will have the mumps, and so his extra class of 40 kids will need to be in your session. A sixth-form creative writing group will be in a talk meant for eight-year-olds. The projector cord will have been eaten by mice. Only Miss Chadda will know where the key to the computer cupboard is, but she will be on holiday. You will need to start ten minutes late, and end ten minutes early, for reasons you can’t understand. School inspectors will be in your talk, and everyone will be too frightened to laugh.
None of these things have happened to me, exactly, but many other creatively awful things have. But if you are calm, prepared and otherwise in control, you can take it on the chin, smile and carry on.
Because here is the most important thing:
Some of the kids may not absolutely love your talk. That’s fine, everyone is different. But most of the kids will be delighted by you. It is your job to give those kids the most excellent time. Make them go away beaming, and I promise that you will find yourself beaming too.
And remember that in every audience there will be at least one child for whom this talk will mean more than you, as an adult, can even really comprehend. Yours could be the book that makes that kid start to enjoy reading. It could be the book that makes them start to enjoy writing. You could be the person who shows them for the first time ever that an author is an exciting thing to be. You could even be the reason that, in twenty years’ time, they’ll need to go searching for articles like this to help them do their first school visits. And there’s pretty much nothing in the world more amazing than that thought.