Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Business of Children's Books - Putting Your Appearance Plan in Writing

I could write an entire book of funny (and sometimes not-so-funny) stories about school visit surprises.  You know, the cute ones where the kids make an entire luncheon menu based on themes from an author's book (esp. funny when vegetarian author is faced with bologna rolls!) or where an illustrator is greeted at the door by a giant mural painted by students--and less-cute scenarios where the author shows up on the appointed day only to discover the teacher who arranged the visit had her baby early and no one else knew he'd be coming.  Be they good or bad, fewer surprises (for the author and the host) tend to result in better, happier appearances and increase the possibility of an invitation to return.

To minimize surprises and optimize outcomes, put the following in writing:

Once you've agreed, via email or phone, to appear at a school or library, formal confirmation should be sent. This can come directly from you or from your publisher but should include the following:

1. Date on which you are sending/confirming this appearance AND date of appearance.
2. Exact address of the venue at which you will be appearing along with phone/fax/email if possible--a good way to make sure you've got this all on file.
3. Contact information for the person with whom you arranged this visit (including their title or relationship to the host venue AND home number, cell phone number, etc., in case they are volunteer or part time).
4. A rough itinerary for your visit.  Include arrival/departure dates, length of presentations, and ages/sizes of groups you will be addressing.  Note if you'll participate in a book signing, luncheon, and anything else you have discussed with the host regarding the shape of your day.
5. Your honorarium and fees should be clarified as $X per day (X # days, if appropriate) = $XX PLUS travel and expenses (or note FLAT FEE if applicable).  Also note any specifics, such as whether host will provide local transportation and who will make travel arrangements, if this has been determined.
6. Complete contact information for yourself, including mailing address, email and phone number.  Many schools will have district paperwork they will need to send to you for completion.
7. Notes for the host. Here are a few stipulations I like to make:
--Please contact the author upon receipt of this confirmation.
--Payment is due on the day of the appearance.
--Please be sure to have a faculty member or volunteer available to assist the author on the day of the appearance.
--Please be sure that teachers remain with their classes during author presentations.
--If you plan to order books, please be sure to begin this process at least eight weeks before author visit.

Whether sending via email or snail mail, here are some things you may want to include in your cover:
1. RESTATE the appearance date, time and venue.
2. Provide LINKS to your website, publisher, and book order resources.
3. Explain the NEXT STEPS.  This varies by author.  Let them know if you'll be in touch or whether they should call you to work out final presentation details.  Do you provide a reading guide, discussion questions, or tips for teachers preparing students for your visit?  Briefly explain such resources.

Once you've created standard confirmation and cover letters, adapting them for each appearance is fairly simple.  The documents can then be used as the basis for organizing your appearance program: Print out a copy of each letter and store it in an "Appearance Binder" with a calendar at the front.  After each visit, make a few notes about the school (were they well-prepared? were you happy with your presentation?  was the venue hard to find?  would you recommend this school to other authors?) on the confirmation documents and set follow-up dates (thank-you note to host, newsletter addition, fall check-in for possible second visit) for that school on the calendar.

Like blogging, good appearance program management can take some time but it can help avoid a lot of stress and confusion later on.  A memorable presentation--one that engages and inspires students--should be the first and most important focus of your appearance plans.  But carrying your professionalism into the time before and after your actual appearance is something that educators and librarians will not forget either!


Lisa_Gibson said...

Great pointers! Very helpful advice that I'm sure was learned along the way. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! I've been thinking a lot about school visits (what do you do with a YA novel?), so this is really helpful information.

Stasia said...

Thanks for the comment, Lisa.

Helen, your question about YA novels and school visits is a good one. I'll make a note to post about this soon. Thanks!

Tracy Loewer said...

This is great, and something that I wouldn't have thought of doing. Not that I need it yet, but I hope to at some point! This is definitely going into my school visits folder. :)