Today, children, we have a very special visitor…
A visit from a writer, poet or illustrator to a school or library can be an immensely rewarding experience for all involved – and it’s never too early to start planning an event – especially around very busy times like World Book Day and Children’s Book Week.
For inspiration and a list of the benefits of an author visit see the Society of Author’s slideshow ‘What’s the point of author visits?’ However, to ensure you get the most out of the experience careful thought and planning are essential. Here are some guidelines and tips to help shape your preparation and thinking around the visit.
Why host an author/illustrator visit?
From this fundamental question, the whole visit will take shape. Answers may include:
- To enthuse students about reading and writing.
- To allow students to meet a favourite author in person and ask them questions about their work.
- To fit into a scheme of work.
- To be able to tick the relevant National Curriculum box.
- To gain positive publicity for your school.
- To be part of a programme of events (e.g. World Book Day).
- To gain from the experience, professionally and personally.
Which author/illustrator do you want?
Once you have decided what the focus of the visit is, you should research which author might be appropriate for you. Many children’s authors and illustrators are very experienced and truly inspirational, while some may be less confident in undertaking school or library visits. You need to find out which authors are going to best suit your needs. Points to consider:
- Does an author/illustrator come recommended by colleagues, local library services or local book groups?
- Writers often specialise in writing books for a particular age-group so make sure the author will be suitable for your intended age range.
- Some writers offer a range of events including readings, workshops and drama sessions while others make a more traditional presentation (i.e. readings with a question and answer sessions). What do you wish your author to offer?
- How many people do you wish the author to see during the day? Do they offer small workshops or large-scale presentations?
- Is the author affordable? Fees can vary and are set by the author. Please see societyofauthors.org/rates-and-guidelines for advice. This can range from £350 – £1000 for a day for authors in extremely high demand.. Half-day rates can range from £150 – 800. Single session fees are in the region of £150-250 plus travel for a single session (not exceeding an hour) when the author or illustrator is visiting a local school/library or carrying out a number of separate visits in the same area. Average rates are approx £400-500 for a day, £300 for a half-day. Many authors only consider single visits local to them.
Scottish schools and libraries may be able to apply for Live Literature Funding when using Scottish authors registered at www.scottishbooktrust.com/author-search. Author fees are a minimum of £150 for an hour event or £450 for three one hour events during a working day. All travel and subsistence expenses are reimbursed. Please note that some authors may charge more within the scheme if the school/library agrees to cover the difference.
- Is the author/illustrator available? Big names are usually booked up years in advance and many only undertake school visits organised by their publisher. Lots of authors/illustrators can be booked up 6–9 months in advance, especially around times of World Book Day, etc. so PLEASE BE AS ORGANISED AS POSSIBLE and don’t try to book someone at the last minute. It is very worthwhile thinking about the new and debut authors and illustrators too, who could be the big names of the future
- If your school has requirements about professional liability insurance, DBS clearances or any other security checks (e.g. ID), such matters should be clarified with the author well in advance. It is to nobody’s benefit if there are problems which only come to light on the day of the visit.
- Authors visiting schools should have (and can be asked to confirm that they have) professional liability insurance. A condition of such insurance is that the author will be accompanied at all times and will not be left alone with children.
- The Department of Education and Ofsted are clear in their guidance that a Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly CRB) check is only needed when there is ‘Teaching, training or instruction of children, carried out by the same person frequently (once a week or more often), or on 4 or more days in a 30 day period, or Overnight’. It is not required if an author is performing supervised visits on an infrequent basis. For ad-hoc visits the school should confirm that at no time will the author be left unaccompanied with children, and that DBS clearance is therefore not required. For frequent visits schools should be aware that subscribers to the DBS Update Service can have their DBS certificate kept up-to-date and take it with them from school to school. See here for more detailed information.
- If the school requires ID, it needs to be clear what forms of ID are acceptable (especially if it has to be photo ID, e.g. the author’s picture on the cover of a book).
Information on authors/illustrators
Most authors & illustrators can be contacted directly via their websites or via social media, but can also be approached via their publisher’s publicity departments (be warned that they are usually very busy!) or written to, c/o their publisher.
