Guide to Self Promotion, School, Library and Festival Events and Visits for Children's Book Authors and Illustrators
If you are a children’s book author or illustrator, you will be aware of the need to learn and practice the delicate art of self promotion. This will involve a well organised web presence and interaction with your target audience.
The following tips are intended to help children’s authors and illustrators through this process but equally apply to many other disciplines that require self promotion.
I’ve divided it into two sections.
The first section, ONLINE, will help you to create a simple and effective online web presence and to guide you into world of social media, blogging and websites.
You’ll need this to get found and to promote your visits, events and other promotional activities.
The second section, OFFLINE, will deal with the real world of bookshops, schools, libraries, festivals events and author visits.Read the full guide to self promotion for children's authors and illustrators after the break...
ONLINE - Building a web presence for children's book authors and illustrators
Building an effective and clear web presence really helps pupils, teachers, librarians and event organisers find and research you before they book you. If you write a good events, visits and workshops page, you will be able to point them to that and if you write good content about your offering, it will get found when they search. Maintaining a good social media presence will help.
Link it all together and you should get found.
This section will help you to get that in place and to optimise your chances of getting it found!
Get your own name if possible. I use GoDaddy
Good to have your own website as a base for all your activities. A basic one with a portfolio, an event page and most important of all, a contact form.
Use blogger possibly, it's completely free and you can easily point your domain name at it.
Promise yourself a bells and whistles one when the royalties pour in…
With the rise in image theft, I’m going to take down my public portfolios from my website.
I now have a ‘private’ portfolio site on Wix. It’s free and their galleries go some way towards preventing image theft.
It’s a really good idea to choose a place which will act as the hub of your online activities. One that will build over time into an archive and hopefully an interesting repository for your activities.
You can then share out to social media from there and all traffic will return to base eventually.
This is ideal for getting found.
These four free blog sites seem to be the most popular.
Wordpress - many swear by it, not me. I used to have one. Note the ‘used’.
Blogger - all round super-versatile and easy, gets my vote.
Weebly - stupid name but versatile.
For my needs Blogger works seamlessly.
It’s google, you get found.
You can post to G+ which does increase traffic back to the blog.
Google drive and photos integration is excellent, as is the shared commenting system.
I’ve never had any spam. Or been hacked.
It never needs updating.
Responsive layout, ie. mobile friendly, which is very important now.
All your assets, visual, text, links etc are in one place in google.
You can customise the design as much as you want and there are loads of free themes that can be used. If you can use html, you can do pretty much anything with blogger, it’s easy to fiddle with.
You can have as many blogs as you want.
You can use your own domain name and it’s really easy to set up.
Hard to beat.
In terms of content, my sense is that you need to build your back story, show rough sketches and work in progress as well as finished work.
Show your workspace, share your adventures.
Write quality long form posts, with around 500 word if possible.
Offer as many free resources and downloads as you can.
Document your events and visits.
Have a page dedicated to resources and links.
Have a contact form easily available. Don’t post your email address publicly, you’ll get spam.
I use this free online service http://www.foxyform.com/
For Events, write a really good, content rich page on your blog or website, detailing what could happen at one of your fabulous workshops. Show pictures of the children having a fantastic creative time.
Offer your various options, readings, workshops, drama. Detail what you hope to achieve and how long it will take. Show photos and include testimonials.
Keep it fresh! Update once a month if possible.
Free Downloads and Resources
Really important and useful to have a page or posts dedicated to downloads and resources.
Put them on your blog or website and then use Pinterest to make them visible.
All with your copyright and contact details/website on.
Well designed, titled, described and shared, they will generate a lot of traffic.
Think about what you could provide for your project and/or visits, events and workshops.
Pinterest is a fantastic place to search for ideas and a very important place to pin your resources.
This list is just for starters with examples of some of mine.
Lesson Plans - check curriculum for activities.
Presentation of your book - Dinosaur Roar!
Presentation of your book - One Bear One Dog. Easy to make in Google Slides
How to Draw - this prepared for the Guardian.
The whole colouring book in black and white as a download, either as usual, just pictures or just text.
Summer holiday activities for desperate parents
I tend to put these in the Public Folder in my Dropbox and link to them there.
You could also use Google Drive.
Here’s my principal blog:
Note how I’ve linked all my main blogs, sites and social media in the yellow navigation bar.
Setting it up like this allows cross-site traffic, a visit to one site will often mean a visit to the others. My Pop Up Paper Blog gets a lot of visitors, so I make use of that.
Note the links to my Print on Demand stores, Pinterest etc in the sidebars.
I also have adwords installed, in the (slight) hope of a little extra revenue.
I’ve chosen a very simple theme and applied it to all the blogs that are linked on the nav bar.
Open a private test blogger site for messing about and trying out different designs.
SEO - Search Engine Optimisation
The most important factor in getting your blog or website found is good written content and well labelled images.
But use every means of getting your classy writing and gorgeous images found.
The following tips will help to get you towards page one in a search for your name.
• Enter a search term, say ‘author visits’ on the Google Search page and see what google auto-suggests, and then check what’s also suggested at the bottom of the page. This invaluable information tells you the phrases that people use to search for ‘author visits’ Try to use them in as natural way as possible your text, titles, alt tags and search descriptions.
