I've been doing school visits as part of my tour for PRINCESS ACADEMY: The Forgotten Sisters. All have been terrific--great kids, great librarians. But something happened at one I want to talk about. I'm not going to name the school or location because I don't think it's a problem with just one school; it's just one example of a much wider problem.
This was a small-ish school, and I spoke to the 3-8 grades. It wasn't until I was partway into my presentation that I realized that the back rows of the older grades were all girls.
Later a teacher told me, "The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed."
"Because the administration had already shown that they believed my presentation would only be for girls?"
"Yes," she said.
I tried not to explode in front of the children.
Let's be clear: I do not talk about "girl" stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do a "Your Menstrual Cycle and You!" presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I'm a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have "princess" in the title, I'm stamped as "for girls only." However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.
This has happened a few times before. I don't believe it's ever happened in an elementary school--just middle school or high school.
I remember one middle school 2-3 years ago that I was going to visit while on tour. I heard in advance that they planned to pull the girls out of class for my assembly but not the boys. I'd dealt with that in the past and didn't want to be a part of perpetuating the myth that women only have things of interest to say to girls while men's voices are universally important. I told the publicist that this was something I wasn't comfortable with and to please ask them to invite the boys as well as girls. I thought it was taken care of. When I got there, the administration told me with shrugs that they'd heard I didn't want a segregated audience but that's just how it was going to be. Should I have refused? Embarrassed the bookstore, let down the girls who had been looking forward to my visit? I did the presentation. But I felt sick to my stomach. Later I asked what other authors had visited. They'd had a male writer. For his assembly, both boys and girls had been invited.
I think most people reading this will agree that leaving the boys behind is wrong. And yet--when giving books to boys, how often do we offer ones that have girls as protagonists? (Princesses even!) And if we do, do we qualify it: "Even though it's about a girl, I think you'll like it." Even though. We're telling them subtly, if not explicitly, that books about girls aren't for them. Even if a boy would never, ever like any book about any girl (highly unlikely) if we don't at least offer some, we're reinforcing the ideology.
I heard it a hundred times with Hunger Games: "Boys, even though this is about a girl, you'll like it!" Even though. I never heard a single time, "Girls, even though Harry Potter is about a boy, you'll like it!"
The belief that boys won't like books with female protagonists, that they will refuse to read them, the shaming that happens (from peers, parents, teachers, often right in front of me) when they do, the idea that girls should read about and understand boys but that boys don't have to read about girls, that boys aren't expected to understand and empathize with the female population of the world....this belief directly leads to rape culture. To a culture that tells boys and men, it doesn't matter how the girl feels, what she wants. You don't have to wonder. She is here to please you. She is here to do what you want. No one expects you to have to empathize with girls and women. As far as you need be concerned, they have no interior life.
At this recent school visit, near the end I left time for questions. Not one student had a question. In 12 years and 200-300 presentations, I've never had that happen. So I filled in the last 5 minutes reading them the first few chapters of The Princess in Black, showing them slides of the illustrations. BTW I've never met a boy who didn't like this book.
After the presentation, I signed books for the students who had pre-ordered my books (all girls), but one 3rd grade boy hung around.
"Did you want to ask her a question?" a teacher asked.
"Yes," he said nervously, "but not now. I'll wait till everyone is gone."
Once the other students were gone, three adults still remained. He was still clearly uncomfortable that we weren't alone but his question was also clearly important to him. So he leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "Do you have a copy of the black princess book?"
It broke my heart that he felt he had to whisper the question.
He wanted to read the rest of the book so badly and yet was so afraid what others would think of him. If he read a "girl" book. A book about a princess. Even a monster-fighting superhero ninja princess. He wasn't born ashamed. We made him ashamed. Ashamed to be interested in a book about a girl. About a princess--the most "girlie" of girls.
I wish I'd had a copy of The Princess in Black to give him right then. The bookstore told him they were going to donate a copy to his library. I hope he's brave enough to check it out. I hope he keeps reading. I hope he changes his own story. I hope all of us can change this story. I'm really rooting for a happy ending.