We recommend the following resources:
- Booktrust (booktrust.org.uk) – inspires everyone to enjoy books, reading and writing and the lifelong benefits that they bring.
- Contact an Author (contactanauthor.co.uk) – helps you find authors available for talks, workshops, school visits, interviews, after-dinner speaking, World Book Day events and commissions.
- Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (clpe.org.uk)– provides high quality courses and conference for teachers, some of which include author events and showcases. Their free resource Core Books Online (www.corebooks.org.uk) is regularly updated and can help you identify texts for your library as well as potential authors for visits.
- National Literacy Trust (literacytrust.org.uk) – a UK charity that transforms lives through literacy.
- National Association of Writers in Education professional directory (nawe.co.uk) – NAWE members providing services.
- NibWeb (www.nibweb.org.uk) – a network for information book writers and editors.
- Patron of Reading (www.patronofreading.co.uk) – matches schools and authors looking for local long term residencies that encourage reading for pleasure.
- Reading Zone (www.readingzone.com) – everything you need to know about children’s books and authors.
- Reading Force (www.readingforce.org.uk) – resources to support schools, community groups etc. that host children who have family in the Armed Forces. Author visits are a regular prize.
- Scottish Book Trust (www.scottishbooktrust.com) – the agency for the promotion of reading, writing and literature in Scotland. Subsidies for talks are available for Scottish schools and authors. See Live Literature Funding
- Society of Authors searchable database (www.societyofauthors.org/writersearch) – a directory of SoA members. Please note that we are happy to forward any requests.
- Start the Story author directory (www.authors.startthestory.co.uk) – a new directory from Start the Story aimed at getting writers into schools.
There are agencies that specialise in the organisation of author visits. These include:
- Authors Aloud UK (authorsalouduk.co.uk) – a company that specialises in arranging for authors, illustrators, poets and storytellers to visit schools, libraries and other venues in the UK or abroad. They look after approximately 250-300 names, have brilliant links with publishers and authors and are able to sub best authors/illustrators who might work for your needs/geographical area
- Authors Abroad (www.authorsabroad.com) – provide high quality events in the UK and abroad with a hand-picked selection of leading UK authors, poets, illustrators, animators, musicians and photographers
- Pop Up Education (www.pop-up.org.uk/education) – arrange specialist whole-school literature programmes and creative events and opportunities for teachers
- Apples and Snakes (applesandsnakes.org) – performance poetry organisation: poets, events, education, features, resources, links and contact details.
- Collaborate with your local bookshop or library to see if they want to partner with you. Find your local bookshop at http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch
- Find out if there are any authors or illustrators in your community; it can be easier to arrange a visit if they are local to you
- Alternatively, work as a cluster with a partner school in your area? It could even be a different age group, e.g. a feeder primary school. This means you could share costs and work with an author/illustrator over a number of days
Nothing energises a classroom like a live visit, but you can find short pre-recorded interviews on www.behindthebookshelf.co.uk, Booktrust, publisher websites, YouTube, and of course our WBD TV section, which may help you select or plan your author visit. Some authors may be happy to do short Skype interviews if you contact them directly or see www.virtualauthor.co.uk.
Once you have decided on who you would like to invite, make contact with the author and/or agency (if possible, directly speak to or correspond with the author). A letter or email is a good starting point – include a contact number and address or ask the author if you may phone them.
- The date of the visit.
- The age-group to whom the writer will be talking.
- Group size.
- The number and timing of the session(s).
- The length of the session(s).
- The type of venue. (Decide whether your venue is suitable for the visit – mostly it will be, but sometimes clubbing together in a larger venue may be more appropriate).
- Technical equipment (projector, flipchart, etc.) required by the writer.
- Arrangements for refreshments, lunch (check for any special dietary requirements).
- Accommodation arrangements, if needed.
- The fee agreed per session, plus expenses (travel & subsistence) and VAT if appropriate. Please note that most authors are self-employed (even where they invoice as a limited company) and a one-off engagement does not create a contract of employment. Authors should not be paid via the pay-roll and neither tax nor NI should be deducted from the fee or expenses
- The books the writer will be discussing.