• Use a Keyword Tool to find out what people are looking for and what search terms they enter in google. Ubersuggest is free.
• Do not keyword stuff! Write clearly, with good grammar in plain english.
• Post and page title is the most important factor in getting your post or page found. Try to get it right before you name your post or page.
• Search Description is the next most important. It’s the bit that appears under your entry in Google Search, so is super important.
• Headings within the text are also important.
• Name your images correctly and descriptively, using a hyphen to separate words.
not dinosaur roar colouring page.jpg
definitely not 902835723.jpg
• Don’t use big images, reduce them in size before you upload them to suit the dimensions of your blog. Get a free screen ruler to help. Free Ruler
Page load speed is a major ranking factor and most of your users will be using mobile devices.
Under 1000px. I use 600px.
• Optimise your images ie. reduce the file size to the minimum, so that your post loads quickly.
Do this in an image editing program, photoshop or there are plenty of online tools to help.
• Don’t use tiny images or text either, they won’t be visible on a mobile and you will be penalised for using small elements.
• Use the “alt tags” on your images. Google image search uses all of these factors when they search for an image. In blogger click on an image and fill in the title and ALT fields.
This is what happens if you use good titles and alt tags - Paul Stickland Image search
• Link to your friends blogs and websites, any professional association you belong to, SCBWI, SoA, AoI, etc. Make a page for links.
• Ask friends and colleagues if they will put up a link to your site on theirs.
• Submit your site to google. https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url
• Google provides simple and clear advice on best SEO practice, which is always up to date.
Search Engine Optimisation Guide https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf
Best search practice
Best image practice
• Stats - Blogger has basic stats but if you really want to understand where your traffic is coming from, or if it’s just you visiting your own website, then (try to) learn how to use google analytics.
Set up google alerts for your name, project and areas of interest.
I’d recommend learning a bit of basic html.
It’s not essential but it does help to understand and demystify the process.
Loads of free courses. http://www.w3schools.com/
Or just open a free blogger account, set it to private and mess about. You can switch between Compose and Html modes, so it’s easy to see what’s going on.
• It’s a good idea to check your web presence as it is.
Log out of google.
This is important, if you are signed in, google will show you what it thinks you want to be shown.
Do a search for your name and see what comes up, it’s worth checking, as you don’t want anything negative turning up when a teacher or pupil searches for your name.
Promoting your blog or website
As soon as you have a bit of content up on your blog or website, more than just one post preferably, start sharing it on your favourite social media outlets.
You can do this manually or there are various ways of automating the posting to multiple platforms.
eg. A post to Blogger is automatically posted to G+, Facebook, Twitter...
IFTTT - Very versatile and easy - https://ifttt.com
These can be really useful...
But do ask yourself whether you want to engage with any possible responses or comments on those other platforms? This can be very time consuming!
Each platform has it’s own peculiar ways and autoposting tends to look just like that.
This opens up the whole world of online print on demand stores, which I should really deal with separately.
Well worth exploring if you are an illustrator. They allow you to sell your work to global market for free, with the company responsible for printing, fulfillment, delivery, invoicing and customer service. You just upload your work onto an online store and when someone orders your design, they print and ship it and you get paid the royalties you have earned by Paypal.
Mugs, t shirts, posters, invitations, cards, calendars, bookmarks, you name it.
There are some great products that you can customise to create some amazing promotional materials.
Here are some of mine to give you an idea.
They are mostly based in the US
Society6 - fantastic quality and price, especially the bags and cushions.
Design by Humans - really good cheap t shirts
Spreadshirt - based in Germany, so shipping is cheaper and quicker. Great ‘print all over’ shirts.
Silly shirts and t shirts possibly a must!
An ever changing field of platforms, love it or loath it, Social Media is important.
Whichever platform you choose, one thing that you can guarantee, is that as soon as you find a platform you like and understand, it will all change, so keep exploring and find one that works for you. For now.
Unabashed fan at the moment. I love the simple presentation, lack of features, ease of use and it seems to be easy to find and link up with interesting people. Zero politics! It makes a fantastic visual diary and gives people a quick and colourful way to see what you do.
Hashtags are a must and really help find and to get found.
Use the link in your profile wisely. You only have one.
Very promising at first, I wasted a lot of time exploring G+ with Google.
I was invited in before it launched and despite fantastic initial potential, it was soon throttled back and the algorithms were applied. Idiots.
I used G+ for my day-to-day blog/social media posts. A visual diary.
I categorised them into themed collections
It used to be a great place to keep a portfolio. I used albums for this.
Any blog posts that you make on blogger have an option to be posted on G+, which does increase traffic back to your blog.
I created a page especially to highlight my Print on Demand products.
It’s a good place to see what’s possible in the world of PoD.
It used to be really effective in driving traffic to my online stores. Not any more!
I’ll keep this google presence, because I suspect that it still helps web ranking.
Open a pinterest account in your own name.
It’s well searched by Google.
Surprisingly useful, as a resource and source for related topic ideas.
Create carefully titled and well described boards and pin to those.
Pin from your blog, or edit the pin and link it back to your blog.