The Forgotten Sisters, the final book in the Princess Academy series, hits shelves one week from today. Preorder the book from anywhere and get a free poster.
Here are details of my upcoming appearances in Utah, Chicago, North Carolina, Wyoming, and Santa Monica. I need to focus more on writing and family than on trips and book events, so I will be cutting back wherever possible this year. Catch me while you can!
What am I currently working on? Nine things. Short stories, screenplays, a graphic novel, an adult novel, some middle grade and young adult novels. I honestly don't know which one will be finished and out first. I often hear non-writers muse that coming up with ideas must be the hardest part of writing. There are many things harder than coming up with ideas.
Today I took my four-year-olds to their indoor soccer class, stood outside the door, and had a phone interview with Sally from Publisher's Weekly about Princess Academy's tenth anniversary. The class pit the girls against the boys. My daughters had a stunning plan for victory: stand directly in front of the PVC-pipe-and-net goal and twirl their hair in eerie unison. And then when a boy kicked the ball anywhere near them, they picked up the goal and turned it around. I watched and laughed and gave my interview. A janitor overheard me on the phone and interrupted the call to ask, "Are you a writer? Do you have any books out? What are they? I love to read."
So do I, my friend.
I am fortunate to receive many invitations to visit book groups, schools, book fairs and the like. When I turn down the majority of invites I get (or simply fail to see the invitation in my disaster of an inbox, on twitter, facebook, etc) I sometimes get the response, "You seem ungrateful," or, "Don't you want to sell books?"
I've realized that most people don't understand the ins and outs of being a writer for a living, so I'm going to talk really frankly here. Many are offended when writers talk about money. Art and commerce shouldn't mix! Authors are artists and shouldn't make decisions based on dirty filthy lucre! For those people I say, Look away! Don't read this! Go on believing that artists survive on art alone and need no home but the earth to whom we compose odes and eat nothing but delicious, nutritious words and are sated.
For the rest of you, let's talk some practical numbers.
Often people assume authors are like widget makers. You see people at Costco doing demonstrations of blenders. They'll sell more blenders if they're there in person. An author sells more books if they're there in person too. But authors make much less per item than a blender maker. And traditionally published children's authors make the least of all.
Case study. A children's author and an adult SF author go to a book signing. They spend two hours there and sell the same number of books.
The adult SF author has a 700-page tome that sells in hardcover for $35. Writers get higher percentages for adult books, usually at least 15%, so each hc sold earns the author about $5. Sell 50 and he's got $250. Paperback prices vary (mass market much less than trade) but let's say it's about $15 for a paperback. He makes about 10% on that, sells 50, earns $75. For two hours plus travel, that's decent. He'll also get to meet many fans, which is another bonus of doing events.
Now the children's book author. The hardcover sells for $18. Children's writers make about 10% on a hardcover, so if she sells 50 that's $90. For a paperback, $8 with a 7% royalty is common. For 50 books that'd be $28.
Adult author total: $325.
Children's author total: $118
Plus agents take 15% off the top, and then authors are self-employed and so pay higher taxes.
Now these are big numbers. Selling 50 hardcovers and 50 paperbacks at a signing is a great signing for most authors, so this is just an example. I've done signings where I've sold zero. All authors have. And even though a 100 book signing is tremendous, I have to sells tens of thousands of books to make a living at it, so even having a few great signings several times/month wouldn't enable me to write for my job.
There are vast variations on this. If it's an illustrated book, author/illustrator spit the royalty, so a picture book author who didn't do the illustrations might make 5% on a hardcover and 3.5% on a paperback. Board books are even less. Scholastic bookfair books might earn an author 5 cents each, or less.
Given that children's authors make so much less on books than adult authors, they usually charge to make appearances, do school assemblies, etc. Many can afford to be a writer because of extra income they make from appearances. When you ask a children' author to come to your event for free, it's like asking any other professional to work for free. I can't count how many times I've been invited to speak at a function for free even though the attendees paid to be there. Children's authors (and especially women) are often expected to give of our time for the cause and be grateful for the opportunity. And actually, I am always grateful that anyone thought of me, but I simply can't afford to give away so much of my time.
