Every student deserves to experience an author visit. It doesn’t matter if they attend a rural Title I school in York County, Nebraska or an elite prep school on the Upper West Side of New York City, every student should have the opportunity to experience an author visit.
So let’s make this year the year of the author visit!
Why Bring in an Author?
Why bring an author to your school?
The value of an author visit can’t be overstated. Author visits are impactful and inspirational. They touch the lives of students. They open minds and hearts. They even alter the course and change the trajectory of lives.
But make no mistake, when an author visits a school, it has to be the right author. Just because someone writes beautiful books doesn’t mean they have any business standing in front of a room full of students. When an author visits a school, it may very well be the first and only time many of those students ever get to meet and interact with an author. It is the responsibility – the moral obligation – of that author to convey the critical importance of reading, writing, the arts, and life.
That is the right author. That is the author all students deserve to hear in their own school.
Author visits cost. Authors get paid to visit schools. Many authors earn a significant portion of their income from school visits and appearances fees.
At first glance, the cost of an author visit may seem prohibitive. But in reality, they’re inexpensive, especially when you consider the long-term return on the investment. The per-child cost of an author visit is somewhere between the cost of a Happy Meal and a matinee movie ticket. Often, that’s less than the cost of an all-school field trip.
So consider an author visit an in-school field trip, a school-wide celebration of reading, writing, the arts, and life. That’s a worthwhile investment.
Free Author Visits
What about all those schools that get free author visits? Why should we pay when other don’t?
Yes, there are schools that get free author visits. Sometimes an author has a personal connection with a school and will donate a visit. Other times, a school has a relationship with a local bookstore that in turn, has a relationship with a publisher or publicist. If an author is traveling on a publisher-sponsored tour, the tour may include school visits, and yes, those visits are free. These schools are fortunate beyond words, but in reality, there are very, very few of these schools.
We Can’t Afford an Author Visit
Yes, you can afford an author visit.
I’m a former middle school teacher in the New York City Public Schools. I understand slashed budgets and limited resources. But schools that truly want their students to experience an author visit find ways to make it happen.
How do they do it?
Some schools have set aside activity funds. The dream scenario is when these activity funds have a line-item budget allocation for author visits, but sadly, those don’t exist in most places. In schools where there is an activity fund, the administrators and money distributors need to make author visits a priority.
Some schools rely on the generosity of a PTO or a parent organization. If your PTO or parent group does not sponsor an author visit, perhaps they’re unaware of their significance and importance. Attend one of their meetings. Help them understand why author visits should be a priority.
More and more schools rely on Title I funds to pay for author visits. Yes, Title I funds can be used to pay for author visits. When an author visit is linked to the curriculum (and it should be), Title I funds can be used. The visit isn’t taking away from or interfering with the instructional day. It’s enhancing student learning. It’s complementing literacy programs, and history programs and social studies programs and civics programs. It’s reinforcing writing process lessons. Unfortunately, many schools – many administrators – don’t know this. They need to know this.
Some schools use the proceeds from book fairs to pay for author visits. Some reach out to local businesses and have them sponsor the visit. Some schools hold penny or change drives to fund a portion of the visit. In those instances, the students are literally investing in and taking ownership of the author visit. Some schools write grants (there are many available). Some schools have taken to Donorschoose.org.
Schools find ways to make author visits happen.
Why Not Skype?
Why not just Skype with an author? Why not just host a virtual author visit?
By all means, Skype with an author. Host a virtual author visit. But this isn’t a binary decision. Just because you Skype with an author doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring an author to your school. While Skype visits can be (and should be) rich and rewarding, nothing compares to the in-person author visit. For many students, it’s like having their favorite pop star or sports hero come to their school.
The value of that is immeasurable.
But We’ve Never Hosted an Author Visited
If you’ve never hosted an author visit, even the idea of one can seem daunting and intimidating.
But hosting an author visit doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. There are incredible resources out there to help you through the process. Check out some of the posts on the Nerdy Book Club site (use the tag, author visits). Check out the News on The Booking Biz site (use the tag, Author Visit Tips). Visit individual author websites. Reach out to your PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter. Reach out to a local bookstore. Reach out to your local public library.
Author Visits Build Community
One of the most beautiful aspects of an author visit is the various ways in which they help to build community.
First, no one should ever try to coordinate an author visit alone. Who has the time? Find others who are willing to pitch in or work with you.