You can upload images too.
Tall images work much better than landscape.
Put your name or link onto the images, as they will soon adrift from your well worded description.
Pin all your free stuff, with your name on the image on a well described FREE board and you will get pinned. Loads!
Seek out and get invited to pin on one of the group boards with gazillions of users and you will get shed loads of traffic back to your site or blog.
Pinterest drives a lot of traffic to my Print on Demand online stores. It’s a good place to promote yourself shamelessly, as you won’t be annoying your friends and colleagues.
Zero comments and interaction, which is a plus for me.
I don’t use it properly. I just autopost from Instagram. Which is a bit of a no-no.
Twitter is easier to use if you use Tweetdeck
Worth thinking of anything suitable that can go on YouTube, as it’s searched quickly and well. It’s the first place most children search.
There are others!
Some notable Social Media users
A Publisher’s View
Some useful advice from Charlotte Copping, Publicity Executive at Macmillan Children’s:
- Do you like an author/illustrator to have a website, blog and social media presence?
“It's a great (and usually free) tool for authors and illustrators to have and we actively encourage authors to have some kind of social media presence. We as a society spend so much time online (whether we like to or not), so it's a brilliant way of connecting with your audience, other authors/illustrators and industry contacts in ways you may not have been able to do so via other traditional ways. I think the most important thing to remember though is if you do decide to have a website/blog/social media account make sure you keep it relevant and up to date - having a website that hasn't been updated for several years makes it look dated and less likely for your audience and potential readers to interact with you and your books.”
- Do you encourage Authors to visit schools, festivals and libraries?
“We actively encourage our authors & illustrators to visit everywhere they possibly can! It's a direct way for them to engage with their readers and fan base, and with our job, we can see the positive effect an author/illustrator visit has to schools and libraries. Events may not be everyone's cup of tea, and they can be seen a bit daunting, but there are terrific events training courses you can attend and help you gain confidence in this field!
There is also a handy events fee guidance on the Society of Authors website to help give you a gauge to what rate you should be charging, however, it is good to remember at the start of a writing career, as well as local schools/ booksellers/ libraries, it is worth negotiating or waiver this to get grassroots support which can pay dividends later on.”
- Do you encourage Authors to produce materials for 'Authorless Visits' eg.colouring/activity sheets?
“Producing materials such as activity sheets helps promote your book/name if you're unable to do events or if the schools sadly do not have the budget to facilitate an author visit, so again we encourage the production of these materials for schools & libraries. They are also a great way for teachers to follow up on author visits!”
- Do you have any advice for new authors regarding the whole area of self-promotion?
“We know that doing events, promoting yourself on Twitter, or anything relating to making enough noise in the children's book world for you to get noticed can be an unnerving prospect - but don't be scared! In an ever-changing world of publishing, we are seeing that authors self-promoted is more and more integral to the success of the book. And your publishers are always there to help guide you with these matters so don't forget to ask for their advice.”
A couple of necessary web warnings
Copyright and image theft
Big problem and one that Google could and should solve.
Add ©yourname to everything, posts, images, everything.
Be careful about posting large images.
Put your name, signature or watermark on all images.
Add all the meta data that you can to images, use the IPTC panel in photoshop to add your contact and copyright details. Your camera may have meta data options too.
Not all social media platforms retain your meta data. Google does and is virtually unique in that respect.
Most others strip everything from your title to all your meta data.
There is some virtue in posting to google, as you will effectively be date stamping your artwork and should there be any dispute, you have a first occurrence recorded. Whether this would hold up in court though...
Reverse image search
A really important tool in tracking down image theft, as well as finding people who like your images!
In the Chrome browser, Right Click or Ctrl Click on any image and in the dialog box, choose ‘Search Google for this image’
It’s really worth doing this occasionally, you will be amazed where your images have got to.
Be prepared to ask them to be taken down, or ask for a fee. The latter will usually get the former resolved! You may have to use a ‘Cease and Desist Letter’
Check amazon and alibaba, some chinese companies are so brazen that they not only steal your images but also your titles and descriptions when they put them on a phone case.
Google is the main one
TinEye another reverse image search option
OFFLINE - The Real World of Self Promotion for Children's Book Authors and Illustrators
Real world now! So where to start?
There is plenty of excellent advice and information out there.
Organisations such as SCBWI, NAWE and The Society of Authors have excellent and comprehensive advice online.
Society of Authors - Even more useful advice
The true bastions of traditional skilled bookselling.
There are some truly fantastic independents and they deserve your unbridled support!
A good bookshop will be the hub of the community that you are working for.
Get to know them and you will be introduced to a network of schools and festivals.
They can only survive by reaching out into the community and so their links throughout the literate of their area will be strong.
Offer them author visits and authorless visits. Do not expect to be paid.
A lot of independents have very good relationships with local schools and will know which schools welcome author visits.
Go to as many author events as possible and you will meet your target audience.
Volunteer to help at events.
Don’t forget that you will earn a full royalty off every book sale from an independent book shop.. This is rarely the case elsewhere.
