Author Visits from the Author’s Perspective: Part Three: Visit Day

Welcome to the final post in this series. In part one, I covered the demographics of the authors who responded to my survey, and logistical planning for an in-person visit. In part two, I covered preparing for and promoting an author event at your school. In this final post, I will cover ensuring your author visit goes smoothly on the day. As always, many thanks to the authors who took the time to respond to my survey!

Day-Of Logistics

Asked how a librarian can make a visit day go smoothly, most authors ticked all the boxes: Keep a communication device handy in case of issues; Meet the author at the check-in point; Escort the author wherever they need to go; Make introductions; Help with any tech needs/issues; Have water available; Facilitate signings with post-its and extra pens.

In the “other” option, Margriet Ruurs suggested: “Display books on a table so kids can see the relationship between the books, the speaker and the slideshow/talk.” Kirby Larson said: “The more communication, the better!” Kelly Jones added: “I don’t need to be escorted (I know you’re busy!). But it helps if the office is aware that I’m coming and can tell me where I should go.”

Make It Special

Here are some examples of librarians who went the extra mile and made the author visit really special.

Martha Brockenbrough: “Not only did Terry Shay have the cheerleading squad, he had every kid outside with little signs to welcome me. It was over the top, but definitely incredible. The excitement made me feel good, but more important—it made the KIDS pumped for what was to come.”

Margriet Ruurs: “If they do all the things listed above, it’s awesome. But often that’s not the case and you have to make the best of it for the students’ sake. It’s a great gesture when the principal attends a session and sets the tone for the importance of reading in the school.”

Phoebe Fox: “With everything an author brings to a visit, it is especially helpful to have a parking spot reserved near the library or area of presentation.”

Dianne White: “Librarians who have prepared the kids and teachers by talking about the visit ahead of time, sharing books, and helping kids and staff get excited about the value of author visits make for the best overall experiences.”

Kirby Larson: “At one middle school in Arkansas, the librarian worked with the cafeteria to have food that was suggested by my books! Amazing. I am so grateful when librarians provide extra water for me and a little sweet snack in the afternoon; I appreciate being introduced to the principal; I’m always touched when there’s a little welcome swag bag in the hotel room. Honestly, I’m so appreciative of how hard librarians/teachers are already working; I am in total awe of all the extras they do to connect kids with books and their creators.”

Kelly Jones: “I appreciate it when librarians prepare students for my visit, but I also really love hearing any follow-ups! It’s been wonderful to hear about classes who’ve continued the writing exercises we talk about and create their own stories, or libraries who’ve created ways for students to share the stories they create with each other.” In addition, “If there’s a practice you use for library time or assemblies that works well with your students, please tell me! For instance, one library often used a “stop and share” practice for the kinds of exciting questions I was asking students to think about. The librarian would ask the question, then students would have one minute to discuss it with a neighbor before we moved on. When the librarian stopped my presentation to explain, it was a perfect addition—something I could use with that school and with others!”

Lily LaMotte: “The cafeteria serving the students lunch with the recipe from my book… I’ve also had a teacher in West Palm Beach make a whole diorama on stage. Other librarians decorated their libraries. Another teacher had a contest where students wrote essays about why they wanted to come to a small group student lunch with me.”

Dori Hillestad Butler: “I love when I pull into a school parking lot and see a sign that tells me where to park. (I especially liked the ones that said VIP AUTHOR PARKING—I’ve been to several schools that did that.) A librarian in Oregon had read that I like Diet Dr. Pepper and had a couple bottle of it (nobody has Diet Dr. Pepper on hand!). One of the best school visits I ever was in Colorado–the kids wrote a play based on one of my books and then performed it for me.”

Cautionary Tales

Sometimes, visits don’t go so well, unfortunately. Here are some (anonymous) examples, and reasons why.

“I would say that most visits are always wonderful, but I did have a visit last year that was close to the end of the school year. The multi-purpose room was full of stuff that had been recently been moved there because the year was coming to an end. There was a lot of last minute cleaning up and making room for the classes to fit. It left me with the feeling that the author visit was more of an after-thought and the assembly was just a way to occupy the kids for a short while, rather than an enrichment to the educational experience.”

“One school (a middle school) left me alone with the kids to do a workshop. For the entire period. And one of the kids basically wrote [inappropriate fiction] and then read it out loud. It’s not my job to deal with that. Now I have a line in my letter of agreement that says “author will not be left alone with students,” which is probably a good idea for any kind of liability as well.”

“I once did six visits in a day (too many), and the school didn’t provide me with lunch. I would have brought my own had they told me there wouldn’t be lunch. It made for a hard day.”

“I’ve been very lucky so far in that I haven’t had any bad visits. The only one that I can think of that didn’t go well was a virtual visit to a library during lockdown. Unfortunately each attendee was trying to get onto the facility’s WiFi from their own laptop while outside the building because they weren’t allowed in because of the lockdown. But the tech issue wasn’t the librarian’s fault. And it was the pandemic so it was a time for everyone to be more flexible than normal.”

“My presentations, in the end, are always very well received. But if there are no books displayed, no art based on books, no enthusiasm about the visit – it is much harder to achieve a positive atmosphere.”

“Though I work very hard to engage kids, if they have no idea who I am or why I’m there, it can be a slog for me to help them get the most of the presentation. I can overcome tech issues or other things but adequate prep really helps the school get the biggest bang for their buck.”

Annoyances and Frustrations

The authors gave insightful responses about things  that specifically annoy or frustrate them on visit days, which I present anonymously.

“I once had a principal want to meet with me before the visit to make sure my visit would be OK for his students. I’m a published author. I do school visits regularly. I used to teach at a high school. Asking for more time and, in a sense, justifying my presence is pretty uncool.” This author added that, in addition to unprepared students, having disengaged or absent teachers makes it impossible for the teacher to build on the author’s lesson, which is intended to support the curriculum. Especially if teachers are absent, “it feels as if they want me to entertain their students for an hour and that’s it. But that is not how author talks work. A good author presentation is not reading from your book. Anyone can do that. It is sharing the excitement about writing, planning, editing – making kids want to write, too!”

“When there is no introduction made, it feels very awkward to introduce oneself.”

“Requests to do additional presentations after the contract has been set/settled are hard to deal with but, truly, I know things come up at the last minute. We’re all doing our best, that is for sure!”

“Very noisy outside environments (for instance, a really loud class on the other side of an air wall in a divided gym) can be hard to overcome.”

“It can be difficult to quickly adapt and give the students the experience I’d like them to have when the tech arrangements we agreed upon aren’t available after all—for instance, no microphone or working projector for a full-school assembly.”

“I also prefer for teachers to support students asking me questions during the Q&A, even if someone else has already asked it, or it might embarrass the teacher (such as, how much money do I make). I believe that students are trying to imagine themselves in a writer’s shoes, and trying to connect and be seen. I have answers for these situations that everyone can learn from without anyone’s attempt being shut down.”

“Before: Not getting a schedule, not getting a response from my host if I email, not receiving my signed letter of agreement back in a timely manner.”

Final Thoughts

Margriet Ruurs: “Whether it’s local or around the world, sharing your books in schools and libraries is awesome. And keep in mind that it makes it financially possible to stay home and write during other times. Author visits support the writer on so many levels.”

Kirby Larson: “I am so grateful to the teachers and librarians working so hard every day in their buildings. Though a school visit with me might not work out/fit their schedule or budget, I am in awe of all the ways they work so hard to connect kids with books and their creators. So a huge thank you to our wonderful educators!”

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