Getting school bookings requires a business approach!
“If teachers are going to spend their school’s precious PAC money on bringing you in, they want to know you’ll be worth it. Put together your presentation, then prepare a brochure or information sheet that makes it sound exciting and irresistible.”
“Websites! Make use of websites such as your CWILL member page and the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors Illustrators & Performers (Canscaip) site. You can refer teachers to our websites for details on books, presentation topics, even fees.”
“It helps if your presentation appeals to boys as much as girls and to know where your topic fits into the BC curriculum.”
“If you can handle a large audience, schools feel they can better justify your cost as more students will benefit. Talk about group sizes prior to your visit, to avoid misunderstanding.”
“If I’m going to be in an area and want to line up extra bookings, I contact the district or individual schools well in advance, through websites. I do this strategically, rather than en masse. Most schools can’t afford to pay my travel expenses in addition to my fee, so sometimes my line is that I’m going to be in the area anyway, so this is a chance to book me without the extra travel costs. Another time, I realized that my book fit perfectly with the theme of the summer reading club in BC public libraries, so I contacted the program coordinator and ended up doing 42 presentations around Southern BC in one month. ”
“When I was starting out, I offered a ‘freebee’ reading at my own kids’ local school. That helped to get the feel of a reading, sort out the trembly knees syndrome, see what worked and what didn’t. Word spread a little, that first year. A little more the next. By then I was quite at ease. So I took a kind of promo package to all the schools in my area, including a photo, bookmarks, info sheet about the sort of presentations I do, good reviews, etc. I delivered these information packages by hand, trying not to be shy about the blatant self-promotion. That produced about a 30% response so I expanded my coverage area a bit. After that the ripple effect started!”
Note: If you do decide to do a first presentation for free or to ‘donate’ a talk to your children’s school, make it clear that this is an exception. Give them an invoice showing, then deducting the amount you would normally charge and provide some information about ArtStarts in case they want to bring you back the following year. You can even consider it a charitable donation and ask for a tax deductible receipt.
Once you get a booking, how do you plan your presentation?
“In order of importance: variety, interaction, storytelling, humor, multimedia. BRIEF readings (maximum of two at 90 seconds each), BRIEF “lessons” (driving home points like the importance of persistence, patience, and taking criticism). Above all, let them participate. Ask the kids questions, assign them tasks (such as walking around showing one of your props), get them to vote on something.
“I make notes on index cards and keep them handy while I’m talking. I almost never refer to them, but they’re a nice psychological ‘back-up’ in case I go blank. I have lots of show-and-tell items, and these usually keep me on track in terms of order. I time myself carefully, using a stopwatch, so that I know how much time everything takes.”
“I am willing to look at a few pieces of writing from the class (depending on the fee) before I get there and I will also meet with teachers after the event to talk about their writing programs. Others offer a separate staff development workshop on writing as an after-school option at an additional cost.”
“We’ve all written different books, we all have different talents… all our talks are going to be different. But what makes any talk worth listening to is how you present it. I think it’s extremely important to look as though you’re having a good time. Look as though there is no place you’d rather be. Look confident… you KNOW what you’re talking about – you’re an authority. I try to make eye contact with each child in the room. I move around a lot. I ask almost as many questions of the students as they ask of me. If I’m presenting to a large group (100 or more) I try to have the children arranged in a horseshoe shape, only about 4 deep, so I can move around amongst them. I show them things. I try to have a different, fun ‘something’ to show connected with each book.”
On the day itself, what do you do during your presentation?
“I request that students introduce me and refer them to my website for introduction information. This often fits well with ‘research’ for teachers, and helps students get used to public speaking themselves. I usually suggest that at least two or three students be involved.”
“Use different voice levels, capitalize on pauses, it’s all a performance! I do voice warm up exercises in my car on my way to the school.”
“My presentations for intermediate students include lots of audience participation, props, action, and fun. Any selections I read are very short. The audience helps me solve a crime, takes part in a contest based on my books, tries tasting dulse, volunteers for various roles, etc. I choose to avoid using AV technology; I know that some authors give very good slide show presentations, and they may be crucial for illustrators, but sometimes PowerPoint presentations are a crutch. And if you are forced to suddenly change venues, or present outside as I once did, you need a presentation that is adaptable.”
“I bring along bookmarks that I’ve autographed (while watching TV) so that each child gets an autograph, and also takes home something with my name on it. Otherwise many won’t have a clue what author came to talk to them that day.”
“Book sales are something to think about: will you refer them to Vancouver Kidsbooks, another local bookstore, or bring your own books to sell? We usually get a 40% discount so selling books in the staff room is a nice supplement.”
— CWILL BC