Big Bookstore Chains
We are dominated by few companies. Don’t dismiss them, they have huge clout but importantly they are still the home of some passionate and dedicated booksellers. They are not the ones driving your royalties down with their buying power, that’s head office and the accountants. I’m sure that the booksellers would rather see you getting a full royalty.
I’ve had fantastic support from our major chain and it’s dedicated booksellers over the years, all stores will have links out into the community and some very good.
Have a look round your local community for ideas.
Contact your local schools, preschools, after school clubs, bookshops, libraries, arts groups, arts associations, literary festivals, music festivals, children’s festivals, senior citizens clubs... Find an appropriate charity and offer your services.
Where to look?
Set alerts and look for opportunities on the Arts Council jobs site http://www.artsjobs.org.uk/
There are some truly outstanding organisations supporting kid’s literature, the notion of story and children’s books in general. This is not an exhaustive list.
Patron of Reading - team up with a local school
Installations & Events
The sky’s the limit! Worth thinking about designing something spectacular! You never know…
I made a Giant Dinosaur Roar! Mouth a residency at Seven Stories in 2014
The world’s longest drawing, well nearly at 90 metres, at Glastonbury Festival
An entire tent full of dinosaur drawings on Glastonbury Kid’s field.
Painting a life size dinosaur in an inflatable igloo in Kings Cross.
Filling an empty shop to make BugStore with hundreds of pop up bugs made by the children of Yeovil.
Literary, Music and Children’s Festivals
There are hundreds of Literary, Music and Children’s Festivals.
Almost all of them welcome children’s authors and illustrators.
There is not usually a great deal of money involved. You might be able to prise some expenses out of your publisher.
The big literary festivals, Cheltenham, Hay, Edinburgh, etc. tend to concentrate on the big names. But welcome volunteers. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see other authors in action.
There are an increasing number of children’s festivals, such as the very wonderful Just So Festival www.justsofestival.org.uk/
The right music festivals are worth looking it too, the best have brilliant kid’s areas. I’ve had huge fun working at Glastonbury, The Larmer Tree, Wychwood and Cloud Cuckoo Land Festivals. You may not get paid, you will get free tickets!
SCHOOL EVENTS AND VISITS
Why do school events?
This is why for me!
There are a lot of opportunities out there, in schools, libraries and at literary, music and children’s festivals.
There will be work on your doorstep and work abroad, tap into it and it will be a very useful adjunct to and occasional replacement for the lack of any publishing income.
Are you doing it for yourself or the children?
It’s incredibly interesting, inspiring, fun and humbling.
How will you benefit the children that you will be visiting?
Are you there to promote your book?
Are you there to look for ideas and inspiration for your new book?
Are you doing your publisher’s publicity department’s jobs for them?
Almost essential these days but it can be incredibly rewarding on many levels.
You get to meet your audience, check out their wonderful senses of humour, learn what makes them tick, fire up and sparkle. It is a real two way process and I often return from a visit brim full of reflected energy and creativity.
Do you even like children? Oddly they can tell!
Engage with your pupils, listen to them, you are not there to talk ‘at’ them.
You are there to invite them into and share your surprisingly fun and colourful life.
A life which many of them had no idea existed.
For most children, you will be the very first author or illustrator that they’ve met and they will suddenly see a real person behind all those words and pictures and that can have a massive effect on their aspirations and horizons.
More importantly if you get it right, they will realise that they too are authors and illustrators, in the schoolroom and at home and this is incredibly empowering for them, you are out there, doing what they do already, wow!
I’m always asked when I began being an author or illustrator.
I say, “Your age”, then ask them.
Do you write stories?
Do you draw pictures?
Do you like making things up and inventing things?
Then you are already authors and artists!
Even more importantly for you, you’ll be building up an understanding and appreciation of the wit and sharpness of your audience, getting seriously honest feedback, off your chair, out of the studio, keeping on your toes and hopefully more tuned in to the needs and imagination of your audience.
What to do at your event or visit?
What do you want to share with children?
What is the suitable age range?
Will it appeal to them?
Will it have relevance to the national curriculum?
Get to know what the curriculum is currently focussing on and tailor your event to those needs.
Tick an important box and it will make it easier for teachers to justify the expense, tick two, bingo!
What aspect of your book or practice do you want to share with the children.
Are you looking to encourage their storytelling? Their drawing? Their craft skills? Their drama?
Will you be reading, will you be asking the children questions? Will they be asking you questions?
What are you going to take with you?
Will you show them books, will you have nifty AV presentations?
Will you have props?
Kids love props.
How will you get the props on the tube or bus?
Do you want to carry a 5ft dinosaur through the streets of Edinburgh?
Have you got children who can help you?
Will you be reading, drawing, or making, either crafts or a fool of yourself, singing songs or doing a little dance dressed as a dinosaur?!
Top class eventers - people getting it right!
The rise in the popularity of school and library visits seems to breeding a new kind of performer/author/artist. It’s an interesting phenomenon and there are some great practitioners.
Go and see other author’s events. There is an incredible range of talent out there inspiring kids. You will be blown away by the effort and energy that is being put out. It‘s a really positive thing for our children and gives me great hope.
Christopher William Hill
Society of Authors
First class real world advice for both sides considering a school visit. Very helpful.
