The Hows and Whys of School Visits
By Elizabeth Michel
Hit a cymbal and hear the sound long after the initial strike. Encounter God and praise him. Read a story to children and let them tell you how it made them feel.
Singer-songwriter Matt Papa calls this action “resonation.” We do it almost involuntarily. It’s a method of communicating that a message has been heard.
Children are a delightful form of resonators. They’re honest and speak both in words and with their whole bodies, from their smiles to their toes. When they’ve enjoyed your message, you’ll know!
This makes school visits a rewarding time for an author who comes with a meaningful message.
Set Up for Success
Classroom visits can be valuable for an author in a few ways, so be sure to set yourself up for success.
I begin with a phone call, avoiding busy times like school pickup and dropoff. I’ve found that around 2:00 p.m. is a sweet spot. I ask the receptionist if the school might have any interest in an author visit. Then I ask if I might send my first email to the office to request the visit.
If they want me to visit, I’ll send an email template that the office can use to tell the parents about me. This email lets the parents know who I am, what my religious beliefs are, and offers a link to my books. I always include the purchase link in each email.
After reading my book, I use colouring page printouts from my book’s colouring companion as part of my activities.
If the office is willing to email the parents before my visit, and even presell books through the office, I can sign books for those students on the day of my visit. The office will handle presales and etransfer the total to me before the day of my visit.
Another option is to leave some books in the office for a couple of weeks afterward so that I won’t need to ship more copies if any are bought. This is a win-win for everyone!
You can let people know where your next book-signing will be so they can come see you again and have their book signed later.
For example, I’ll have a table at an event in Oshawa, Ontario this November called Soul Café. Although this singer-songwriter event has an entry fee, I’ve arranged for children who bought my book after a school visit to come in for free if they’re there to get a book signed.
My goal for school visits is to build my email list. I have a fun incentive that I tell the parents about through a take-home memo, as well as a bookmark that I print on cardstock at home.
Through this incentive, I’m able to ask for permission to send future emails. Because it’s difficult to communicate my entire message in one book, the email list allows me to give my audience a little more “by extension,” giving them an opportunity to connect with me and my message further.
Not every school is able to pay me for my time. I suggest five dollars per student, if they’re able, to cover the cost of my gas and any supplies. If not, I’m happy to come anyway so that I can continue to build connections with families in my area.
Let Them Participate
In the classroom setting, the urge for students to participate is strong. When reading my book, HONK! A Tale of Praise, I give my kids a phrase that they can keep in their mouths until the right time.
I pinpoint a part of the story when the lightbulb will turn on for them. At the crucial page turn, before they see their phrase pasted across the double spread, I slow down my reading speed. We fill our lungs with air and go “HONK! HONK! HONK!” Just like it says in the words of my story!
Because of this phrase, not only do they tell me that they’re ahead of the plot but they’re able to synchronize their appreciation with the peacocks’ praise to God.
Here are a few other ideas to help your school visits go smoothly.
If you’re able, it’s a good idea to visit schools in the same area all in one day. Also, having a good relationship with the local schools will set you up to be a preferential choice for future author visits.
I have plans to travel this year to see family and friends for personal reasons. I’ll be calling the schools in their area so I can take meet new audiences without having to increase my travel costs.
Two summers ago, I also sold my books at a camp. The children took the books home with them. An entire year later, I was approached at the same camp by a little girl who had read my book. All that time, the story had kept resonating inside her! I was so blessed by this precious encounter. I realized that although we, as writers, may be a little blinded by our own human flaws, it’s a huge pleasure for children to have the opportunity to chat with an author.
Approach your school visits with a desire to serve, share a life-changing message, and build community. This will help to ensure that your visits are successful.
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