I don’t remember much about elementary school, but I’ll never forget the time my favorite author, Ann M. Martin, of Baby-Sitter’s Club fame, came to visit. As she stood before my second-grade class talking about her books and writing process, I hung on every word. I still remember the answer she gave when a classmate asked where her story ideas come from: eavesdropping.
Martin’s visit has stuck with me for over 30 years. Now that I’m writing High Flyers, an illustrated chapter book series about a team of racing pigeons, and doing author visits of my own, I draw inspiration from that memory to create a rich learning experience that children will remember long after I leave. My approach was recently validated by a five-year-old boy who came up to me at a community event to tell me that I had given a presentation at his elementary school and that he enjoyed learning how to candle a racing pigeon egg to see if it’s fertilized. For a moment, I just stared at him with my mouth hanging open, stunned that my author visit had made such an impression on this young reader.
It’s not about you; it’s about them.
Creating an unforgettable author visit begins with mindset. Even though you, the author, may be the main attraction, the experience isn’t really about you; it’s about them—the students, their parents, and the school’s faculty, staff, and event coordinators. Each of these “stakeholders” wants something different from you and your presentation. Generally speaking, students want to be entertained, the parents and educators want the children to learn something, and the event coordinators want both delivered as smoothly as possible. As you develop your program, think about the different “customers” you’re serving and how you want them to feel after your presentation is over. Beginning with this end goal in mind will go a long way in helping you decide how to structure your program’s content and logistics.
Since High Flyers is recommended for readers ages 7–10, my pet racing pigeons and I mainly visit elementary schools, home school groups, libraries, and youth organizations to teach children about the 200-year-old sport of pigeon racing and the special skills that make racing pigeons such incredible athletes. My goal for every presentation is to engage and entertain the children and support what they’re learning in the classroom, all while making the event coordinator’s job as easy as possible.
Be the resource.
Much of your event’s success rests on the event coordinator’s shoulders. When it comes to hosting an author visit, the event coordinator has a lot of details to manage before, during, and after the program. She’s responsible for finding an author who can speak on topics related to the curriculum, negotiating the contract, securing funding, promoting the event, reserving presentation space, testing the audio/visual equipment, and ensuring that everything flows smoothly the day of the event. Don’t be a diva by adding more to her plate. Instead, make it your mission to make her job as easy as possible. Anticipate her needs every step of the way and be proactive in meeting them.
One way to do this is by providing a folder that neatly organizes all of the resources needed to support your event. This should include a copy of your contract that details the logistics of your visit, including the date, time, and location of your presentation, the corresponding agenda, and a list of items you’ll need. My contract spells out who’s responsible for providing the projector, screen, power strip, extension cord, microphone, etc. To accommodate my racing pigeons, I also need a small table on which to set their cage and some open outdoor space, like a playground or field, if we’re planning to hold a pigeon race.
Your folder should also include your speaker one-sheet, a book order form, a copy of your handouts, and other helpful resources that the event coordinator may need to ensure a successful event. For any file that needs to be copied and distributed, it’s helpful to provide them digitally as well—via email, USB drive, or disk.
By taking some of the responsibility off the event coordinator’s shoulders, you’ll not only help ensure that your program runs smoothly, you’ll also be remembered as someone who’s easy to work with, increasing the odds of being invited back.