Event and Visit Basics
You may be asked for this. The SoA and NAWE can help with this.
You must have Public Liability Insurance. No option.
- The Society of Authors offer a cheap rate for members.
- NAWE give it for free with their modest membership fee.
How do I get bookings?
Start local, offer your services to local schools or preschools, try the local library or bookshop.
Write a letter or send a colourful flyer, popping in with one to say hello is best.
Getting to know your local bookseller will be the best single investment that you can make.
Most will welcome you with open arms.
There are hundreds of local arts associations and clubs.
Don’t forget older people too, they buy a lot of books! Try your local old people’s homes.
Pop Up Workshops for the over 80s are big fun!
If there’s an arts or literature festival locally, go and volunteer.
All literature festivals have children’s sections and not only will you get to know similarly book-minded people but you will get to see other authors and artists at work.
Work with local arts and theatre companies to create showcase events or exhibitions.
Refer people to your Author Visits, Events and Workshops page.
There are excellent agents who handle school and library visits, both here and abroad.
I’m with Authors Aloud UK http://www.authorsalouduk.co.uk/paul-stickland/
They look after every need and make the whole process very much easier, especially if you get a lot of bookings. It’s wonderful!
At present Authors Aloud UK only work with authors published by mainstream publishers.
There is a comprehensive list of agents and agencies that help to get authors and illustrators into schools here in this excellent Visit Guide from the SoA.
How much to charge?
Once again, The Society of Authors has good advice on this.
It is best to offer one fee for a whole day and a smaller one, more than half, for a half day.
I usually offer a small discount for more than one day.
I always charge for travel at 40 pence per mile, or the train fare if possible.
If the event is far enough away, I charge for modest local accommodation, Premier Inn or B&B. It is so much better to arrive fresh having travelled the night before, than to be sitting in a traffic jam, knowing that the children are filing into the assembly hall…
If you are travelling some way, it’s worth asking if the teacher or librarian has a colleague who would like a visit and tell them that they could share the travel costs. Worth trying a local bookshop too if you’re really keen.
Schools rarely quibble with my fees. Many inner city schools and those in deprived areas have extra money for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the Pupil Premium. This is quite a generous sum and many schools use it to bring interesting and inspiring disciplines into the school. Your interesting and inspiring workshop will be very much appreciated.
Libraries have very little money and need your support big time. If you care about getting literature into children’s hands, then support them generously. You will win their long term friendship and loyalty. Your PLR statement will blossom.
Do not expect to be paid to do an event in a bookshop, no matter what size!
Similarly do not expect to be paid much to work at Festivals. Even the really big ones are rather measly, having had to pay top whack for some adult literary headliner. You may be able to get travel costs from your publisher, you may not.
You will be offered tickets, which is lovely but festivals get really expensive, especially if you take advantage of the family pass that allows you to bring your teenagers. Just don’t tell them and they can look after the dog and the budgie back home, whilst you sit in a damp tent with some soggy books, several muddy feral over-tired children and their hacked off sleepless parents.
Think of it as an investment and you can of course set off the expenses against your mighty tax bill.
Timing and Numbers
Only experience will guide you here.
As a rough guide you can do three sessions of approx 90 minutes in a day.
That fits in with the school day, play and dinner times.
If you are offering shorter 30/45 minute sessions, then possibly four.
I find that 30 minutes passes very quickly but is good for the reception classes.
45/60 minutes rushes past.
Don’t forget to allow for questions and interruptions.
90 minutes is my choice for workshops. It allows for a 30 minute preamble and then the rest of the time creating. This is just me of course, you may come up with a different format.
Try to get a short break between sessions and ask for coffee. It will invariably go cold.
Numbers are sometimes tricky to get right and it’s really about what you feel comfortable with. Less is best invariably.
Most classes are around 30 but this can vary wildly.
In bigger schools, there will be multiple classes per year, sometimes as many as five.
That’s right, 150 in each year. The teachers will want as many children to take part, so you will often get classes combined into big groups.
In some it’s just impossible to see everyone in one day.
This is where a good assembly presentation to the whole school helps, you get to meet them all. Many teachers then get the class that you visited to give a presentation of your visit to the other classes, or teach them the craft activity that you just showed them.
Make it as simple as possible for the school.
Teachers are very busy and would like all aspects of the visit to be simple, clear and easy.
Planning is vital.
They would like to to seamlessly arrive, inspire their children with your fascinating work and unbridled charisma, leave them in a long-tailed golden glow of creativity and a joy to teach for the next couple of weeks…
Make it easy for them to get in contact with you, via your blog, website or social media.
After an enquiry, get back to them immediately with your availability, refer them to your events page and suggest some simple arrangements for the day.
Tell them how much you charge:
I charge £xxx a day, £xxx a half, plus travel expenses of 40ppm and if you need to book overnight accommodation, tell them.
As soon as they get back to you, send them a confirmation letter, detailing when and how you will arrive and provide them with a list of any necessary materials.
If you need a projector, screen or flip chart, state that now.
Ask if you will be able to offer your books or ask if a local bookshop would like to supply them.
