Saturday, March 7, 2009

Author Visit Advice

So I'm not the resident expert on author visits, but having survived my first one, I think I learned a few things that might help another rookie out there. The first thing I would do is invite James Preller! He was so easy to work with and related to the kids so well, that my job was easy once he arrived. I wonder why I was so tired at the end of the two days? Beyond that advice, here's a list of things that I recommend to anyone arranging an author visit.

First, do some research. I was fortunate to have this blog that helped me reach out to authors, but that doesn't mean others can't find out information and get a sense of an author. Most of the current authors have a blog or website of their own. Start reading them on a regular basis, and you will soon get a feel for their personality. Try commenting on their blog and see if you can strike up an internet conversation. That's really where this visit started. Jimmy commented on a review that Karen did, and pretty soon the three of us are having conversations over email. Not only that, but other teachers in our building were leaving comments on his blog starting conversations of their own. By the time we were ready to approach him, I felt pretty sure that he would be easy to work with and fun to be around. Talk with other teachers and librarians to hear their experiences with authors. In fact, if you've had a great author visit post the name in the comments here at Literate Lives with a brief description of your experience.

Next, find a couple of hard working parent volunteers to help out. Fortunately for me, the PTO has an author visit committee and the chairs, Amy and Keyburn, were already in place. I invited them in to talk over the visit and pitched some names to them. The first decision we had to make was whether we should stay local, and save money or go for a big national name. In true Bailey fashion, and since we hadn't had an author in 3 years or so, they wanted to go big. I had a list of about five authors that had commented on our blog more than once and some sample of their books. Amy and Keyburn were almost immediately drawn to James Preller, and the invitation was issued. These two incredible ladies then took care of all of the travel and entertainment logistics which is a huge piece of this that I could never have handled as well as they did.

The cool thing about working with Jimmy was that I dealt directly with him, no middle person, publicist, agent, etc. It certainly made communication quick and easy. Since I've not worked with an author who has these people, I have nothing to compare it to, but I have to believe it's easier dealing directly with the author. We began an email conversation that took us right up to the day he was flying out of Albany, NY since a big snowstorm threatened his arrival. I learned more about him and how he worked through these notes.

Form a teacher advisory committee. I had a group of teachers representing each grade or area in our building. The purpose of this committee was to help me figure out schedules and logistics. I really tried to limit the actual work that these people were responsible for since their plates are already full. Also, I only called meetings if there was something new, or I needed an answer. Teachers are swamped and they don't need one more meeting. Their expertise and help was invaluable.

Prepare the kids before the author comes. I've been through enough of these visits from the classroom teacher's position to know that time is valuable and needs to be used wisely. I didn't want the kids taking time with James Preller with a lot of biography type questions so I had every class reading his bio on his web site before he got here. The students already knew about his family, pets, writing history, interests, hobbies, etc. By doing this, I think the kids were able to think of better questions about his books, or the life an author. I also read several samples of his writing as they passed through the library. Many of the teachers took the books their students purchased ahead of time and did classroom activities like book clubs so the students were very familiar with the author's work. I will say this did cause some confusion when distributing the books, but it was minor, and I think the benefits far outweighed the glitches.

Don't ask your teachers to do one more thing. From the classroom teacher's standpoint, sometimes these visits turn into more work. It's not that teachers, especially in my building, mind working, it's just that sometimes these visits turn into real dog and pony shows. I didn't ask my staff to make elaborate displays and cover the hallways floor to ceiling with things from the Preller books. Many of the teachers had small, authentic displays that I was sure to show Jimmy and he appreciated them, but honestly, there weren't very many spare minutes for him to look at a lot of hall displays.

If possible, pick the author up at the airport if they are coming in from out of town. The parents considered having a limo pick Jimmy up, but I really wanted to do it, and my friend Karen joined me which made it perfect. This gave us a chance to get to know Jimmy a little more before he came to the school. Be sure to read Karen's Slice of Life about this experience.

On the day of the visit, help your author get to the school early. This gave me a chance to give Jimmy a tour, introduce him to a few people and take care of any last minute set up things. It also gave him a chance to get a feel for his surroundings for the next two days and to sign a few books before the students arrived.

Parent volunteer Amy suggested a dinner at her house rather than a restaurant. This would allow more people to mingle and meet Jimmy in a more relaxed atmosphere. If your author is visiting for more than one day, which I recommend, and you have a parent who is willing and able, this is definitely the way to go. We invited the teacher committee and the PTO executive board and had an incredible evening. Fortunately Jimmy was able to work the crowd comfortably and the PR I gained with the PTO for the next author visit was invaluable.

This post is already too long, but just to wrap it up, my biggest piece of advice is to relax and enjoy your time with the author. The conversations I had with Jimmy during the down times were so enjoyable and rewarding. We talked about everything from our kids, to books, to other authors, to teaching. It was time spent that I will long remember fondly.

3 comments:

  1. Oh, Bill, this is a DREAM post!!! I love what you wrote here. I can tell you from an author's side, you did ALL the right things and that author was SO lucky!!!

    AND - I can assure you that your students got 150% out of that author visit...the author went home happy and fulfilled... and the school got their money's worth.

    High five!

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  2. Yes, Barbara, I completely agree. I was very fortunate. And so were the students. It was a great visit because of the care and efforts put in by a whole team of dedicated teachers and parents.

    Like everything else in life, what you put into it is in direct relationship to what you get out of it. It's probably one of the primary lessons I try to teach my own kids -- in school, in sports, in relationships.

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  3. Barbara said it all better than I could have. Your post should be a must-read for all schools scheduling author visits.

    Although Jimmy deserves much, much credit, I'm sure, it's no wonder the event was so successful.

    Thank you!

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