Tuesday, 17 September 2013

'Book Week Coming Up' - Saviour Pirotta

It's that time of the year when teachers and and literacy co-oridinators up and down the country begin to organise their book weeks, a lot of which take place in October and early November.  For many writers, school visits provide an income stream which, along with PLR and ALCS, is becoming increasingly important in this age of heavy discounting and shrinking royalties.  I've been visiting schools for nearly thirty years now, so I thought I'd pass on some tips on how to get the most out of the experience.

We all know why the school has booked us.  They want to promote literacy and the love of books. They want the kids to get excited about reading and writing by meeting a real-life author.  But what do WE want from school visits? I find it pays to sit myself down once in a while and work out a school visit strategy for the next few months.  In fact I do this at the beginning of every term; it helps me decide which schools I accept to visit.

Do I just need the cash to keep me going till the next round of royalty payments, in which case I tend to say yes to the first schools that phone. That way I can get my p.a. diary filled and my work schedule planned as quickly as possible.  Is there a new book or series I want to promote or sell?  If the latter is the correct answer, I allocate some time to rehearsing my performance. I set about getting postcards printed, my website updated to reflect the promotion and harassing my publishers for extra free copies of the book in question. It's amazing how quickly a book starts to look tatty once it's been passed round a couple of staffrooms.

I find giving out postcards a brilliant way of promoting my website, and by extension my books.  I try to have an exciting image on the front and my website address on the back, in an easy-to-read font.  Children do not dip in out of the net like us grown up fogeys do; they inhabit it.  The first thing they do when they hear your name is 'google' you, so if you don't have a snazzy website for them to explore you're on a one-way hike to loserville as far as they're concerned.  Don't bother putting on any more info than your website address on the card.  Stick all that on the site itself, where children can check it out at their leisure.  If the site is attractive enough, visitors will keep coming back, giving you the perfect opportunity to engage with them and promote your books.  Which is a heck of a lot to get out of a little postcard!  I give mine out at the end of the day, usually sticking to one or two per class.  Resist the temptation to put details of your fb and twitter pages on the card unless you write books for KS3.  Children under 13 are not supposed to have any of these social media accounts.

Don't make the mistake of putting free stories on your site.  I did this for a while and it was alarming how many schools went from 'we bought some of your books' to 'we downloaded your stories from the net.'  Nowadays I tell the kids that if they log on to my site when they get home, they would find a free story.  But it only stays up for a day, and only appears after a visit, not before.

Some authors only visit schools if they're allowed to sell their books at the end of the day.  I don't do this, mainly because I don't drive and can only lug a few copies of my books around.  Recently, though, I signed up with Authors Aloud who organise the sale of my books with local bookshops. I do insist, however, that the children are familiar with my work before the visit.  More often than not they already have some of my books in the school library, although they are not always aware of it.  I just tell them to go have a good look round. Or I might suggest they borrow them from the local library. If you visit a lot of schools in the same area the local schools library service might even agree to buy a certain amount of your books which they send out in special 'author' boxes.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but I consider author visits a vital part of our metiere and well worth the time invested in them.  And they're jolly good fun too!! It's like going back to school without the danger of being told off!    

Visit my site at www.spirotta.com
I do school visits through Authors Aloud. Visit their website here


Heather Dyer said...

Interesting - thanks for the tips. I'd not heard of Authors Aloud...

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks for the comment, Heather. Authors Aloud is run by a group of talented women, including Annie Everall OBE who was the first librarian to give me a gig.

Jon M said...

Annie's a real force of nature! Great tips, Saviour. I hope you're busy!

Saviour Pirotta said...

It's feast at the moment, Jon, ta. I'm sure famine is just around the corner though...