If you take the booking a long time in advance, a quick email a few days before will reassure them that you’re coming, gives you a chance to remind them about your material needs and is a good time to attach your colourful flyer for the school to send out to the parents, thus encouraging massive book sales. Here is my book flyer.
Remember that the children will have been encouraged to research you before the day, so make sure that a search for your name results in a good landing page for children.
If you haven’t already, log out of Google and search for your name and if anything turns up on the first few pages that you don't want, try to resolve the issue. Take down any inappropriate images or articles.
Check image search too.
I use trains if I possibly can, hours to work, no phone, no distractions, love it.
I find that hiring a small economic car can often work out cheaper sometimes and 40ppm mile will often cover the hire as well as the fuel. Don’t buy any of the hire company’s add-on insurance, buy something like this excess insurance, far cheaper.
I use Google Maps to plan my journeys. Using their schedule explorer function will make ordering tickets and arriving on time easy, whatever your choice of transport.
In town, I use Citymapper on my phone, which gives you all the options.
Photos and Permissions
If you would like to take photos, always carefully check with the staff first. Photos of children enjoying your wonderful workshop on a blog post will work wonders for your reputation!
A considerable number of parents do not wish their children to be photographed, or put on social media. Some schools are very sensitive and rightly so.
Always err on the side of caution and respect their wishes.
Teachers will often offer to send their own photos. They almost invariably don’t as they are incredibly busy doing an increasingly difficult job, so don’t hassle them if they forget!
Books for sale
There’s a big opportunity to sell your books at events and visits.
Usually happens after school ends.
Many schools will have a relationship with a local independent bookseller.
Please try to respect this, they need all the support that they can get and you will build a friendship and loyalty with that bookseller that will last.
If they want you to sign extra copies, do, it makes a firm sale, they can’t return them!
They will be a gold mine of information about the schools that welcome authors and artists in their locality.
If they do not have a friendly bookseller, ask them if they would like you to bring books for sale.
If your publisher will sell you discounted copies, it is well worth opening an account with their distributer. Most will and you can expect a 50% discount. You will usually get 30 days to pay and they usually deliver for free to your registered address, or a small charge to be delivered to another address, useful if you don’t want to carry a lot of heavy books a long way.
In order to maximise sales, provide a flyer beforehand for the teachers to send out.
Here is my current one. It’s easy to customise and it makes it easy for the teachers too.
It’s worth preparing a colourful ‘Books For Sale’ board.
- Cheque, hassles and bouncing, best avoided.
- Cash - bit tempting to spend on the way home but do offer to take it! Bring a small float.
- Debit/Credit card readers such as iZettle which connect to your bank account via your phone.
The card reader really increases sales.
Buy Post it notes to send down the queue to get the correct spelling of children’s names.
Sign with Sharpies, Sharpies, Sharpies! Get sponsored by Sharpies.
It’s sometimes worth leaving copies at schools but you will of course have to collect any left over.
This is where your library of beautifully prepared resources for parents, teachers and librarians is really helpful.
Schools can download any templates and photocopy them in advance of your arrival. In large schools, activities can be shared by classes who weren’t able to see your talk or workshop.
If you are planning a workshop, draw up a precise list of the necessary materials.
I use a lot of coloured card, so I found a great cheap supplier. The educational suppliers which many schools use often charge way over the odds for materials, so if you use something special, try this route.
I always supply card, tell the school that iw will do this and include the cost on my invoice.
Personal top tip... If you are using sellotape in your workshop, ask, no tell, the school to provide it in dispensers. I am heartily fed up with being asked if I can find the end... I can't, you have better eyesight and nimbler fingers than me. Ask your teacher...
Essential and very useful now that all schools have projectors and screens.
Are you holding up books trying to show a detail a few centimetres tall to a child 50 feet away? Don’t!
A fun 20/25 minute AV presentation makes a perfect assembly and start to the day. Teachers love them and you get to meet the whole school in one fell swoop, teachers and children, which makes for a friendly day, as everyone says hello in the corridors and staff room.
You will also learn the secret of how the teachers make the children shut up and pay attention.
Each school has it’s own method. Learn it, it’s pure gold dust!
Presentations allow you to zoom in on the details on the page, so useful.
I use Keynote for mac and then use my iPad to deliver. Works a treat.
Powerpoint, or Google Slides too.
I’m liking the way that Google drive works and using Google Slides allows a live web page to be shown without leaving the application.
Really simple and intuitive to put together.
I don’t use sound, I should. I once created/wasted a day creating a surround sound dinosaur soundtrack, sounded awesome in the big top but scared the little kids witless...
Make sure that you don’t rely on an internet connection to give your presentation. If using an iPad or smart phone make sure that the files are available offline. Check every time you go out. Keynote is funny like that. Not actually...
I export my presentation in many formats and take a copy on a USB stick. PowerPoint, Google Slides and even a PDF, just in case everything goes wrong!
I also have backup copies on Google Drive and Dropbox.
Here are links to my Dinosaur Roar! presentation in various formats:
• Keynote for mac, which I prefer and use via my iPad
Projectors and Screens
Technology in schools has improved and there are few schools without good projectors, whiteboards and screens.
Come armed with a VGA connector for your devices. A wireless or bluetooth presenter/clicker to remote control your laptop or ipad is very useful.