A self-published author would have an entirely different experience at that book signing. Let's say she has a novel she sells for $15 and half of that is the cost of the book, so she makes $7.5 per book. That's a great number. Signings are much more worth her time. The downside is that her books are less likely to be in bookstores, so in order to sell books she needs to be present. This is one reason why ebooks are usually a better option financially for indie authors.
Usually when I do a signing, the majority of books I sign are ones the readers bring from home, which is perfectly fine. If I sign 200 books at an event, perhaps 40 of those were purchased that day because of my appearance. I do around 50 book events/year, and for most of them I make less on the royalties from books sold than I pay my sitter to watch my kids while I'm gone. And while I'm gone, I'm also not writing, not creating that next book.
For reasons of publicity, all exposure is good exposure. But as a writer who needs lots of time to produce the next book and as a parent who doesn't want to raise neglected kids, I have to be very selective about where I put my time.
This year I started to do school assemblies one day a month in my home state. Halfway through the year I'm beginning to think I can't afford to do it again next year, even though I'm getting paid for my presentation. I get about 18 work days/month, after you take out weekends, holidays, and the inevitable child-related interruptions. To give up 1/18 of my work time is significant. I'm not sure I can afford to do it anymore. Even though I love to meet the kids and it feels great to be there, and it is great publicity to personally meet all those kids who may want to read my books in the future, ultimately I'm a writer and I can't afford to lose my writing time.
So, that's the nitty gritty. It's not fun, is it? Much more fun to talk about story crafting and character development and writing sentences that sing. Money and art may not be a happy couple, but until art can be created by robots, artists will always have to think about it. And note that even though authors don't make much per book, they make even less if you pirate them. Please, please don't be a book thief. Read The Book Thief but don't be one.
Even though there is a lot of stress that comes with this unpredictable, unstable profession, I love it so much and am so grateful for those who read my books, who buy them from bookstores or check them out of libraries. I wish I could meet you all in person. But I promise that I'm not that interesting. My wild, fearless hope is that the stories themselves are enough.
Please feel free to ask me any followup questions in the comments.
I'm home all this month (hallelujah!) but it's been a travel-heavy year and will continue to be so. I won't be at ALA (but ARCs of THE FORGOTTEN SISTERS -- the 3rd and final PRINCESS ACADEMY -- will be there!). I'll be at SDCC and a book festival this summer, I think, before I hit the road in October to tour for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK.
Here are some random selfies from my spring trips to TLA, BEA, IRA, etc., in no particular order.
Jessica Day George and I were on the same plane to Texas. In the airport we ran into Matthew Kirby...
...and Jim Di Bartolo.
David Levithan modeling the fried green tomatoes we ate in New Orleans.
On stage at the Teen Book Con in Houston with Emery Lord, Brendan Kiely, Rachel Hawkins, and Jason Reynolds
...also with Tess Sharpe and Bree Despain...
...and Laurie Halse Anderson keynoting, showing the slide of all the authors who were there. What a fun group! We had a blast. Thanks, Blue Willow Books!
With Laini Taylor and Cecil Castelucci in...where? I think Houston. It all runs together. But I remember we played a very funny card game in a hotel lobby till late at night with Bree Despain and Eliot Schrefer. Well, not too late. We ain't kids anymore.
Trent Reedy, Elizabeth Eulberg, Sarah Mlynowski, and Sarah Mlynowski's hand
Dean Hale, I told you to stay away from Tori Spelling!!!
At lunch, Varian Johnson and Alaya Dawn Johnson (no relation!) show us they can salsa.
Laini Taylor and I model Daughter of Smoke and Bone masks.
The fabulous E. Lockhart. Have you read We Were Liars yet?
During our panel on "Kick-Ass Girls" I invited the audience and fellow panelists Elizabeth Eulberg and Maggie Steifvater to do the Wonder Woman pose and feel the power! (we're on the table, because why not). Also it was Mother's Day.
In the hotel, Dean wants to see if he can walk on the ceiling.
Chillin' by the river in San Antonio with Nathan Hale, Tom Angleberger, and Jenni Holm. Man, I love those kids!
