I am a teacher, keen to invite more authors to visit our school. What can I do to make these visits as successful as possible?
That is a lovely question and one which as an author I really appreciate!
I believe the key to a successful visit (as to so much else) is communication. The more information you are able to give the author about your pupils, your expectations and the reason for inviting an author to your school, the more the visiting author will be able to tailor his or her presentation to your needs. If you are inviting a writer of historical novels to speak, are you more interested in their working methods as a writer, or in the period they are writing about? You may be interested in both – don’t be afraid to say so. The same applies to other genres or issues as well, from terrorism to fostering to eating disorders to dealing with specific emotions – ask yourself, why this particular book, and what do I want to get out of it? If you have been talking about the book or its subject matter in lessons, say so. There’s no sense in an author wasting precious time on a general presentation when you could already be talking specifics. Conversely, if the children know nothing about the book in question and you simply think it would be interesting for them to meet a writer, then make that clear too (but it is worth stressing that everyone has a much more fruitful and worthwhile experience if the class members have read at least one book by the author and you have discussed the author as a class).
A school visit, let’s not forget, is an opportunity for an author to promote him/herself and to sell books, but that should never come across as, or indeed be, the primary motivator. A successful visit is one which leaves children inspired – to read, to write, to look at life in a different way. It should be a true meeting of minds, and each event should be tailored by the visiting author to suit each individual audience. It needn’t take more than a single telephone call or a simple exchange of emails, but you’d be surprised how rarely that actually happens and how helpful it is for preparation. So take a moment to think about what you would like to get out of your author’s visit, take a little time to communicate that, and enjoy the event. You’ll soothe many an author’s nerves in the process, too!
And, to catch the post-event inspiration that everyone will be feeling, if it is realistic for the pupils, they should be encouraged, well in advance, to bring in money to buy a book and have it signed – this is the perfect opportunity for you to link up with your local bookseller who will be able to facilitate this for you – or, ensure your library is well-stocked with the authors’ books, as many members of the audience will want to go on and read more.