|MAKING THE MOST OF AN AUTHOR'S VISIT
The author of ABCs of An Author/Illustrator
Visit -- a book on author visits shares a few of her guidelines for
IF YOU HAVE EVER ARRANGED A visit, you know how much
planning and preparation it takes. To make the most of your
efforts--and the author's--use the weeks preceding the visit to focus
on the author's work, weaving the appropriate readings and activities
into larger curriculum or program goals. Through such a focus, students
gain respect for a writer's or illustrator's work. They begin to
discern connections among the author's works and to identify universal
themes shared by different writers. They may search the library for
more of the author's work and for other books with connecting themes.
These are opportunities for significant learning. An author's visit,
and the weeks leading up to it, can be a time of heightened interest in
the library and in learning.
Authors, illustrators, and publishing houses work in
a variety of ways. Some authors prefer that you contact their
publishers; others book their own appearances. Some publishing houses
prefer to have all requests in writing; others prefer a phone call.
The first author I arranged to have visit was Marilyn
Sachs. I obtained the phone number of her latest publishing house from
information and called the publicist, who didn't know whom I was
talking about. (Sachs was not a Newbery winner; still, the publicist
should have known her.)
Not to be deterred, I checked the flaps of her books
for biographical information. I learned her husband's name and that
they lived in San Francisco. In a San Francisco phone directory at the
public library I found no entries under her name, but I did locate
three under her husband's. I reached Marilyn Sachs' daughter on my
"Oh," she said, "that's my Mom. She's at the library
but will be home in a half hour or so. If you'd like to leave your name
and number I'll ask her to call."
That conversation took place 17 years ago, and times
have not changed. I still find publicists are often unaware of authors
or illustrators whom I'm interested in locating. If I cannot make the
right connections at a publishing house, I may at least get a home
address and subsequently a phone number. If the author or illustrator
prefers that I contact a publicist, he or she will give me the name and
number of the contact person.
Children's illustrator Patricia Polacco has a message
on her answering service that begins, "If you are calling about a
personal appearance, please call ...." Patricia and Frederick McKissack
prefer to schedule through a publicist at one of their publishing
houses. After the initial arrangements are made, the McKissacks
correspond directly. Their schedules are so full that one must often
arrange for their visit more than a year in advance. Some authors
prefer not to make commitments that far in advance.
The best general advice I can give is to call the
publicist at the appropriate publishing house, ascertain that person's
role, and then proceed. Sometimes I have called a publicist to request
a specific author only to find out that the author's honorarium is far
above our budget. However, the publicist may be able to suggest other
authors. That is how I came to arrange for a visit by Nicholasa Mohr.
At the time, she was just beginning to be recognized for her accounts
of life in Spanish Harlem. Her visit was a major success.
Some publicists are helpful, but there is so much
turnover in the publishing industry that a publicist at one house may
not be there two months from now. That, incidentally, is why it is so
important to follow any oral agreements with written confirmation. Get
everything in writing.
Before I begin to search out an author or illustrator
for a specific appearance I make a list of dates being considered and
the amount of funding available. Honorariums range from $200 to $1,500
per day. In addition, you will need to cover transportation costs and
expenses. And you will probably need $150 to $200 for promotional
activities, such as author pictures, duplicating student book marks in
honor of the visit, and other miscellany.
Check the dates you are considering against the
school's calendar so you are not in conflict with some other activity.
As soon as initial arrangements are made, get your event on the
calendar so others will not schedule a major event on the same day. In
large school districts you may wish to send a notice to those in charge
of scheduling potentially conflicting activities.
As soon as you make arrangements for the visit, follow up with a letter of confirmation to the author or publicist, covering
Date of the visit;
Agreed-upon honorarium and expenses to be reimbursed;
Whether the author or the sponsoring organization will make transportation arrangements;
Expectations for the visit (whether presentations will be to students, staff, parent organization, or librarians);
Any special requests, such as autographing sessions, receptions, and dinners;
Location of the visit; and
Any requests you have for publicity photo, speech title, and the like.
Part of the excitement of an author visit is having
the author autograph one of his books. This means you must have copies
available for sale to the students. I make arrangements at least three
months before the author's visit to obtain books, either from the
publisher or through a local book distributor.
Obtaining the books yourself will give you a larger
discount to pass on to your organization or to those who purchase the
books. However, you will be the one who has to pack and send back
unsold books and pay the postage if you overestimate the number needed.
Book distributors know the procedures of providing
books for special events and can offer guidance to you, such as
estimating the number of books to order. Expect some type of discount
from the book dealer (usually 20 to 25%). YOU can handle the actual
sale of the books much like a book fair.
Sending book order forms to parents prior to the
visit will help you estimate how many books to order; it will also
build anticipation for the visit. Tell the book dealer you will need to
have the books at your school two to three weeks before the author's
visit. Arrange for booktalks to each class prior to the books' arrival,
highlighting each of the books and explaining that the author will
visit and autograph the books. Ask for payment of the books at the time
of the order and deliver the books as soon as they arrive.
When Robert Burch visited our school, each student
purchased a paperback copy of one of his titles. We used the books as
common readings prior to his visit, and he autographed students' copies
while he was here. Having the books available prior to the visit
increased their exposure and heightened anticipation for the visit.
Advance orders helped the book dealer know how many to order. We
ordered additional books for purchase on the day of the visit.
Build a community of readers who will focus on the
visiting author's work by involving as many teachers as possible in the
planning stages. A core committee should plan classroom activities. The
first might be an introductory unit to be used at each grade level. The
introductory activity will most often include the reading of one of the
books and some type of extension activity--an art experience,
comparisons with other books, creating a play, or a reader's theater.
