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.
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.”