Author Visits: First Questions to Ask Before Booking

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Most authors and illustrators focus on “what should I charge?” and “what should I talk about” when looking to book their first rounds of author visits. Here are just a few questions to ask from the very first time you connect with the school or group, before you pick the date.

1. What are the age ranges in attendance they want you to speak to; is it the whole school or a few classes/grades, and if so–which grades?
2. How many students/kids total? You’ll want to know for handouts, any giveaways, yes, but initially to gauge the amount of work so you can properly set your honorarium.
3. Is it going to be one assembly, or a few smaller class-by-class-type presentations? [If the latter, put a cap on it–state “no more than three,” for example. Your max number should be stated clearly in your contract anyway, and you’ll get to that later. But you need to know their expectation up front.]
4. Is there anything else going on at the same time, such as is it Parents Night, a spaghetti feed fundraiser or book fair, etc? You need to know what competition there is for the kids’ attention (and possibly book money).
5. What do they have in mind or set aside for honorarium? You don’t want this to be the first thing you talk about, but I think it should be brought up early. You can bring it up gently in the form of “My typical fee is $350 per presentation, is that about what you have budgeted? If there is a problem, we can get creative,” and prepared to negotiate. Wait for them to respond, though, don’t offer a lower a lower rate right off the bat.
If they do get back with you about not having that high a budget, be prepared to  offer several options (you did say you’d get creative, right?). You can shortening the length of your presentation for less money, or point them towards places they can turn to for grants or other ways Scholastic suggests, such as fundraising, here. A past SCBWI bulletin offers tips on getting local community groups like the Rotary to pitch in here. You might need to suggest postponing the event until they have the funds.
Bottom line is, do not expect them to know your standard fees, as (for some inexplicable reason) some schools may assume you won’t be charging them, even if your rates are clearly marked in your contract or Contact Me page. I’ve had schools suddenly realize “they were booked that day afterall” once we got through all the details, had the date scheduled, and I then asked them about my honorarium…which is why I mention it early on now. Don’t waste your–or their–time. Get the money talk out of the way early. [And yes, you’re worth it. Convince yourself, and the school/group, with this “Why Pay Authors for School Visits Anyway?” post if needed.]
6. Is there anything in particular the school/group is, or is not, looking for, such as asking kids to come on stage, tossing out candy to kids that answer Qs, talking about feelings, etc? You’ll want to know how much adjusting you might need to do on your presentation. I know one school wanted me to talk about the art side of things, and I had to tell them it’s not what I do, it’s out of my area of expertise, but that I could certainly touch on it as far as the overall book-making process. Better they know right away if you are a match for what they are looking for.
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Once they get back to you answers, and it sounds good to you both, you can look at scheduling a date and time, and agreed upon honorarium. It’s only THEN you present a contract for you both to sign with all the blanks filled in. Yes, you both sign a contract, no matter how sure you are it will happen, no matter how nice they are, no matter how eager and excited you both are to have it on the calendar. EVEN IF IT’S A FREE VISIT. We all know authors that have arrived at their pro bono appointment only to be met with unprepared staff (“who are you?” “no one told me you were coming in” “oh, that’s today?”), or ungracious classrooms (teachers walking out as soon as you start, staff not helping quiet down troublemakers)–unfortunately as I’ve seen firsthand, time and again: people don’t respect what they don’t pay for. They just don’t.


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Bonus materials to add to your contract, if you mutually agree the visit is a go:

  • State you are unable to add ANY additional responsibilities or presentations outside of the stated contract. No last-minute additional presentations, added minutes, or additional classes/students can be added in without additional honorarium.
  • Add in a a clause about the teachers not leaving the room while you’re there. Many states have laws that you’re not allowed to be solo in the room with kids anyway, so it’s a matter of legality.
  • Ensure ahead of time they make plans to have at least one of their teachers or school representatives for at least every 30-50 or so kids. I suggest you also make sure it’s not a proctor or someone like that; kids behave differently around principals (better!) and substitute teachers (worse!).
  • Is there a mic available to you IN THE ROOM YOU’RE PRESENTING IN, overhead projector, screen, flipchart, etc (whatever you need)?
  • Ask about book sales: Will they be set up by the school (not you!) beforehand, and will you sign books after your presentation only for presales (which means families that didn’t have their act together ahead of time to buy won’t have the opportunity, or kids that forgot their books), or will sales be after (which still means families that didn’t have their act together ahead of time won’t have the opportunity b/c they will have forgotten to bring money to buy)? Do you want to only sign bookplates while you’re there, so everyone gets one? You and the school need to decide ahead of time and have the time blocked out. [Also, sorry to break it to you but be aware that book sales will probably be low, but the demand for autographs will be high, especially with the kids that didn’t get to buy a book. You’re a rock star to them!]

The more prepared you are, the better your visit will be.

Go get ’em tiger!

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