With my good pal Michael Buckley. He's like a big brother to me. When he's not like a little brother to me.
In NYC, having lunch with Brandon Mull and his wife Mary we found a Diane Von Furstenberg sample sale. Brandon models a dress I thought about buying. (the idea of a sample sale is better than an actual sample sale)
In New Orleans for IRA I did a panel with Sean Williams, Garth Nix, and Maggie Steivater for Spirit Animals. At the signing, my ARCs of book 4 (FIRE AND ICE! Out next week!) didn't show up, so I mostly just watched them sign. And took photos. And gave them helpful pointers. I'm sure they were thrilled.
Dean models a "This princess wears black!" t-shirt
Doing some dangerous moves with PRINCESS IN BLACK editor Sarah Ketchersid.
BEA, New York City, Michael Buckley and I emceed the first annual Slushpile Family Circus, an author and illustrator variety show. Libba Bray opens the show with her incredible set of pipes and pack of sass.
Michael Buckley sings Lionel Richie's "Hello" while Tom Angleberger, Phil Bildner and Gareth Hinds juggle, as you do.
Comedy sketch with Jason Reynolds, Brandon Mull, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, and Maryrose Wood.
This photo started out with me pretending to karate chop Daniel Handler's injured knee, when he took my hand and placed it there. I swear! I'm totally innocent! Also important to note that the last time we were together was also in Javits (for NYCC last fall) and I was wearing this same outfit. Surely he believes I'd been there all those months, just waiting for his return.
After this lovely gentleman by the name of John Green waited in line for both of my signings at BEA, I thought I needed photographic proof that John Green is a fan of mine.
Kate DiCamillo signs a copy of LEROY NINKER for my kids after hearing we're all big MERCY WATSON fans...
Then we try to take a photo together but can't decide of we're sitting/crouching...
...or standing so we kept popping up and down.
And home again.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New to the Annual Children’s Book Art Silent Auction and Reception at BEA this year, The Slushpile Family Circus, an entertainment and comedy variety show displaying the non-authorial talents of various children’s writers and illustrators. Masters of Ceremony Shannon Hale and Michael Buckley will emcee with their trademark Verve™ and Panache™ the phantasmagorical cavalcade of “talent” and showmanship.
Come witness such luminaries as David Levithan and Jon Scieszka display never-before-witnessed “talents”! What shocking tricks will Pseudonymous Bosch and Melissa de la Cruz be up to? We would give you a sneak peak of the hidden talents of Brandon Mull, Jason Reynolds, and Paul Zelinsky but we’ve been sworn to secrecy! Jarrett Krosoczka, Maryrose Wood, and Scott Westerfeld will amaze and delight! Libba Bray, Daniel Kirk, and Tom Angleberger will provoke and alarm! And who will be the Mysterious “Talent” Guest? Come one, come all and witness the bizarre, the unusual, but the always entertaining Slushpile Family Circus at this year’s Silent Auction!
The Silent Auction runs Wednesday, May 28, 5pm-7:30pm at the Javits Center in New York City. Get your tickets here!
Just heard the news...EVER AFTER HIGH: The Storybook of Legends is a New York Times Best Seller! Callooh Callay!
A smattering of visuals from the first leg of my book tour. First, a video of me and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) before our NY Comic Con panel.
At the Provo Library last night, look at this amazing wall sticker:
They do such lovely window displays at the Provo Library!
Details from the window display. Raven and Apple emerging from a 3D book. Really pretty.
Posing with my fabulous apple purse in front of a HUGE cover of my new book at NYCC:
Mr. Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) reacts to my dignified, mature observation that my book cover poster is larger than his:
They told me this was the author green room:
First sighted in public: the new, smaller trim size of Calamity Jack! (Rapunzel's Revenge has also been downsized.) I was impressed with how good these look. The text size is still very readable, and now these can fit on regular sized book shelves. These books have been hugely popular in libraries but hard to find in bookstores because they were hard to stock on shelves. Hopefully bookstores will carry them more broadly now!
A dessert I ate at a NYC restaurant. It was called "Chocolate Cube." Yes, thank you.
