Monday, November 2, 2015

How to Get Your Foot Inside of Schools and What to Do Once You’re There: Tips from Alan Gratz

For many authors getting inside schools feels as difficult as finding an agent or publisher. But according to Alan Gratz, an award-winning North Carolina author, it is not only possible, but it’s a great way to build buzz and sell your book.
Alan Gratz at Hillcrest Middle School
Greenville, SC 2015
One of the best ways to get started is to hook up with a local bookstore: either an Indie, Barnes and Noble, or Books-a-Million. “Let them know you are interested in going to schools. They usually have relationships with the media specialists and often will create a flier with prices, which can be sent home with students in advance of a visit,” Alan says. But be forewarned: schools that book author visits through a bookstore don’t expect to pay an honorarium to the author. They get an author visit for free in return for the bookstore getting to sell books. Authors can’t afford to do visits like these all the time, financially speaking, but they’re a great way to get that foot in the door and to get experience before booking paid visits.

“At each school visit make sure you ask for the names of other area librarians who might be interested in hosting you and leave extra school visit brochures for all the librarians’ friends. Ask them to help spread the word that you’re interested in visiting more schools.”

In addition, contact your state’s Association of School Librarians and ask if you can appear at their next annual conference. Each state hosts its own conference, usually in the fall or the spring, and most like to invite regional authors, either to present talks or to just sign and sell books. Once you’re invited, bring school visit fliers and hand them out to everyone you meet. Local arts councils also frequently sponsor teaching artists such as writers in the schools.

When Alan arrives at a school, the bookseller either comes with him or has already delivered the pre-sold books. Gratz usually signs pre-ordered books at the school, and invites students who didn’t pre-order a book to join him right after school at the local bookstore, where he has arranged to meet and greet visitors for an hour or two. “I get book sales, the bookstore makes money, and sometimes they even give the schools a cut, or a discount. Everyone's happy! And I didn't have to haul boxes of books and a bag of cash with me.”

When he first started doing school visits in 2006 after his first book, Samurai Shortstop was published, Alan’s honorarium was $500 a day. It quickly went up to $1,000, and as word spread among librarians he was doing upwards of 20 school visits a year. Then the economy took a nosedive. “The money for school visits dried up when the economy tanked, but now that things are recovering, schools seem to have money again.” He’s back to scheduling about twenty school visits a year and his rates are between $1200-$1500 a day.

Alan admits that the key to his success is giving kids a presentation that tells them why his books are FUN TO READ. “Talk about you--who you are, and why you wrote this book. Put some stuff in there about how you write--your process, your experience getting published. But also put in there pictures of your dogs, or your office, or you as a kid, etc. Make it personal. And make it about you and your book.”


What happens after a school visit is equally as important as the visit itself. “When I'm at a school, kids get excited about my books. Then they go home and are excited about them, and sometimes their parents buy them. I see spikes in sales (after the fact) far in excess of the totals the bookstore in town reported, because kids will go home and buy things online, or at other shops. The books circulate in the libraries too, which means there's word of mouth. Writing middle grade, especially, that's the best way to get the word out about a book--through the kids themselves.”
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Alan Gratz’s most recent book is Code of Honor, a YA thriller. He won the 2015 SIBA award for the first book in the The League of Seven trilogy. 
Alan performing a reading
at Malaprop's First Storytime Day, May 2014


31 comments:

sheri levy said...

Thanks, Alan, for posting about how you approach your school visits! I am enjoying my time in the schools and am doing similar things!It's a wonderful experience interacting with the students. I'm so happy for you and your success.

Carol Baldwin said...

THanks, Sheri. Glad you are enjoying your time in schools too!

Deborah Allmand said...

Lovely blog. Alan shares his journey with us and makes you feel like this too can happen to you!

Carol Baldwin said...

You're right on, Deborah. He is generous in sharing his knowledge and experience with the writing community!

Linda A. said...

I agree with Debbie. Alan has found his voice as a writer and as a motivational speaker for writers and illustrators. Thanks so much for having him share on your blog, Carol!

Carol Baldwin said...

Glad you liked the blog, Linda!

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Thanks, Carol. I remember being part of this "brain-picking" conversation with Alan, and you did a great job of sharing his wonderful success in the schools.

Carol Baldwin said...

LInda, your questions prompted this post!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol, thank you for asking Alan to share his experiences with school visits. Alan is multi-talented! It is wonderful that he's willing to share with other writers.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, he is Joan. Glad he's in our region-such an asset to us all.

Rosi said...

This is a really helpful post for those of us hoping to have a reason to be making school visits one day in the future. Thanks!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Amen to that.

Deanna Klingel said...

Thanks for your insight, Alan. I enjoy school visits and meeting my readers. Do you ever coordinate your text to classroom academics? Does that require time spent with teachers before the visit? Just curious.

Sandra Warren said...

Alan always offers sage advice. I like the tip to connect with a bookstore in the evening following a day in the school. That, I haven't tried.

Great post, Carol.

Waugh Wright said...

This was a super helpful post and hit some points I haven't heard before.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Sandra, Deanna, and Waugh for stopping by. Glad Alan's sage advice was helpful.

miriam said...

Good timing with this post, as I've been struggling to make connections with schools. I'll take Alan's advice and reach out to the booksellers first. Thanks for the interview and practical suggestions!

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

Carol, thank you for grabbing Alan. He's so busy that it was a treat to see him appear on you blog. What a talented author and man of diverse skills! I was motivated to add a few details back into my presentations that I'd edited out. Always good to hear advice from the pros!

Carol Baldwin said...

Miriam and Bonnie-
So glad that this was timely advice for both of you. Hey, if you use some of Alan's tips come back and let me know. I'll post a follow-up blog!

AMR said...

Thank you Carol. I always enjoy your blog posts and reading about Alan's creative approach to school visits is inspirational. He is a fine author.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, AMR. I'm glad you enjoy my blog!

Kit Grady said...

Wonderful, Thanks Carol and Alan

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Kit. Glad you liked the post. Carol

Young Authors Program said...

Great information! I've added this to my list of marketing efforts, especially the Association of School Librarians!

Carol Baldwin said...

So glad this was helpful, Dorothy!

Alan Gratz said...

Thanks all!

Deanna asked, "Do you ever coordinate your text to classroom academics? Does that require time spent with teachers before the visit?"

In the past, I've had schools ask if I can write my speech to something match they're covering in the classroom, or a conference has asked me to tailor my talk to their annual theme. In both cases I have to say no. I do SO MANY school visits and conferences each year--I think I'm already booked for about 30 events this calendar year alone!--that to rework my talk for each new venue would take up all the time in between. I would love to be able to adapt my speech to different programs and curricula, but that's a level of involvement that would turn me from a full-time writer into a full-time teacher. Instead I have one talk where I try to cover many different things: inspiration, research, outlining, writing, and revision; the content of my most popular books; me as a young writer. I also leave time for Q&A at the end, which is when I can improvise a little bit and maybe tweak my answers toward whatever the theme of the conference is or the particular studies in that school are.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Alan, for that complete answer to Deanna's question. Appreciate your contributions on so many levels.

Deanna Klingel said...

Thank you. Reassuring to know others have time constraints too.

Carol Baldwin said...

So glad this post was helpful to you, Deanna!

kathleenburkinshaw said...

Carol, thank you for such a great post! Alan, thank you for sharing your experiences and informational nuggets with us! Looking forward to using his suggestions :)

Carol Baldwin said...

Yeah, Kathleen!!!