- Book sales and signing.
- Details for payment.
- Arrangements for getting the author to the venue.
- Showcards or publicity material from the publisher.
- Any terms or restrictions. Some authors will not allow their events to be recorded and some prefer photographs to be taken at the end of a session. Do tell the author in advance if press have been invited and attending.
Once this has been agreed upon, write a letter to confirm details. Include:
- School contact name (have a back-up person as well in case of illness).
- School’s address, phone number and e-mail.
- Map or clear directions.
- Confirmation of collection times if arriving by train/bus.
- Mobile phone number of person picking up the writer.
- If applicable, details (map, directions) of accommodation and confirmation of how it is to be paid.
- For infrequent visits the school should confirm that at no time will the author be left unaccompanied with children, and that DBS clearance is therefore not required.
- If the school requires ID, it needs to be clear what forms of ID are acceptable (especially if it has to be photo ID e.g. the author’s picture on the cover of a book).
Before the visit
The longer run in you have, the more excitement can be generated.
- Make sure you have a venue available (double-booking of school halls is not unknown!).
- Make sure colleagues know of the visit.
- Make sure the children know of the visit.
- Involve the PTA and wider community (feeder or link schools and/or local library).
- Contact the writer’s publisher(s) and ask if there is any display or promotional material available.
Prepare the children by:
- Introducing the writer’s work.
- Making display of books, pictures, posters etc.
- Reading or looking at sections of the author/illustrator’s work.
- Visiting the author/illustrator’s website with the children (if they have one).
- Discussing the questions the children might ask of the author.
- Writing a letter to parents or carers telling them of the visit – include details of the price of the books available to buy.
- Organising the availability of books through your local bookseller or equivalent (some authors may bring their own books to sell) – these can be sold in advance to the children, and/or on the day of the visit.
- Charging batteries for digital cameras if they are to be used (ask author’s permission about taking pictures or filming event).
- Press and publicity – if the author is willing, contact local paper with details. Check the position regarding parental consent and the publication of pictures.
Each visit will be different, but the following guidelines will help to ensure a successful day:
- Remind staff of the day’s activities.
- Be in good time to pick up the author if arriving by train or bus.
- Be ready to meet and greet the author (Make sure that the school receptionist or equivalent is aware of the writer’s arrival – a welcoming drink generally goes down well!).
- Have refreshments available throughout the day.
- Make sure that the venue is clean and equipped with suitable seating or technical requirements.
- Make sure children and staff are in place on time for the session(s).
- Introduce the author to the audience.
- Make sure that staff or pupils do not wander through the venue when the talk is taking place.
- Escort the author to the correct venue.
- Don’t leave the author to fend for themselves in staffrooms at break times or lunch.
- Make sure that books are available for sale and book selling is organised in an orderly manner.
- Make sure that payment is given or invoice requested.
- Thank the author appropriately.
- Make sure arrangements for leaving are in place (lift to station etc.).
Some common pitfalls to be aware of:
- Do not leave the author alone with the pupils at any time. An author’s public liability insurance is invalidated if an author is left unsupervised. Authors are not to be regarded as substitute teachers and left with a class or classes.
- The members of staff who would normally teach the children in the audience should be present, (and other teachers/teaching assistants, if available) and should be fully engaged with the presentation, not filling in forms or marking books.
- It is a good idea to let the author know of any children with special needs or behavioural problems.
- Make sure that there are no problems with noise in other classrooms (or from author’s sessions). Exams and author visits tend not to mix!
- If having a local press photographer, make sure that they do not arrive mid-session. Photos should be taken before or after sessions in order not to interrupt the event.
After the visit
- Encourage the children to write and thank the writer.
- Talk to the children about the event.
- Undertake follow-up work with the children.
- Make sure all payments are made in good time.
Begin to arrange the next author visit! But it’s always worth remembering that you can book authors and illustrators outside of the busy periods, to promote a year-long love of reading.
© Jo McCrum, SoA Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group Secretary, 2014
Source: The Society of Authors