If not, a very long VGA cable is well worth the investment, otherwise you will find yourself narrating your multimedia spectacular from behind some curtains in a pile of old gym equipment.
Do NOT rely on being able to use the school wifi. It is almost invariably protected by so many proxies as to make it impossible to set up.
Do NOT rely on this! Many schools seem to have been built in signal free zones.
Both will may affect the use of a card payment machine for book sales.
This enables you to write or draw on the desk in front of you and project your shaking hands and grubby nails via a projector or screen.
You can get some very fancy visualisers.
Yet to use mine, which is a swan neck iPad stand, works fine at home. Experiment first!
If you plan on using one, ask for one in your booking.
I find it almost impossible to draw on one. It doesn’t stop me and I cringe at all the bad drawings I’ve left behind.
I’d like to use a visualiser…
The paper will be horrible and fall off half way through.
Do not rely on any of the schools pens working.
Take your own and don’t forget to take them home with you.
Unless you’re sponsored by Sharpies…
Worth using if you’re offered them, they can really save your voice.
Some halls have very good acoustics and your voice will easily carry and be audible, some have so much echo and reverb that you can’t think straight.
Lapel mics are good but don’t wear a noisy shirt, scratchy jumper or unnecessary jewellery unless it’s part of your act.
Over ear ones are great for amplifying your breathing, bristly face and bad cold.
Using actual books
Enough of the technology. If your group sizes are small enough, then gather the children around you and use an actual book. It can be a really special experience and gets close to the Mum/Dad/Grandparent experience.
I’m taking pop up books out, so being able to nearly poke a child’s eye out is perfect.
Children love to see your rough drawings or drafts. Seeing your methods really helps them to understand that your process is very little different from theirs.
I show the children my pop up rough ideas and ask for their suggestions. Hilarious!
I show children my ‘mistakes’, I make mistakes when drawing for them, I tell them that mistakes are sometimes really good.
It’s really important to show the children your method, it’s probably the most empowering thing you can share.
It’s worth presenting such rough preparatory material well, perhaps mounted on card.
Better than flapping a flimsy sheet of A4 about.
On the day
Leave earlier than you need to!
Get there early!
Sign in and if you are using any technology, ask and check to see that it works, especially if you are leading an assembly of several hundred in a few minutes!
You may be asked if you want a school meal. These will be variable in quality, from first class to a bit grim. Best to eat in the staff room or you won’t be allowed to by the kids.
Teachers must stay with you at all times. They always do but if you find yourself alone with a class of children, excuse yourself and find someone to help. You are not there to discipline the children, that is their job. If the class gets too rowdy, look to the teacher and they will quiet them.
Get your smile on, stretch and breathe deep and remember that the kids are likely to be very happy and excited about seeing you and avoiding maths and grammar for a short while.
Engage and empathise with your pupils, you are not there to talk ‘at’ them or sell them something.
You are there to invite them into and share your surprisingly fun and colourful life. You might be down on your lonely garret life, desperate deadlines, crushing financial problems and thoughtless, teenage editor but to them you’ll be doing the things they love best, making things up and making pictures, in a world full of colour, fantasy and monsters!
Children still have the ability to inhabit their imaginations, they have the least barriers and inhibitions to engaging with you in your world, closest to being able to step out of their lives and into another imagined one.
Rather than trying to ‘force’ myself on the children, I try to relax, to surf the very positive energy that they give off. It gives you time to sense their mood and to tailor your offering to their needs, rather than imposing your own on them.
Try to remember to breathe!
Keep your breath and voice low in your chest and don’t speak from your neck and throat. You’ll lose your voice in hours.
Don’t try shouting over a noisy room, see above.
Best way to get them to shush is actually to lower your voice.
It really helps to observe the ways that teachers get their classes to shut up.
They all have different hard won methods and the children will be programmed to obey.
These can be hilarious! They will all have questions and you have to decide when you would like them. You should make a choice and assertively stick to it! You can invite questions throughout but you risk derailing the show, or you can make questions the core of the event. It depends on your audience and the way that the school encourages the children to speak out. Making your event really interactive and spontaneous can be great fun for all but you do have to maintain control, so be observant and keep your wits about you!
Children with special or different needs
All children have different needs, so try to be aware of them and tailor your event around them.
You may be warned that so and so will be hyperactive or show impulsive behaviour.
You may have children who are very sensitive to noise or stimuli.
You may have blind or deaf children.
I like to give a little attention to every child and you have to be very sensitive to the feedback that they give you.
Take time to listen to them, no matter how shy or unconfident.
I find working with children who have ’special’ needs to be immensely rewarding. I never cease to be amazed at the most wonderful work being created by some, at first sight, very challenged children.
Book sales and Signing
Book sales and signing usually take place after school.
Ask the staff where they would like you to do this, see if you can get a place with good footfall.
After your last workshop/ reading, get yourself into position at your table, spread your books out, check your connection if you’re taking cards, pop your sign up and hope for the best! It’s worth asking some of the older children if they would like to help you, they’re natural salesmen and women and, being used to extracting money from their parents, will do a better job than you!
After your Visit
Email your invoice in promptly, with a friendly note.