Filet mignon and mushroom wellington. Pretty much how I eat at home too.
Tuesday, October 8
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Wednesday, October 9
St. Louis County Library
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd
St. Louis, MO
Booksales by Barnes & Noble
Thursday, October 10
Mrs. Nelson's Toys & Books
1030 Bonita Ave
La Verne, CA
Saturday, October 12
Children's Book World
17 Haverford Station Rd
Sunday, October 13
New York Comic Con Panel
The Magic of Storytelling panel with Lemony Snicket (When Did You See Her Last?), David Lubar (Weenies series), Matthew Cody (Will in Scarlet), Shannon Hale (Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends), George O'Connor (Olympians), and Scott Campell (If Dogs Run Free)
New York Comic Con Authographing: 12PM - Table 21
Tuesday, October 15
Provo City Library
550 North University Ave.
Provo, UT 84601
Booksales by Kings English
October 17, 2013
Talk and signing with Lisi Harrison, Megan McCafferty, and Diana Lopez
October 19, 2013
Tween Reads Book Fest
November 9, 2013
Check with the stores for further information. Remember, it costs stores money to advertise and staff an author event. If you want to get books signed at bookstore-hosted events, please support their continued existence by purchasing a book from them (doesn't have to be one of mine--but hey, that'd be nice!).
I was at BEA in NYC last weekend, and I forgot to take photos. So I have three scrounged up ones.
With two of my favorite boys: Michael Buckley (Sisters Grimm) and Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda). What's that on my head? A My Little Pony party hat/unicorn horn I picked up. Someone said, "You're not going to wear that," and so...
Hanging out with my (obviously) very good friend, Kate di Camillo, completely with her knowledge and approval.
I haven't shown you the (not so) wee ones in a bit. They're pretty awesome.
As for BEA news, I had two books announced. The press release hasn't gone out for one, so that will come later this week I think. But I can tell you that I'll be writing the 4th book in the SPIRIT ANIMALS series, Scholastic's new multiplatform middle grade series (like 39 CLUES and INFINITY RING). The first book, by Brandon Mull, comes out this fall. My book will be published in July 2014.
So much has happened. So much goodness and craziness. I hardly know how to organize my thoughts. I have a bunch of crappy phone photos so maybe I'll just paste those in.
On the "red carpet." When I first arrived I was the only one. I posed for photos. Awkwardly. Such a relief when the actors came and took the attention.
I have a photo of the three of us almost exactly like this from four years ago, the first time we three got together to talk about the movie. (I don't have a photo cred for this one but it's not mine, couldn't find the source, sorry.)
Jerusha Hess (Austenland director) and I backstage before the premiere in Park City. I love her.
The audience as I came up on stage after the screening with the cast, director, and Stephenie.Watching the film with a huge, sold out crowd, hearing their honest and constant laughter (and sometimes gasps) gave me goosebumps and made me cry. Surreal, beautiful experience.
On stage for the Q&A. The entire cast flew out for Sundance (Georgia King and Jennifer Coolidge didn't arrive till after the premiere due to filming their respective TV series) You can watch the video of that Q&A here.
With Jane Seymour (Mrs. Wattlesbrook) and her real life sister Annie (Patience the maid). These two were dear friends of mine on set and it was a joyous reunion when I saw them again. Annie flew in from England!
I got Ricky Whittle to eat a vegetable.
My agent Barry with Lady Jane.
More Ricky! With some amazing nachos. I love this boy.
And even more Ricky! Given some of the photos I had with me and Ricky on set, I thought it only fair that I get one with my husband and Ricky embracing, just to be fair.
The fabulous Jennifer Coolidge and Jerusha's assistant and my friend Erica. Great ladies. Hours of excellent convo.
How about some crappy, self-shot iphone photos?
With Ricky and Jared Hess (Jerusha's husband, Napoleon Dynamite director, and as you can see, ultra-serious and highbrow.)
Jerusha and JJ Feild (Mr. Nobley). He even looks good in this crappy photo. We think Jeru and JJ look like siblings.
Ricky, Steph, Annie, and part of Jane's face. Everyone was so happy to be together again! Lovely, lovely crew.
