School author visits – Part 1
Ask almost any author what they enjoy about being a writer and they’ll invariable point towards the interactions they have with readers and fans. The buzz you get as an author when actually speaking to someone who has enjoyed your books can be quite seductive. If ever you’re looking for that high, one sure way to find it is to engage in school author visits. Kids love authors and relish the opportunity to see one up close and in person. If you’re looking for interactions with your public, this is one sure fire way of getting it.
But what if you’ve never done school author visits? How do you overcome the nerves? What will you say to them all? Exactly how are you going to keep a room full of buzzing children, many of whom have limited attention spans, entertained? It just so happens our very own Christopher D. Morgan has quite a bit of experience in this area, so we thought we’d take advantage of that.
In part II of this blog, we’ll ask Christopher to name his top 20 tips for a successful author visit. For now, we’re just going to fire a number of questions at him, and we’ll just see where that takes us.
Q. How long have you been an author and how many books have you written?
A. I started writing seriously in a commercial sense in 2016, so I’m still relatively new to the game. Thus far, I’ve published three novels, three short stories, a themed colouring book and a themed children’s activities book. I’ve also written Part One of my autobiography, which is currently being edited.
Q. Why do you do school author visits?
A. It started with me visiting a few of my local schools. I don’t recall the exact impetus, but I do remember to this day the overwhelming sense of achievement and satisfaction at captivating a hall full of primary school kids.
Q. Were you nervous the first time?
A. Oh, yes! Indeed, I’m nervous just before I go into a session even now. Once I get going, however, I find my stride in no time at all. It helps that my sessions are a lot of fun.
Q. How many times have you done school author visits?
A. I’ve done something like 30-40 individual sessions so far, encompassing around 3,000 students. I’ve done sessions in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and recently in the Netherlands. My usual target age group is the last couple of years of primary school and the first few years of secondary (roughly between the ages of 9-15).
Q. How many students to you typically speak to at a time?
A. Actually, there’s no such thing as typical. Each session is vastly different from the one before. I’ve addressed groups as large as 250 and as few as 5 with just about every possible combination in between.
Q. How long does each session last?
A. It varies greatly. A session could last anywhere from 45 minutes through to an entire day with small breaks in between. It really depends on the school, how big it is, what they’re looking for, etc.
Q. What happens in a given session?
A. No two sessions are ever the same but there are some commonalities. After the initial introduction, I typically start with a few words about me and my books. We then have a Q&A session. Something I like to do is to reward any student who asks or answers any question. I always come stocked with swag such as bookmarks, posters, books, etc. Every student always comes away with something. The opening Q&A session is a great way to start off with, as I end up giving lots of prizes away. It really sets the tone, so the kids know what to expect. How the sessions develop depends on the makeup of the group, their age range, the number of kids present, how engaged they are, etc. I have a range of activities, games, anecdotes and group exercises in my arsenal that I call upon as needed. These are things like dialogue exercises, a blood-pumping guess-the-animal game, writing prompts, discussions on ‘show, don’t tell’, and lots more besides.
Q. What makes a good session?
A. The sessions that are the most interactive, where the kids are really switched on and engaged, are the ones where everyone – me included – gets the most out of it. Those schools where the organising staff have put the most time and effort into promoting the event, getting the kids excited ahead of time, etc., are the ones that are the most successful.
Q. How do you keep the kids engaged for so long?
A. As a visiting author, this really is your biggest challenge, but it needn’t be. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about engagement, trying to think of inventive ways to keep the audience enthralled. I’ve found that simply having fun with the kids is the best way to keep them engaged. Having enough material is also key. Remember that the younger the age group, the shorter their attention span, so make sure you have lots of anecdotes and fun activities to draw upon. If you find yourself floundering, just launch into an impromptu Q&A session, which never fails. I recently spent about five hours at a school doing multiple back-to-back sessions with a group of 50 or more 11- to 13-year-olds. Between them, they must have asked over a thousand questions throughout the day.
Q. Do things ever go wrong?
A. Haha, absolutely, but it’s all part of the fun! You’ll turn up with a heavily prepared agenda only to find you’ve left something behind. The venue you were promised won’t be available, and you’ll have to think on your feet after being crammed into a much smaller space. You’ll turn up at the right time, only to find some of the classes you’ll be talking to have been sent to the wrong end of the school, causing awkward delays. If it ‘can’ go wrong, it invariably ‘will’ go wrong at some point. Just make the best of it. At a recent school, we all returned from lunch and found we couldn’t get back into the auditorium because it was locked, and the organising teacher didn’t have the key. Rather than bemoan the situation in awkward silence, I organised an impromptu little quiz right there in the crowded corridor. It kept the kids entertained long enough for someone to go and find the right key.
Q. Do you sell lots of books at schools? Do you make any money doing it?
A. It varies quite a lot. I can sell anywhere from hundreds of books to zero books. Some of that comes down to how well the school staff have organised things. Did they send the order forms home with the kids ahead of time? Did they spend any time drumming up enthusiasm with the kids? That sort of thing. For me personally, it’s not really about selling books. That’s not my motivation for going into schools. If I sell a few books, that’s a happy bonus, of course, but it’s not the main reason I do this. The school typically pays a session fee, which covers the cost of my time and any materials I need to produce. Anything I sell on top as a result is an added bonus.
Q. How far in advance do you organise the visit?
A. Ideally, I prefer to have four weeks of lead time. This provides enough time to agree with the staff if they want me to cover anything specific,. It allows me time to create marketing materials for the school to help them promote the event, to distribute things like order forms or quizzes/games, which the kids can complete for the chance to win a free copy of a book on the day, etc. At a pinch, I can do it all in a couple of weeks, but a month allows me to prepare everything I need in time.
Q. What one piece of advice would you give to an author considering going into a school?
A. Just do it. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like standing there looking down at a group of kids sitting cross-legged on the floor, all with their jaws agape, looking up at you in silence. That’s the moment when you know you’ve ‘got them.’ For that split second, you are their inspiration. Regardless of how many books I sell throughout my author career, regardless of how much money I make, it’s that one student. It’s that one kid who looks up at me in awe during my time at their school, who just might go on to be the next Enid Blyton, J.K. Rowling or Roald Dahl. If I could play even the smallest part in lighting that fire of enthusiasm for that one child, it will all have been worthwhile.
If you ever considered doing school author visits, my recommendation is to just dive in. It’s without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have. Start off with something simple, like offering to go into one of your local schools. If it’s your first time, offer to do it for free. Better yet, if you have kids at school, talk to their teacher about you coming in to speak to the students. Get a bit of practice this way and you’ll soon be having fun and making money in the process.
Do you have any questions about school author visits that aren’t reflected above? Drop your questions into the comments section below, or contact Christopher D. Morgan directly via chris@DragonRealmPress.com.