Monday, October 14, 2013

Author Anxiety

Are you thinking about having an author visit your school? Not sure where to start? I am going to share some of my experiences, so that you can move away from having anxiety to excitement about planning your first author visit.

Several years ago I knew I wanted to plan an author visit, but I just did not know where to start. For some reason I was telling my brother about this, and what transpired still amazes me today. He told me that his boss' wife, Frances, did author visits. Now, it is important to note that my brother had mentioned that his boss' wife wrote children's book on previous occasions. Of course, he made no distinction between children's books and books for middle schoolers and young adults. Knowing that the last name of his boss was Dowell, I was finally able to put two and two together after this conversation. Yep, that's right my brother worked for the husband of Frances O'Roark Dowell! Can you imagine my excitement?

Having this contact took quite a bit of stress out of figuring out where to start in this process. After this, I began making author visits an annual event. 

The first consideration has to be funding. I am not going to sugarcoat it, author visits are costly. You have to remember that if they are visiting your school, they can't be writing. Time is money for authors. There are lots other of things that must be considered: travel, speaker fee, food, lodging, books, etc. I often used money earned from book fairs to pay for author visits. Writing grants might be another option for you as well. Keep in mind that the bigger the name, the bigger the cost. Also consider checking with other schools in your district. They might also want to invite the author to their schools. This way you can share some of the expenses related to travel, lodging, and food. One year we were even able to get the hotel room donated for our author. One of the librarians in the district had a connection with the establishment, and they provided the room free of charge. Another cost saving strategy is to find authors that are in close proximity to your location. All the authors that visited my school were North Carolina authors, so that really helped with travel expenses. 

Typically, I planned author visits for April of each year. As soon as the author visit was over, I began thinking about the following year. It may seem early to begin planning almost a year in advance, but author schedules tend to fill up quickly. Be sure to check your calendar for spring break before booking and get the go ahead from your administrator.

In my experience, author visits are much more successful when the students have read a book by the author. It makes the connection to the author more real for students and keeps them more engaged. To make this happen, I bought a class set of books. With a student body of 700-800 it is difficult to make one class set of books work, but cost can be prohibitive. I would schedule the books for a two week rotation with each interested language arts teacher. The teacher could choose the best way to teach the book. Some had students read the entire book, others used excerpts. It is important to get the books in the hands of teachers as soon as possible in the school year to allow enough time for everyone to finish the book.

For most author visits, I requested four sessions, a lunch with students, and a book signing. Some authors will only do two sessions which means that you have to have the session in a gym or auditorium. I think students are more engaged if you can fit them into your library. I was very fortunate that my furniture was mobile and stackable, so we were able to do four different sessions in the library. Another great treat is a lunch for students with the author. I would buy pizza and invite about 25 students to have lunch with the author. There are a variety of ways you could select these 25 students. Choose something that works best for your school environment.

Book signing is something you might not think about when planning a school event, but there are some students that are professional author stalkers in the making incredibly excited about this opportunity to meet an author up close and personal. I have found that it is best to approach a local book store about purchasing books (possibly at a discount). Explain that you have an author visit and that you would like to pre-order some books for students (make sure the author does not plan to bring some to sell - this is rare). Create an order form with the books and their prices, and be sure to check with the book store to determine how long it will take the books to arrive (some stores will pre-order them and just have the extras available that day or they will get the copies autographed for their own shelves). I put sticky notes on the books for students to pick up the books during the signing. This way the owner of the book is identified and the author can use this to see the child's name. Don't forget to buy extra books by the author for your library. Don't buy too many of the one read in classes, but be sure to purchase multiple copies of other books. These will be in high demand immediately after an author visit.

Author Stalking at NCSLMA13. Alex Flinn (left) author of Cloaked, Beastly, and Bewitching.

Here are some other things to consider during an author visit. Be sure to provide water and a few snacks for the author. If your library is surrounded by other classrooms, warn them that the noise might be a little loud on this day. For authors spending the night, check to see if he/she has dinner plans. If not, ask to take him/her to a nice local restaurant. Ask some of your librarian pals from other schools to tag along. Also, consider offering to provide transportation from the hotel to the school and back.

Hope this helps you with your author anxiety. Take the plunge and ask an author to come visit your school. After you have done it once, it gets a lot easier. Plus, it will be something that you want to repeat year after year.


  1. Great advice and just what I needed. I've done a few Skype visits, but I have my first in person author visit scheduled for March.

  2. Good luck with your first in-person author visit! Who is coming to visit?