Jerusha and I after the Odgen screening last night (thanks for the photo, Rachel). So awesome to hear people laugh at lines I wrote, really enjoy something we worked so hard on. Truly a gift. When people read my books, they're alone. It is special to be present when people are enjoying something I've worked on.
After the Ogden screening, I ran into my former high school Drama teacher Cindy Hunt! So excited to see her. And when I got on my phone to show her a photo of my husband, I found a text informing me that Austenland sold to Sony for distribution! WAHOO!
From last post, many of you were curious what I do for a school assembly. It just so happens that I can show you. In the fall I did an assembly at the Brooklyn Friends School in New York City that was live webcast to 100+ other schools through School Library Journal. SLJ has the webcast archived, and you can view it for free. You need to register to view it. If you see it let me know what you think, 'cause I will not be watching it. 'Cause it's my own voice and face.
(Friday is the premiere of Austenland at the Sundance Film Festival. I will report back to you on Monday. Excited and nervous, excited and nervous...)
When I wrote my first book, The Goose Girl, I didn't know I was writing a children's book. I thought I was writing a fantasy novel with a young protagonist, completely ignorant of the whole young adult category of books that had spread while I was in my 20s. I remember the first time I visited The King's English, my local indie bookstore, as a newly minted author and talked to bookseller Margaret about doing a possible event.
"Do you do school visits?" she asked.
"Sure, I do anything," I said, eager to be accommodating and to promote my baby any way I could.
But I was thinking, School visit? What does that even mean?
There were no author school visits when I was growing up. I had no idea that children's authors were expected to go around doing assemblies and no idea what on earth I was supposed to talk about. But I was determined to figure it out before Margaret and everybody else discovered I was a fraud who didn't deserve to be a children's author.
Jump ahead ten years. I've done at least 100 school assemblies and classroom presentations, perhaps double that. I've seen other authors do presentations and talked to a lot of teachers, librarians, booksellers, and authors. I've learned a lot. Let me impart here my wisdom, grasshopper. Please ask any school visit related questions in the comments, and I'll answer what I can next post. (Note: I'm not writing this to solicit school visits. With four small children at home, I'm not looking for anything extra for at least a couple more years.)
AUTHORS ARE PAID FOR DOING SCHOOL VISITS
I got an MFA in Creative Writing. Here's how MFA programs are staffed: excellent writers with MFAs of their own and professionally published (and usually award-winning) books teach in order to keep writing, because the royalties from their excellent literary and poetic works aren't enough to support them. In order to keep their jobs teaching, they must keep writing and publishing. In order to have enough money to support their writing, they must keep teaching. And students benefit by getting real working writers as their instructors.
This is basically the system with children's book authors. There isn't as much money in children's books as books for adults: smaller advances and smaller percentages of lower cover prices. In order to pay the bills, children's writers often do school visits. It's good for them to supplement their income, allowing them to keep writing, and it's good for the kids who get to hear from real working writers who sincerely care about kids and books.
FREE SCHOOL VISITS ARE THE EXCEPTION NOT THE NORM
Authors often do family's and neighborhood's schools for free. School visits for touring authors are usually free. When I'm on book tour, my publisher contacts the local bookstore where we'll be visiting. The bookstore arranges a couple of school visits with schools with whom they have a relationship, sending home fliers with the students so they can preorder any of my books. When I get to the school, I sign and personalize any preorders, then I do the assembly. Which is counter-intuitive, because after the assembly, after they know who I am and what my books are, they all want one, but unfortunately it's a tour so I won't be here tomorrow to sign any post-orders.
I like doing school visits on tour. I like getting to meet the kids and getting them excited about reading. And I have every intention of continuing to do them. I'm in their town, I'd rather talk with kids than just sit in my hotel. But those visits are often not perfect, partly because they're unpaid.
PAID VISITS ALWAYS GO BETTER
This is my observation: 95% of paid school visits go topnotchfantastic, 30% of unpaid school visits go topnotchfantastic. There are problems with the free school visit. There's less motivation for educators to prepare the kids for the visit. It's free, after all.
