SCHOOL & LIBRARIES APPEARANCES, PART II: HOW KNOWING YOUR HOST HELPS SET THE STAGE FOR A SUCCESSFUL APPEARANCE
As writers, we learn to wait--for responses to our queries, for publication opportunities, for the evolution of a sold manuscript into a bound book, for royalty checks. Like a fine wine, publishing is often a process that takes time. And we've made our peace with that. So, it can be a bit jarring when the book comes out and suddenly people want to schedule things for yesterday, including events where you find yourself talking to tots about your story then switching gears and talking to their parents and educators about literature and learning with only a ten-minute break in between. Keeping calm in the rushing waters of book promotion requires a whole new kind of Zen.
Within this chaos, school and library appearances have a special place. They differ from bookstore and other publicity stops in one primary way: The coordinator of your appearance (your host), is likely to be someone for whom arranging an author or illustrator visit is not a typical part of his or her job description. This does not diminish (and maybe even enhances) the host's energy and enthusiasm for arranging your appearance. And I am not trying to scare you. But it is important when you are considering hitting the school appearance circuit that you understand what you are getting into and, if you’ve been lucky enough to do a book tour, how very different a beast this is.
Here are a few things to note about school and library event hosts:
1. This may be the first time your host has arranged an author appearance. PTA's, for example, which fund many author visits, often pass down the role of book fair coordinator, etc., to a new parent volunteer every year. Tight school and library budgets may mean that author appearances are not annual events, so even experienced coordinators may be rusty.
2. Your honorarium and fees are likely to be a big chunk of your host's annual budget. Thus your appearance, though possibly somewhat routine from your viewpoint, is a very significant event (and investment) for them.
3. Your host may or may not have chosen the right author or illustrator for their learning community. Face it, you may have been invited in part because you are local, reasonably priced, available or a favorite of a particular educator or parent. This does not make you the best fit for the entire group you will address.
How can this understanding of your host translate into more successful appearances?
ACCEPT THE BACK-AND-FORTH. Be willing to discuss the details of your itinerary, from scheduling the date to determining how many presentations you will make (I'd suggest limiting it to three/day) and to what grade level combinations. Share your experience regarding optimal grade-level breakdowns, realistic expectations for a classroom visit, assembly presentation, 15-minute book signing time. If the school would like you to share a breakfast or lunch with faculty members or select students, confirm whether this will be a formal or informal event. This conversation will help you know what the day will look like and thus be able to prepare effectively and for the right grade levels. It will also help the host clarify his or her expectations, setting the stage for satisfaction on all sides.
RESPECT THEIR FINANCIAL CONCERNS. If costs are a concern, consider offering a discount if the host can find a nearby school to book you as well, noting that this will enable them to share travel and hotel expenses. This may make long-distance appearances more worthwhile for you but also shows that you understand the host's need for value, especially these days. If you want to do the visit, be willing to roll up your sleeves and appreciate the financial situation in which the host is working. Whatever the budget, remember, they reached out to you because want to connect their young readers with a real author! A very cool objective.
PUT IT IN WRITING. Whether you yourself, your publisher, or a freelance booking agency confirms your appearances, make sure there's a document that notes the date, fees and payment schedule, cancellation requirements, address and contact information for both yourself and the host, and some itinerary details or limits. (I've recently found that many authors have been very positive about my addition of an end-of-confirmation note asking that a school representative or volunteer be available to assist the author and to please be sure to have teachers remain with their students during assembly presentations and classroom visits.) The process of writing up this document can help both you and the host to get a very clear sense of your appearance.
WHEN YOU CONFIRM, SEND ALONG SOME EXTRAS. Once a school is on your calendar, help them prepare by getting in touch 6-8 weeks before your visit. This enables you to politely ensure that your host is still in place and expecting you. At this time, send along a little more information, such as a list of discussion questions for your book, a quick note about your presentation, or a list of web links where students can learn more about you. This will increase the likelihood that your host will prepare their students (your audience) well, which always makes for a better visit.
As I'm writing this, I realize I've put the cart a little bit before the horse. I've explained how knowing your host can help set the stage for a successful school or library appearance, but I still haven't explained exactly how you can "get the gigs" as one rock-star author I know puts it. While it's not an exact science, there are some tricks. So I'll take a cue from Margaret Peterson Haddix and leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger here. More on how to help potential hosts find you next week. Though, I really do apologize for making you wait!