We asked the faculty for our upcoming workshop on school visits (Andrea Loney, George Jreije and Michelle Cusolito) to answer common questions we hear from our community about school and author and illustrator visits. We loved how their answers were all a little different. There is no one right way to do things, but these authors have made school visits a big part of their marketing mix to connect with kids, and they are happy to share some of what they’ve learned along the way.
I’m thinking about taking public speaking lessons because I’m not great at it. Did you take public speaking lessons before starting visits? Is that a good idea?
Andrea Loney: I didn’t specifically take public speaking lessons, but I did do stand up comedy for three years and I’ve been a teacher for almost 20 years. That background helps me deal with nervousness and fear of rejection onstage. But I have seen lots of great author and/or illustrator visits by creators without any formal public speaking lessons. It really is just about sharing your book, your creative/research process, and other interesting aspects of your life as an author and/or illustrator with curious children.
Michelle Cusolito: I have decades of experiences as a teacher of both children and adults, so I didn’t take lessons. But I’ve heard of lots of authors and illustrators who have taken lessons to help them get over their fear of public speaking. I’ve also heard of people having particular success from joining Toastmasters International. Others have taken acting or improv classes. I think the key is to know yourself and what will help you feel comfortable in front of students.
George Jreije: I would only recommend it if you truly felt uncomfortable in front of crowds, otherwise the best way to learn is from fellow authors. I learned from seeing how others structured their presentations, asking as many questions as I could, and then practicing during real visits!
I was asked to do an author visit for free. Should I?
Andrea Loney: This is just my opinion, but I believe that it’s okay to do free author visits as long as you are getting something out of the experience in lieu of money. As I share in this course, I only do free visits for specific reasons. And even then I let the organizers know that my paid visits contain additional material.
Michelle Cusolito: I fall firmly in the camp that says creative people should be paid for their time. That said, I do encourage people to offer free visits when they’re first developing their programs and working out the kinks. And, of course, donate to particular organizations or causes you believe in. But, in general, you should be paid for your time. Further, when you do visits for free, you make it harder for other creatives to charge for their programs because schools start to expect them for free. Our time is valuable (you’re not writing when you’re at a school) and we bring value to schools.
George Jreije: That depends. What is your goal? If your goal is to connect with children, then sure. Yet if your goal is to make money or sell books, it is totally fine to pursue opportunities that achieve those goals.
Do visits always have to include some sort of interactive activity? My book doesn’t feel very activity-ish, and I’m not sure where to start.
Andrea Loney: I used to feel the same way about my first book during visits. But when I took this course in 2017, it completely changed how I build my author visit programs. Along with my classmates, we all learned how to create author visits that were engaging and authentic to our particular personalities. Now I believe that any visit on any book for any age group can be interactive — even if it’s online.
Michelle Cusolito: This is exactly what we’ll talk about in our course! The best presenters lean into what they’re passionate about and bring that to schools.
George Jreije: You would be surprised just how interactive you can make your visit. The course will show you tried and true strategies you can apply to your visit to make them interactive.
Is there a sweet spot for when exactly to use school visits in your marketing plan? Right as you debut? After your book has been out for a while? When you have more than one book? Something else?
Andrea Loney: Once your first book is published, it’s time for school visits! You don’t need more than one book, you don’t need to wait for your book to get a certain number of reviews, and you don’t need to be a recent debut author/illustrator. Just jump in! We can show you how.
Michelle Cusolito: I don’t think there’s a sweet spot. You can start them whenever you’re ready. I actually did visits before my book came out. (Some of those free ones I talked about earlier. I went into my kids’ school and worked out my program). But don’t be discouraged if you don’t book lots of visits when you only have one book. It takes time for people to find you. Focus on the long game.
George Jreije: School visits are best served when you have a physical book out in the world so that students who want your book can get them. As soon as your book is released, school visits become one of the best ways to sell copies, so they are a must have!