And sometimes they just don't go down at all. I cannot count how many times I've showed up for a free school visit arranged through a bookstore for my tour or through a book festival to discover that no one at the school remembered I was coming. Either they apologize and turn me away or else hastily gather a dozen kids from some class to meet me in the library. Often, I've had 4-5 hours of sleep, gotten up at dawn to catch a flight to that town in order to get there in time for the morning school visit that no one remembered or cared about. Why didn't they? Because they weren't paying for it. Truth I've learned: we value what we pay for.
PAID OR UNPAID, A SCHOOL'S PREPARATION IS WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL VISIT ROCK
Imagine you're a kid. Your teacher says, "Put away your notebooks, we're going to an assembly." You shuffle into the gym, not knowing what to expect. The librarian takes the microphone and says, "We have a special event today! Mrs. Blah-blah-blah (who you've never heard of) is here to talk to you about writing books!" And then Mrs. Blah-blah-blah, yet another adult who wants to talk at you, does just that for an excruciating 45 minutes while your bum gets sore sitting on the gym floor.
Now imagine instead that a week before the assembly, the librarian visits your classroom and does a 5 minute talk about the visiting author. And your teacher reads one of the author's books to your class. And the PTA gets involved helping students do projects to prepare for the author's visit. And by the time the assembly comes, you are so excited. You are more excited to meet this author than that uber-famous scantily clad singer or youtube star. You read her book! And visited her website! And she's actually coming to talk to you IN YOUR SCHOOL! Imagine how thrilling when the author comes on stage, shows you photos, talks about storytelling, calls on you to answer a question, chooses you to come up and help with a storytelling activity. How you can't wait to go home and tell your parents the most amazing things that happened in school today! And hey, can we go to the library and check out a book, because I know you usually have to pull my teeth to read but that one book the author talked about looks SO GOOD.
PREPARATION. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH. PREPARATION.
Some schools have so much fun with the preparation, the creativity blows my mind. Awesome, awesome educators. Schools where the educators prepared the students for my visit, the assemblies went 1000x better, and students were still buzzing about the assembly and reading my books and other books I recommended for months after.
YES, ULTIMATELY SCHOOL VISITS ARE ABOUT SELLING BOOKS
Many educators and parents are rightly wary of bringing in an author to essentially tout their wares for a captive young audience. I've seen school visits that were no more than a long advertisement for the author's books. I don't approve of that, but it happens. But other visits are hands-down the best assemblies I've ever seen and everyone leaves so jazzed about reading and writing, feeling great about themselves and excited about stories and learning. And you know what books those kids most want to read next? That author's books of course. And that's great! As long as that author's books are great and worth of those kids' time.
BEFORE BOOKING AN AUTHOR, READ THAT AUTHOR'S BOOK(S)
A school visit is a combination of two things: how good that author is as a presenter, and how worthy that author's books are of being read. Just the fact that someone wrote a book is not enough to qualify him/her of doing a school visit (paid or unpaid) just as the fact of someone publishing any book is enough to qualify him/her of teaching in an MFA program. So first, read one of the books. You know quality. What about the presentation itself?
GET RECOMMENDATIONS FROM EDUCATORS
Educators who have had that author in the school can tell you if it was worth the students' time. I wouldn't trust anyone else's recommendation.
SCHOOL VISITS AREN'T ONLY ABOUT SELLING BOOKS
For authors, they're also about giving back, and reaching the kids, and spreading the love of reading and learning. It's an awesome part of this profession.
I was shy about talking about my books for a long time. That's kind of an understatement. I'd say for the first 4-5 years I did school visits, I never mentioned any of my books unless someone happened to ask me a direct question during the Q&A portion. I didn't want to seem like I was hawking my wares, I didn't want to be petty and self-interested. But I realize now (after much feedback from others) that that was silly. Kids sometimes need a hook to get interested enough to ready any book. Sometimes that hook is meeting the author. I don't only talk about my books, of course, but I've learned that people actually do want to hear something about them.
When kids are prepared for an assembly, and the author presentation is a good one, those kids never forget. They remember that author, that assembly, those books years later. And for so many of them, that moment is the one that made them want to be a reader after all.