Mountains to Mohammad: Visiting Authors by Wendy Falconer Gassaway
I’ve always loved the idea of author visits, but had no real idea how to make that happen. Then two years ago Kathleen Houck, author of The Tiger Saga, offered to come to my middle school, where her nephew happened to attend. We were all blown away by how engaging her talk was, how many kids were excited to sign up for her after-school writing workshop, and how generous she was in giving books to our students, staff, and library.
But what really made an impact was how many students wanted to read her books. Despite all the donations, it was impossible to keep copies of her books on the shelves for many months after her visit.
A year later, I was placed in a reading teacher position, and thought I should look into more author visits. I was absolutely clueless about how to do so. I contacted Marissa Meyer’s editor when I realized she lives just up I-5 in Tacoma and asked if she visited schools. She very tactfully let me know that the author was in the middle of both a book tour and writing the final Lunar Chronicles book, which I would have known if I’d thought about it for two minutes. But she also sent along a signed copy of Cress, sample chapters for Cinder, and posters and other swag for Fairest. That was possibly the most exciting rejection I’ve ever received!
I took a step back and started actually researching how author visits to schools are usually arranged. When I realized how much most “name” authors charge, I winced. Their time is worth every penny, but I knew my school didn’t have that many pennies to offer. But as I researched, I came across an interesting fact: Margaret Peterson Haddix, whose book Found I’d just finished reading to my seventh grade classes to great acclaim, was going to be speaking at our local Powell’s as part of her book tour.
The next week.
And that is how, a week later, I found myself taking a busload of middle schoolers to the Beaverton Powell’s on a Thursday evening. I called ahead of time, and we were met at the door with a huge foam poster of the author’s latest book, which she signed to our school’s students. We made up about half the audience, and I was pleased with how fascinating her talk was, with how attentive my students were, and what great questions they asked. Several kids got her to sign books, several kids headed down the mall for frozen yogurt, and they all sang on the way home. Our school librarian set up a display of Haddix’s work, and once again, neither of us could keep her in stock for quite a while.
This spring, we did the same type of thing when April Henry, author of thrillers my students love, such as The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die and Girl, Stolen came to Powell’s. I’d learned a bit more in the meantime, and tweeted the author in advance. Imagine my delight when I called the bookstore to warn them we were coming again, and they already knew because the author had told them!
Some thoughts on taking classes to author events in bookstores:
- It’s free, other than transportation. Principals in particular seem to like this aspect.
- Because these tend to be outside of school hours, you don’t need a substitute (another money saver), and you can exert some control over which students accompany you. Only one class knows the author? Invite them. Or invite the thirty kids who have read the most books so far. Or invite all the students and figure the ones who show up are the ones who are really excited about it (my method).
- Definitely warn both the author and the bookstore ahead of time. We made up a sizable portion of the audience at both events, and were quite welcome. However, when I finally did get to see Marissa Meyer speak (on my own), it was a standing room only crowd, and we might have been a burden to the bookstore and not very profitable to either author or store.
- The bookstore offered us a 20% discount on the book the author was touring for. You might want to inquire about that kind of opportunity.
- At Powell’s, they wheel out a cart that contains not only the author’s latest book, but other works they’ve written, including paperbacks and used copies. This was another way to make buying the author’s books more affordable for students who wanted a signed copy, but couldn’t afford a brand new hardback. Inquire when you call your bookstore about their expectations around this.
- Leave time before or after the event for general bookstore browsing. For many of my students, it was their first visit to a bookstore, and there was a lot to take in.
- This is a great time to have students find books they want you to buy for the classroom library. At one event, I bought a few that night; at the other, I took pictures of kids holding up books they were hoping for and used those as reminders for myself.
- Students especially like it if there’s an ice cream shop nearby. Just sayin’.
- The Q & A section was fascinating.I was impressed with what great and thoughtful questions my students came up with, but if I were to do it again, I might prime the pump a little before hand.
- Remember to take pictures!
Wendy Falconer Gassaway blogs at Falconer’s Library, teaches in Forest Grove, OR, and reads books just about anywhere. Authors are her rock stars!