School Visits: Getting Gigs And Delivering The Goods

Originally Published: Apr 2011

by Melanie Hope Greenberg

In February, the Tuesday Night Professional Series was privileged to have school visit expert and author Alexis O’Neill. She offered advice on how to land school visits and deliver quality programs once you are there.

O’Neill is a popular presenter who also writes the SCBWI Bulletin column “The Truth About School Visits.” With years of experience on a topic that has many varied nuances, O’Neill’s presentation instructed us on bookings, the necessary paperwork, arriving at the school and presenting, and all the logistics in-between. At the heart of the matter, O’Neill pointed out, is if you want to do school visits, “Get published first.”

In terms of asking for a fee for visits, she said, “This is an important part of how authors earn a living – it’s part of our business. While we may selectively donate our services, being in the arts requires living hand to mouth and school visits are an author’s bread and butter.” O’Neill talked about her personal history and how she developed relationships with educators to gain their trust. She advised authors to become aware of the teachers’ work climates and their state’s curriculum to build a program around the needs of the teachers and students.

Practical suggestions included sending informative brochures about you and your presentations to people in decision-making positions, such as the school principal. O’Neill noted that she’s found people often hang on to these brochures for years.

Another suggestion was to have an author booking form that details things such as price, time limits, and travel expenses. When setting a fee, consider the size of the audience—is it a small group or a large assembly? Your fee should reflect this. Be clear on how much time you need for each session, or how long you are expected to present. Also include in your contract necessary fees for travel, lodging, and meal expenses.

O’Neill was adamant about having a set price that can be negotiated, such as when a school books visits for consecutive days. She also suggested booking with a neighboring school as a way to cut lodging, meal, and travel expenses for both schools. O’Neill shared a detailed outline of her own programs. Her presentations are 45 minutes to one hour long. She has the teachers prepare the kids before she arrives.

At her visit, she utilizes a strong opening that’s a grabber, a middle that can be changed, and an ending where the students come onto the stage and act out characters from the books. Her winning formula suggests lots of interaction, making connections with the kids, fun props, pictures, kinesthetic and sensory experiences, and discussing the writing process. Students love to know how to come up with ideas. She’s truthful and talks about her struggles, and explains that revisions are a big part of the process.

Having years of experience under her belt, O’Neill said, “Admit when things go wrong and laugh it off!” Repeat business is a turnaround of about five years. She also suggested alternatives to school visits. Although they don’t pay, consider presenting on Education Nights at local bookstores and other events where teachers or librarians are present. This is a way to meet educators that can lead to school visits. Attend other author programs to get ideas. Her own Children’s Author Group (CAN!) often buddies up for showcases to teachers. Skype visits are becoming more popular.

For more information about school visits and Alexis O’Neill and her presentations, see her Web site http://www.SchoolVisitExperts.com

Melanie Hope Greenberg has illustrated 16 children’s picture books; six of them as author and illustrator. Greenberg’s Blog, Mermaids On Parade, (named after her latest book), was selected “100 Best Book Blogs for Kids Tweens and Teens”. In the Fall 2010, her art was part of ”Drawn in Brooklyn”, a group exhibition of picture book artists curated by John Bemelmans Marciano at Brooklyn Central Library-Grand Army Plaza. Greenberg was also selected to donate her original picture book art for the Disaster Relief Fund raffle at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference 2011.

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