A guide for authors planning school visits (Part Two)
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Are you a school looking to book me for an author visit? Step this way.
In this post, I shared my tips for reaching out to schools and getting booked for school visits. But now the hard work begins: you have to plan and deliver engaging workshops and assemblies in front of a new crowd. It’ll be fun, I promise.
I have a school visit booked! What next?
Congratulations! You have a school visit confirmed, by which I mean the technical details (time, date, fees etc) have been ironed out. If you have multiple school visits lined up, I would advise preparing as far in advance as possible. Spread the workload and it won’t creep up on you.
My pre-visit checklist looks something like this:
Ask if the school would like to sell copies of your book for you to sign on the day. Librarians who have experience with school visits will know the drill. They will know a local book shop who can arrange pre-orders and can collect money on the day. If the Librarian isn’t sure what to do, loop in your publicist.*
Confirm that the school has presentation facilities (screen, projector) for assemblies and basic materials (pen and lined paper) for workshops. If you need sound or a microphone for your presentation, let the school know.
Ask how the school would like you to invoice. Some schools like the invoice ahead of the visit, others prefer it just after. Some schools won’t process payment unless they have proof that you’re registered to pay tax and others require you to fill out a supplier form. Sometimes you don’t find out any of this until your invoice is two weeks overdue. Nobody wants that, so check in advance.
Ask for an itinerary. Make sure your day includes time for loo breaks and breathers between workshops and assemblies, even if it’s just five minutes. If you find that there are large gaps in the itinerary, offer to fill them. Perhaps you could do a Q&A in the library or be interviewed by the school newspaper or podcast club?
Do you need a parking space? Ask for that, too.
If you’re doing a full-day visit, would you like the school to provide you with lunch? Again, most schools will offer this. It’s also worth considering if you want a ‘lively’ lunch in the canteen or something quieter and calmer in the staff room.
One week before my visit, I’ll email my contact and double-check that we’re still good to go. Two days before my visit, I’ll email them a WeTransfer file with my presentations for the day - this saves me lugging my laptop around with me. It’s also a good idea to take a USB stick with your presentations pre-loaded, just in case there are technical issues.
None of this extensive planning would be possible without my spreadsheet, without which I would be lost. If you have more than two school visits planned, I suggest you use something to keep track of the details surrounding each event. No two school visits are the same and, in my experience, there are often dozens of emails back and forth between myself and each school. Plus, details change! You need one central place to track this info and a spreadsheet works for me.
What should I include in my assembly and workshops?
Sometimes schools will have a specific subject in mind (for example, Black History Month). But most of the time it's the author's job to design the assembly and workshops. And it's the most fun!
The content of your assembly and workshops will be deeply personal and tied to your book, so I can't help much beyond a few pointers:
Sounds obvious, but try not to over-do it with the self-promotion. Think of your book as the launchpad for your assembly and workshops rather than the centre of it. For example, the focus of my workshops is Greek myths, which has been a fantastic draw for schools that teach Classics.
The students will be curious about you as a person. Include a bit about your background, especially if you had an unconventional path to becoming an author.
If you’re using slides, make them dynamic and varied (e.g. not black bullet points on a white background, please). Use photos, GIFs and video clips if relevant. And think about any props you can introduce.
It doesn’t harm to end your assembly with a short (three-minute max) reading from your book.
Finally, ask lots of questions throughout your talk and leave at least ten minutes for questions at the end.
How else can I make my school visit as brilliant as possible?
Excellent question. My most successful school visits always happened when the students were excited about my visit and I was prepared (by which I mean well-rehearsed and well-rested).
The buzz surrounding your visit is mostly down to the librarian or teacher organising: they are the ones spreading the word internally, printing posters and generally getting students excited.
But there’s one thing you can do to help generate buzz, and that is to run a competition.
At least six weeks ahead of my visit, I send over the first three chapters of my novel in a PDF. The students read the PDF, sometimes in their English lessons, and then have to write their own short story with a similar premise to my novel. The librarian or teacher kindly collates the entries and emails them to me ahead of my visit, I pick a winner and present them with a prize (a signed copy of my book) on the day.
And for peace of mind, I pack my bag for school visits the night before. It includes:
A copy of my novel and an acrylic book stand, so I can display it during assemblies and workshops.
Snacks and water. Most schools are thoughtful enough to provide this, in my experience, but you can never have too many snacks.
A Sharpie or two for book signings.
My presentation flash cards.
Coloured paper, glitter and pens if needed.
At least 50 book cover postcards. These are bizarrely popular and a signed postcard is a nice option for kids who can’t afford to buy the book (I buy mine from HelloPrint - get £15 off your first order with this link).
Finally, plan your outfit. Comfortable shoes are a must (I always opt for a trusty pair of Nike Air Max’s) and loose clothing is ideal to avoid overheating mid-assembly.
Oh god, I’m still so nervous. How can I make the anxiety go away?
Rehearsing my material is the only thing that calms me down before a school visit. The nervousness and anxiety ease up with every visit but it doesn’t exactly go away, so I make sure I know my material inside-out. There’s no harm in running through your material if only to triple-check that your presentation fills the allotted time. I’ve heard horror stories of nervous authors gabbling through their assembly only to finish twenty minutes early.
I also avoid caffeine before an assembly, do vocal warm-ups and smile as if my life depends on it. Fake confidence and the real thing will follow! Apparently.
If you have the opportunity, ask an author friend if you can tag along during their school visits so you can see one in action. The wonderful Non Pratt let me sit in during one of their school visits and I learned so much. If you’re London-based and want to sit in during one of my school visits, email me.
I did a school visit!
Well done! You may well be a heady combination of exhausted and ecstatic. Give yourself the night off if you can.
The next day, send a follow-up email thanking the staff involved. Organising a school visit is time-consuming for them, too! Ask for feedback and a testimonial for your website - most librarians and teachers are more than happy to help.
Don’t forget to send your invoice if you haven’t already, and set yourself a reminder after thirty days to chase if the invoice is late. Or use an invoicing tool like Wave, which can do it for you.
So, there you have it. A comprehensive guide compiling everything I’ve learned in my debut year of author school visits. If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me.
*Some schools, particularly those with low-income students, are hesitant to sell books because £6.99 is a lot of money. Fair enough. If that’s the case with your school, ask if the librarian can buy a few copies of your book for the library instead. School visits are a fantastic opportunity to engage readers, so you want to make sure that they have access to the book as soon as possible. And I guarantee that after seeing your assembly/workshop, students will be desperate to read your book.