An Update, School Visits, and A Shot in the Arm
Things have been pretty wild around the Savage household of late. My daughter came home with a ring on her finger. (Much better than, say, a ring in her nose, in this dad’s opinion.)
My son left to serve his Church for two years in Columbus, Ohio, then came home two weeks later to have arthroscopic surgery on both his knees. (Did I mention I lost my job last month and our insurance ends in January?) Fortunately we managed to get most of the work done this month, and it looks like we’ll have our own insurance starting soon. (Don’t ask me how much that cost!) Somehow Santa made it around this year (thanks for the laptop!) My youngest son is pretty much joined at the hip with a 2 ½ foot Millennium Falcon that has more buttons than my laptop, and my 11-year-old son has managed not to break his neck in the snowy streets on his electric scooter.
Is this starting to sound like one of those family newsletters yet? Okay, moving on.
Beginning in the middle of January, I will be doing school visits through the end of the school year. I expect to be pretty drained by the end of the year, but it’s still one of the greatest things I get to do as a YA author. Because Shadow Mountain has turned the scheduling back over to their authors for the most part, I’ve had a chance, along with my WONDERFUL wife, to spend quite a bit of time talking to librarians and principals. I’ve heard some great things about author visits, and I’ve heard more than one horror story. So I thought I’d share a few tips with any of you who are planning school visits.
#1) Know who you are presenting to and stick to that audience. If your book is aimed at third through sixth graders, don’t do assemblies for Kindergarteners. Sure, your presentation may be so darn amazing that EVERYONE will love it. But what happens when those six-year-olds go ask Mom and Dad to buy your book? Will they really appreciate it? Likewise, if you do picture books, don’t take your show to junior high students, unless you are going to teach them how to draw or about the business.
#2) On the same note, if you present to wide age groups, prepare more than one presentation. What entertains junior high students will not entertain third graders. In fact there is a huge gap between sixth and seventh graders. Create your presentation age appropriately.
#3) In a typical presentation, I will have between 300-400 students in attendance. I will probably have another fifteen or so, teachers and staff. If my presentation is an hour (including getting everyone in and out), I am responsible for 400+ hours. Don’t waste that time. Don’t come with a long commercial for your book. Don’t plan on reading for ten of those minutes. Teach something. Entertain and educate at the same time. When I leave a school, the students will understand that all of them have unique talents (magic) inside them. They will also know the key elements of creating a story. They will have learned something that makes them better people and writers. On the entertainment side, remember that kids learn better when they are having fun. Some authors bring snakes, some tell jokes, I do magic tricks. Boring presentations are the kiss of death. Make them laugh. Make sure that when you are done presenting, the teachers want to have more authors visit.
#4) How do you get compensated for your visit? As an author, I typically leave the house at 7:30, and, if I am doing a signing, may not get back home until 9:30 that night. I have to provide my own meals and my own gas. I also lose a full day of writing, which is how I make my living. If I am doing #3 right, I am providing a valuable service to the schools and the students. How do I get compensated for that? Of course it’s great meeting the kids, and hopefully they’ll remember my name down the road. But I can’t live on hopefully.
I try to provide several options. The easiest thing is to just charge a fee. The bigger your name, the higher the fee you can get. Rick Riordan charges something like $2500 per day, and he is booked solid. I can’t charge anywhere near that. But I try to work with schools to at least get a minimal fee that will cover my costs for the day. Another way I can make money is by selling books. This can be done through pre-order forms, where the kids bring in their money and I sign a book for them while I am there. Many schools encourage this. The kids get to meet the author and get a signed book, which will hopefully encourage them to read more. Typically the bookstore will offer a discounted price or give a % back to the school as a fundraiser.
Some schools would prefer that I not sell books in their school. That’s fine too. I usually do a signing that evening, in conjunction with the school visits. One of the great things about Shadow Mountain is that they provide posters, bookmarks, and invitations to the signing. So everyone gets a bookmark, anyone who wants a poster can get one free at the signing, and kids who want to buy a book and get it personalized, can do that too. It works out really well.
Occasionally, I will do a signing where there is not a convenient bookstore close by. Then I will sell my own books. This is another way I can help defer my costs. So far it has been a win win situation. I get to meet great kids, and introduce my books. They get a great message, and get excited about reading.
#5) Lastly, put together a flier, links to newspaper articles, references from other teachers, librarians, and principals who have heard your presentation. You are calling a school cold and asking them to let you visit with their most precious resource. Wouldn’t you want your children’s principal to do a background check on someone presenting to their school? Make it easy for everyone to learn what you do and how it has been received.
That’s it for schools. My last comment is back to the whole economy thing. I was talking to my younger sister today. She is writing a book for the first time. I asked her how the edits were coming. She said something to the effect of, “Well I’ve kind of been putting it off today since the economy is so bad.” It’s a good thing we were taking over the phone or I would have shaken her!
Did the amazing economy the last few years make you a bestseller? No? Then why should a bad economy kill your career? You know what successful authors are doing right now? They are writing and editing. Because they know that eventually the economy will pick up. The books that are being purchased now won’t come out for two years anyway. That means if you wanted to have your sales hurt, you are two years too late! But if you want to be a bestseller when the economy is going great, you need to get your book turned in, um, right now!
Here’s the thing. Winners will win regardless of what the economy is doing. Losers will always find an excuse not to win. Stop worrying about what you can’t control and get to work on what you do best. Okay, that’s it. I have to get back to writing, and marketing, and writing, and marketing, and . . . well you get the picture.