You will often be sent a huge envelope full of beautiful thank you letters and drawings, often really touching and interesting to see what they remembered most.
Don’t forget to thank the children via their teacher, it will mean a lot to them.
Write a blog post about it, schools love to be featured and it will be dream for search engine visibility for booking future events.
Update your events page or album with any great new photos.
Advice about school visits from Anne Marley at Authors Aloud UK
Anne Marley has a lifetime’s experience of getting children and authors together. Anne looks after all my visits and does a wonderful job of making my events work seamlessly.
Anne pointed me to the Society of Authors excellent and definitive set of guidelines,
Anne kindly sent me her top tips:
“My best piece of advice would probably be, if they haven’t done this before, to go and see another author/illustrator (or several) perform and talk to other authors as well.
Remember, no two authors/illustrators do the same thing, and they have to develop their own style.
Prepare ahead and be clear with the school or Festival how many events they want, how long and what age group, as the presentation must be age appropriate
Be prepared for the unexpected!
Accept constructive criticism with good grace and learn from every event
A teacher MUST MUST MUST be present at every event in a school
This is something they must enjoy themselves, otherwise they shouldn’t do it. The children won’t benefit and they will be unhappy in themselves.
There are loads of people who do it well – Ali Sparkes, (yourself, obviously), Andy Cope, Philip Ardargh – the list is very long, but all enjoy working with children, enjoy giving something back to the children, and love the interaction and benefit the children get from meeting a real, live author or illustrator.
They have a ‘Wow’ factor which develops over the years and has to be learned, honed and developed, but basically the bottom line is that they like working with children.
For someone doing events for the first time, maybe offer their services to a local school free (if they have one where they can see the teachers encourage reading – their children’s school perhaps?) and ask the teacher for constructive feedback at the end. Discuss it with the teacher first, but before that, they should see someone else at work and see what they do.”
Author Visits, a perspective from both author and librarian
Virtual School visits
Becoming increasingly popular, as technology and broadband speeds improve.
You could use Google hangouts or Skype. I prefer Google.
Difficult to charge for effectively but they are a fantastic way to engage with children that you would never engage with otherwise.
You will need a good external webcam and lighting, a headset and a microphone too.
Do not use your computer speakers, you will get bad feedback problems.
Experiment with lighting and backdrops.
Try to position your webcam so that is as close to the centre of your screen as possible, so that you will appear to be looking at the children, not away from them or over their heads.
Optimise your internet connection. Use a wired connection vs. WiFi.
Quit all unnecessary applications and close all other browsers, windows and tabs.
Experiment with lighting and backdrops.
Try to position your webcam so that is as close to the centre of your screen as possible, so that you will appear to be looking at the children, not away from them or over their heads.
HD webcams are all very well but for those of you that wish to, shave and for all of us, don't forget to tidy your studio!
Try not to wriggle too much. The camera will further exaggerate your movements.
Try not to lean into the camera to far. Speaking as someone whose nose is always trying to steal the limelight, you risk scaring the children with what could be a very large, very wide angle view of your nose all over one wall of their classroom...
Optimise your internet connection. Use a wired connection vs. WiFi.
Quit all unnecessary applications and close all other browsers, windows and tabs.
You can screenshare, so you can share your beautiful av presentation, or drawings easily.
Do several practice runs with a friend to make sure you can do all this. Fumbling around in a menu rather breaks the flow.
Book a time.
Bear in mind the time differences and various daylight saving regimes in place.
Best to schedule a practice run through before to check the connection with the school.
Turf anyone else ( especially teenagers) off their computers, tablets or phones on your network.
Be prepared for a time lag and occasional drop outs.
It can be difficult to engage with the children but you will have some fascinating conversations and get a glimpse of their lives. Send them a link to your town on Google Earth.
My 7 yr old daughter, loves to join in and the children are usually more interested in her than me.
She has chatted with children in Argentina and Hawaii, a class in Texas sang Happy Birthday to her last year!
The whole issue of self promotion can seem a bit tricky and one that doesn’t sit easily with many people. In practice, by creating a simple web presence, be it web site, blog or social media, you will start to self promote gently, step by step and you will learn a lot about the way others do it in the process. It will then be really easy to report on your events and visits, new books and projects. Each small step will begin to build your public profile and you’ll soon learn to tread the fine line between intriguing and interesting people and cheesing them off.
I think events and visits are priceless but you can still self promote without doing events and visits. It’s not for everyone. Work on your online presence.
I love doing them. I love working with children, it’s profoundly inspiring and a real privilege. I learn so much and it keeps me in touch with my audience. As children’s authors or illustrators we have a great advantage when we go out, adults tend to tell you what they think you want to hear.
Kids tell it like it is. You are being crowd-edited by your audience. Priceless!
We have a rare opportunity to make a difference when we work with children and I grasp it with both hands. You can spot and reach out to needy children, your oblique creative take on the world might fit them well and not only change the way they feel about themselves but often the perception of their teachers and fellow pupils.
I have seen a great many children exhibit fantastic skills and amaze their teachers, parents and peers.
They are hard work and they possibly should be exhausting but I get a thrill and energy from them like no other.
©Paul Stickland 2016
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