Do you want a sure-fire way to get your students and staff excited about reading and writing? Host an author visit. A charismatic author has the power to enrich and inspire the world with his writing. When working with young minds, the power of a little inspiration can go a long way. A blank page becomes a canvas to create a new universe, all because an author gave a child ideas to help him get a story down on paper in a new and exciting way.

With thousands of names on the library shelves, choosing an author can be a bit daunting. But don't let that stop you. Here are some simple steps to help you get in touch with an author and plan a successful visit.

First things first, make a plan. Decide the answers to these questions with the PTA board, principal, and staff.

  1. What is the goal? Do you want small writing workshops with hand-on activities or a classic assembly presentation?
  2. What age group are you targeting? Presentations can be tailored to the appropriate age level and skills of students.
  3. What is your budget? Every author has different fees. Prices can range from $100 to $1,000 or more, depending on experience and type of presentation.
  4. When is the best date and time for the school to host a visit?

Finding the Right Author

Next comes choosing the author who is right for your needs. Don't worry; you won't have to go to Australia—unless you want to! Usually there's one right living around the corner from your school. Most children's book authors love to do school visits and presentations.

The best places to find an author include the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators at SCBWI.org, an author's personal website (information can be found on a book jacket), a publisher's website, and the Children's Book Council (CBCbooks.org).

These locations are a great start. As you do your research, keep a list of who you like and why. Based on your notes, decide on a few authors to contact. Keeping a list will also give you ideas to go from if your first choice is booked. Plan early! Favorite authors fill up the school year fast.

Check with local bookstores to see who is scheduled to come into town. You may save on travel fees if an author is already in the area.

Make the Connection

It's time to pick up the phone or log on to contact your author. When you call, be specific about what you want the author to present to your school. Have a list of questions ready. Most authors will send information packets to help you get a feel for what they do and whether they fit your requirements.

Authors and illustrators are unique and creative. That doesn't mean they feel comfortable in front of a large group of students—or are able to manage one. Ask about the author's experience with groups, and be sure to check references. A resume can present a very different picture than you get from firsthand feedback. One school ended up with a presentation in which the author showed and discussed slides of her cat for an hour! That's not how you want to spend your time and money.

Make It Official

You did it. You found an author and set a date. Now what? Mail off a contract. Use a standard one that your school provides for other services, or put one together. Include a description of the event, the schedule, contact people, expenses (include travel, lodging, meals), how and when the author's services will be paid for, and a map.

Ask the author to detail his equipment needs when he signs and returns the contract.

Set the Stage

It's time get the staff and students excited about their future visitor. At least a month or two before the visit, introduce your school's staff to the author and the books he has written. Give a preview of the presentation that will be provided. Encourage teachers and the librarian to read the author's books and do activities with them in the classroom.

This talk isn't cheap! The more familiar students are with the books, the more they'll look forward to what the author has to tell them.

Book Sales

Everyone loves to get an autograph. If you'd like to have books available to be signed when the author visits, choose four or five for a presale. Taking orders in advance of the event and collecting the money ahead of time allows the author to spend more time presenting to the children.

Ask the author which books he recommends ordering. Some authors handle the ordering themselves; others prefer that you do it. If you need to do it yourself, try checking with a small, independent children's bookstore. Many times these stores can offer a discount.

Other options include dealing directly with the publisher. This can be more difficult if an author has been published by more than one house. However, the publisher may offer a discount for books purchased for the author visit.

Presale Preparation

When it comes time to take orders for books, follow the Boy Scouts' motto and be prepared. Know how long it will take to order the books. Prior to that time frame, send home flyers with a form that includes information about the author, books that are available to order, and the cost of each book. Include a section for parents to indicate to whom the book should be autographed.

Once the books are in, sort the orders by classroom. Slip a piece of paper into the book with information indicating who the book belongs to and to whom it should be autographed. That way, the author will be able to sign books during breaks. Having the information in advance allows the author to spend more time with more kids, rather than having students wait in a long line to get an autograph.

For students not buying books, you can copy an autographed bookmark. That way, everyone will have a special memento of the day.

Confirmation

A day or two before the scheduled visit, call the author to confirm time, directions, and the schedule. It's also nice to make plans for lunch and refreshments for your author (coffee, tea, carrot juice?).

Display student works that are based on the author's books, and create a welcome sign for your guest. He is coming to a new place with hundreds of new faces. The extra touches will be appreciated, and students will know this is a big event.

Roll Out the Red Carpet

You've planned for months and the big day is here. Here are a few tips to help the day run smoothly.

  1. Set up chairs for teachers and parents.
  2. Make sure the equipment is up and running.
  3. Be there early to greet the author. Show him how to find important places—like the bathroom.
  4. Introduce the author to key staff people.
  5. Have a table area available for the author to sign books during a break.
  6. Pay the author by the end of the day.
  7. Distribute books to the teachers after the books have been signed.

Then, take time to celebrate! Sit back and relax while the author takes over giving the staff and students wonderful writing ideas that will fill up a multitude of formerly blank pages.

Thanks for the Memories

You may want to write a thank-you note to the author and include pictures from the day.

Encourage students to write to the author, either via email or post. They can ask questions they may not have had a chance to, or they can follow up with writing ideas they completed. Who knows who might be inspired to become the next J.K. Rowling!

Finally, get feedback from your staff. Find out what was helpful and what they may want from other visits, then take a deep breath—and start planning for next year's author visit.