A guide for authors organising school visits (Part One)
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Are you a school looking to book me for an author visit? Step this way.
Taking part in author visits is the most unexpectedly wonderful aspect of being a YA author so far. I say unexpectedly because, before my debut novel OH MY GODS came out, I dreaded public speaking. Seriously. At work, I rarely spoke up in large client meetings (and when I did, would immediately go bright red and mumble). A department-wide presentation I was giving would be preceded by weeks of low-level anxiety.
I resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t one of those confident, charismatic people who can hold a room with their words and a few bullet points projected on a slide.
But I knew that if I was going to take writing for teens seriously, I should at least engage with teens. I had no idea that school visits would become the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job. In my first year as an author, I visited dozens of schools around England and spoke to groups ranging in size from twenty-five students to over three hundred. I would end every school visit electrified and exhausted in the best possible way. And so far, the feedback from teachers, librarians and authors has been a real confidence boost. If I can do it, so can you.
When I began making an earnest effort to book school visits, it surprised me how little information was out there for authors who wanted a bit of advice. So, this blog post collates everything I’ve learned so far about school visits from the perspective of authors. I write for teenagers so my advice is focused on secondary schools, particularly KS3, but it might well be applicable across the board.
How do I get booked for school visits?
When I realised that school visits were something I wanted to do more of, I didn’t wait for invites to land in my inbox. In terms of contacting schools proactively, Twitter has by far been the best resource for me and I’ve organised several school visits simply by (politely) sliding into the DMs of school library Twitter accounts.
Try not to feel nervous about putting yourself out there. When I contacted schools out of the blue, many of the librarians who replied said it was a pleasure to hear from authors. Some other authors may have had luck with cold-emailing schools but this isn’t a route I’ve tried. The same goes for cold-calling schools and asking for the librarian’s email address - I’ve not tried it, but I’m sure it could work.
And finally, promote yourself. If you’re active on social media, share pictures (with the school’s permission) of your workshops and assemblies. Document your day on Instagram Stories. Outline your services on your website. Tweet, tweet and then tweet some more. If people don’t know you’re available, how are they meant to book you?
If this sounds like a lot of work then...you’re absolutely right. All the librarians and teachers I’ve met have been fantastic to work with, but planning school visits is still time-consuming and takes you away from the actual work of writing books. Keep that in mind before you overbook yourself and end up burnt-out and missing deadlines.
How much should I charge for school visits?
At first, the thought of charging schools cold hard cash for me to shill my book struck me as faintly embarrassing. We all know how much schools have suffered thanks to budget cuts and often library budgets are the first thing to get the chop.
But after I did a few school visits, I soon changed my mind. Because they are bloody hard work. I typically spend at least one full day preparing for a school visit, not to mention the time spent travelling to and from schools. Plus, a full day of assemblies, workshops and travelling (hello, 5am starts!) renders me useless the following day.
‘But school ends at 3.30pm,’ I hear you say. ‘Surely I can get some work done in the evening?’ Not if you’re anything like me. Maybe you’re brilliantly extroverted and being surrounded by 300+ teenagers powers you with the force of one thousand suns. All I can do is lie on the sofa and watch Drag Race while whimpering for gin.
School visits drain me like no other work I’ve ever done because I put my all into every visit. Therefore my fee has to account for the days spent prepping, the time spent at the school and the time I spend recuperating. I charge inline with recommendations made by the Society of Authors, which you can read here. My fees are inclusive of travel within London but schools will have to cover train fare and hotel stays.
I also offer discounts for local schools, run virtual visits via Skype for a fraction of my day rate and do a limited number of free one-hour school visits per year. I truly want as many students as possible to experience author events, but I also have bills to pay and can’t afford to work for free.
I have school visits booked! What next?
Congratulations! Now the real work begins. In my next post, I’ll share tips for designing workshops and presentations, as well as what you can do to ensure the day runs smoothly.