Okay, after many calls, you’ve finally scheduled your first school visit. This is exciting, be proud of yourself!
I’ve been doing author talks, readings, and writing camps for eight years. I’ve learned a few things, so I’ll share them with you.
Be ready for anything. You have to adapt to any possible situation or screw up. I’ve visited hundreds of schools, and I can think of three that are always prepared for my arrival. Everything is ready, all I have to do is show up, plug in, and go. At the other extreme, I’ve arrived at schools where the multipurpose room is locked, the guy with the key is nowhere to be found, and the students are already lining up for the fantasy fiction novels presentation. Ouch. Talk about being a duck!
Your projector breaks, your powerpoint gets corrupted, there’s too much light in the room, you find out you have 17 minutes to do your perfect 50 minute presentation. Expect it all to happen and you’ll be fine, and don’t ever show anxiety. Remember, you’re a duck, serene on the surface and paddling like hell underneath.
Here’s a checklist for you:
1. Run through your fantasy dragons presentation the night before. Include your A/V equipment. Better to find a glitch before you get to the school.
2. Find the school the day before your scheduled visit. There’s nothing worse than getting lost with only five minutes to go before you’re supposed to start.
3. Arrive no later than 30 minutes prior to your scheduled start time. If it’s your first YA books talk, make it 60 minutes. Give yourself plenty of time to get set up, run through everything, and relax. You want to be at your best when the flag goes up.
4. If you think you’re early, go to the school anyway. I learned that one the hard way – more than once. I thought I had 40 minutes to spare, and when I arrived, I was 30 minutes late. Better to be early.
5. Kids are kids. They’re going to love you, but they’re still going to fidget, talk, joke, try to look cool, and everything else kids do. I just stop talking and stand still when they start to get a little rowdy. They get the message.
6. Be exceptionally nice to everyone you meet at the school. I mean syrupy sweet. You are representing yourself as an author of the best new fantasy novels around, and whether or not you get invited back will depend largely on the overall impression you make. From the receptionist to the principal, pour it on. They’ll love you!
7. Send a personally written thank you card to the librarian or teacher who set up the visit. If they handled book sales for you and you sold a bunch of books, buy him or her a $10 Starbucks gift card. Trust me, even with just a thank you note, you’ll shine brighter than the sun.
There are other things I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but these are a good start. Remember that school librarians are the most overworked and underpaid professionals in the world. When you cold call them hoping to schedule a young adults fiction talk, bend whatever way they want – if they say they can’t talk right now, thank them very much and tell them you’ll call another time.
Good luck – be persistent – presenting to kids is the second best part of being an author.