The team coordinating the author visit is the seed. As roles and tasks get assigned and completed, that seed germinates. Everyone is able to participate. Everyone can contribute. No job is too small. Even the person whose sole responsibility is to write the names of the students who purchase books on stickie notes and then place them on the title pages of books so that when the author autographs the books, the author spells the students’ names correctly is playing a meaningful role.
The team coordinating the visit should begin the work well in advance, and at every turn, they should look for ways to build student excitement. Have students decorate the halls with signs and author-inspired art projects. Hold a contest where a select group of students – one or two from each grade — can win lunch with the author. Have the students make welcome banners. Encourage the older students to read the author’s books to the younger ones. Ask the teachers to consider using one of the author’s books as a classroom read aloud.
Yes, involve the teachers as much as possible.
Now I know the last thing most a teacher wants is someone else pushing a personal agenda onto their already overloaded plate. So provide the teachers with the ideas, the activities, and the materials. Link it to the classroom curriculum. Explain to the teachers that all your asking for is ten to fifteen minutes a week in the month or two leading up to the visit. It makes a world of difference.
It’s just as important to involve the administrators. When administrators buy into an author visit, the effect doesn’t just trickle down, it cascades. And it doesn’t take much for this to occur. Sometimes all it takes is a cameo on the morning announcements.
Speaking of the morning announcements, create a daily countdown timer leading up to the big day. Have students come on to talk about their favorite books by the author. Announce and track that building-wide contest where students can win lunch with the author. Invite parents or family members or a para or one of the food service workers to do a guest reading.
The author visit should be a true community celebration, one that doesn’t stop at the school doors.
Author visits are not just about selling books. The author visiting your school — the right author visiting your school — is not there to simply hock their books. The books are the tools for learning and the instruments of inspiration. Offering them for sale can be an exciting and powerful part of the experience, but it’s only part of the experience.
Of course, some schools and districts don’t allow authors to sell their books. It’s a misguided policy, but it is a reality. And in other schools, the students and families simply don’t have the money to purchase books. That’s a reality, too.
The prospect of offering books for sale can be bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. A number of authors offer how-to tips and tutorials on their individual websites. So do bookstores and publishers.
The key to book sales is starting the process early. Often, the sales need to be completed days or even weeks in advance (which is one of the reasons it’s so important to generate school-wide excitement well ahead of time). Invariably, students will want to purchase books after the visit, but that’s usually difficult unless you’re working with a local independent bookstore.
Whenever possible, work with a local independent bookstore. They’ve done these author visits before. They know the community demographics. They will assist in the process. They may even be available to help on the day of the visit.
In The End, It’s All About the Students
Talk to educators, talk to librarians, talk to parents, talk to students, and they’ll all share with you the ways in which author visits make a difference.
Author visits help foster a life-long love for reading. They bring books to life on a whole new level, and they help students develop a greater appreciation for literature and the written word.
Through author visits, students learn that authors are readers, too. Authors share their reading lives, talk about their favorite authors, and make book recommendations. When they do, watch what happens in the library. Watch what happens to the number of books that get checked out. Watch how the students become more willing to read outside of their comfort zones.
Then watch how the students – empowered and more confident – become more and more willing to take risks with their writing.
Through author visits, students learn that authors also struggle with formulating ideas, editing and revision, and accepting criticism. And authors also live in a world where a first draft is never a final draft and where the real writing takes place during the re-writing.
Students recognize the parallels. Students make the school-to-life connections. When they do, watch for that look of recognition when they see their writing process is similar to the writing process of real authors. Then watch how they become more willing to take risks with their writing. And watch how the reluctant or unwilling writers begin to realize they can do this, they can write creatively.
Watch how they come to understand we all have stories to tell.
We all have stories to tell because we’re all human. Through author visits, students learn that the name on the cover of the book is a real human – a real person who happens to be at their school. Students get a peek behind-the-curtain into life of an author. Authors share growing-up stories and anecdotes. Students come to understand that authors also have to make their own beds, do the dishes, and pick up the dog poop.
So often, we talk about the importance of students seeing themselves in books. So imagine the power of students seeing themselves in the person standing at the front of their cafetorium. Imagine the value of students saying to themselves that’s what I like to do, that’s what I like to read, that’s what I like to write, that’s who I can be.
Let’s not just imagine. Let’s make it happen.
All students should have the opportunity to experience an in-person author visit. All students deserve to experience the right author visit. For the students in your community and for your entire community, make this year the year of the author visit.