Develop and share suggestions for using the other books so that
students will be exposed to as many experiences as possible.
Activities may be based on reading and writing as
well as on the actual content of the books. For example, the Western
setting of Gloria Skurzynski's Caught in the Moving Mountains (Lothrop)
and Dangerous Ground (Bradbury) could be the basis for studying that
area of the country and for investigating the credibility of the
survival methods she writes about. Her nonfiction books can provide
motivation for more science reading.
Visits by illustrators are less common in secondary
schools but can provide some interesting sessions focusing on careers
and the expressive arts. Craig McFarland Brown, a book illustrator who
uses a stippling technique, is an excellent resource for intermediate
and secondary students. His art sessions with small groups of students
are always well received. His large group presentation could be part of
a career focus. As a child he dreamed of becoming an artist but let the
dream go when he went into advertising to support a family. After 16
years he returned to his dream.
Most authors and illustrators who visit schools
welcome questions from students and teachers. During the week or two
prior to the visit help students formulate questions to ask the guest.
For instance, you might suggest that students:
Listen to questions being asked as well as the answers so that you don't repeat questions that have already been answered.
Think about what you have already learned about the
visiting artist and ask questions based on that information. For
example, not all authors and illustrators both write and illustrate
their books. Ask a question like, "How long did it take you to draw the
illustrations? Only of an illustrator.
Formulate the schedule a week or two prior to the visit. In
general, four presentations of 40 to 60 minutes each are the maximum
for any one-day school visit. The sessions are simply too
energy-consuming for more sessions to be effective. Some authors and
illustrators request the sessions be limited to three.
Build in time to set up equipment such as slide or overhead
projectors. Allow time for breaks, lunch, and autographing sessions.
Distribute the schedule to staff early enough to reconcile any
conflicts before the day of the visit.
Arrange for welcoming banners to be put in place. Display student
work relating to the visitor in hallways and the library. If you plan
to photograph the event, you may want to take pictures of some of the
displays prior to the day of the visit.
Arrange to meet the author at the airport or point of
arrival. A host or hostess should be with the author throughout the day
to escort him or her to the scheduled locations, introduce him or her
at presentations, and signal when it's time to conclude a session.
Having water or other beverages available during the presentations,
arranging for lunch, and facilitating the autographing sessions are all
part of the host's duties. In general, the host makes the author as
comfortable as possible throughout the day and attends to details.
Do arrange for an "official" photograph. This might be an opportunity to involve a talented student or a parent.
Handle staff requests for autographs during a special
welcoming reception or staff autographing session. The day's schedule
should include times when students can come to the library or other
designated location to have their books signed. When you schedule time
for this activity, be sure to consider the number of books to be
Discourage requests for autographs on pieces of paper
or in notebooks. Discuss this point with students prior to the visit.
If students do request autographs on something other than the author's
books, the host must remind them that the guest is autographing books
only. Don't put the author in the uncomfortable position of having to
refuse student requests.
Do, however, recognize that all students will not be
able to afford a book and that some will want autographs nevertheless.
Ask the author or illustrator to pen an autographed message on a piece
of school stationery and duplicate this message for students who are
unable to purchase a book but still want an autograph.
Having students wait in line for an autographed
does two things -- it wastes classroom time; and rewards only those
children who have been able to afford the purchase of a book. An
alternative we like better is to ask the author to autograph with two
pre-selected "helpers" who will open books to the title page, for the
autographing, on one side; and stack the books in classroom
designations on the other side. The helpers can be changed every
20-30 minutes and one set acquaint the next with the procedure.
At the end of the day, an announcement can be made for designated
representatives, from each classroom, to come to the LMC/library
to pick up
the books for their class. At that time the momento of the day (a
drawing or bookmark etc) can also be ready for each member of the
class. This procedure allows students to be "rewarded" with those
extra few minutes with the author (as helpers or classroom
representatives picking up the books/momento) based
on their behavior and so forth rather than their financial situtation
-- and provides an opportunity to inspire those students whose
achievement may not always be stellar but whose effort is
noteworthy. Every child goes home with a tangible author
momento. For autographing we recommend the following procedure.
|An alternative to having
people wait in line to have their books autographed is to use an
autographing slip. Ask each person to fill out a request
slip. Links to the page with a form is available on the McBookwords author visit page. Click on this link "Resources & Background for Author Visits"
if you prefer to go directly to the file (pdf). The books will be
autographed by the author while students are in class. Later a
representative may be summoned to the library to pick up the
books for their class -- and the keepsake message for each student.
Following the author's visit encourage students to
write thank-you notes to discuss the events of the day. The planning
committee should make sure honorarium payments and expense
reimbursements are made promptly. Unless other arrangements are made,
the honorarium should be given to the guest at the conclusion of the
day and the paperwork for reimbursement of expenses initiated as soon
as possible after his or her departure. It's a nice gesture to send the
visiting artist a personal letter of thanks with a picture or two of
the day's events enclosed. You may even want to enlarge a picture of
the author during his or her visit and have it matted and framed and
put into an "author's gallery" in the library as a lasting memento of a
very special day.
By Sharron L. McElmeel
Sharron L. McElmeel is the author of several reference
books about authors and illustrators, including An Author a Month
series and the Bookpeople series, both available from Libraries
Unlimited, as well as the ABCs of an Author/Illustrator Visit (Linworth)
This article is reprinted by the permission of the
author. The article's contents may not be copied or e-mailed to
multiple sites or posted to a listserv or any WWW site without the
permission of the author. However, users may print and download this
article for individual use or for use within a school or school
district in conjunction with the preparation of an author/illustrator
Originally published in Book Report, May/Jun94, Vol. 13 Issue 1.