Detailed Information about Author Visits
I can do either full-day or half-day author visits at schools, libraries or conferences. A full-day is three to four presentations; a half-day, one to two. I always include time for questions and answers with my presentations; I’m also happy to sign books as well if that fits in the day.
Typically my presentations last about a half an hour to an hour, depending mostly on the age of the kids I’m talking to. I most commonly speak to upper elementary students or middle school students. However, I have spoken to groups as young as kindergarten, if elementary schools want to make sure that every kid in the school gets to see the visiting author. I’ve also spoken to high school students; college students interested in becoming writers, teachers or librarians; and adult groups.
Types of Presentations
I can do a variety of presentations, depending on the audience. Sometimes I give general talks about some aspect of being an author, such as how I got into it or how I get my ideas. Or, if students have focused very intently on one or more of my books, I can give more in-depth talks about those books, tracing my writing process for those books from beginning to end, and discussing the reaction I’ve gotten to those books since publication. I also occasionally do writers workshops with small groups of students. It’s fine with me to do a variety of different kinds of presentations during the course of the day—in fact, I prefer that. And I try to be a flexible as possible and will work with schools if they want me to do a different kind of presentation.
Preparations for the visit
I’ve found that school visits go much better, and students get a lot more out of my visits, if they are familiar with my books before I get there. (See suggested books by grade level)
I know several other authors have gotten to the point that they say they will only speak to kids who have read at least one of their books. I don’t go to that extreme, because I know that the kids who seem least likely to benefit from an author visit are sometimes the ones who get the most out of it. (It’s happened more than once that a kid has come up to me after an author visit and shyly confided, “I want to be an author, too”—and then I’ve heard from his stunned teacher afterward, “Are you kidding? I didn’t think that kid ever read anything! I thought he hated writing!” And I’m not blaming teachers for this phenomenon. I know kids will sometimes go to great lengths to hide their dearest dreams.) So I don’t require any particular level of familiarity with my books. But I strongly encourage as much exposure to my books as possible beforehand. In a couple cases, I’ve done visits where an entire school has read one of my books, Among the Hidden, all together, and these visits always go wonderfully. I’ve found myself fielding questions from the janitors and the cooks as well as students and teachers, and I’ve watched the school secretary and the principal discussing the book with the students. So I hold up the “One school/one book” program as an ideal. I realize that’s not always easy to pull off, though, so I don’t expect it every time—just some familiarity with my work.
Beyond that, I try to check with schools a month or so before a visit to discuss details we need to work out. I appreciate receiving a schedule at least a week ahead, along with directions to the school if I’m driving there.