School author visits form an essential part of children’s writers’ book marketing strategies. They’re a great way for authors to connect with their readers and build a readership.
But it’s not something authors often get guidance on and it’s something that fills many with dread (I’m happy to put my hand up here.)
Authors are often introverts very comfortable sitting behind their computer screens not with being thrust into the limelight.
After I published The Legend of the Golden Carp with the Arts Council I was invited to speak at a school assembly in Yeovil. I was terrified. My voice shook, actually every part of me shook and I was so glad when it was over.
The week before last my daughter, Summer, won a school visit from hilarious children’s author Jennifer Killick. Jennifer’s debut novel, Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink, was published in May by Firefly Press and since then she has been carrying out regular author visits to schools across the country.
Jennifer and my daughter’s school were kind enough to let me follow her around for the day to see how an author visit should be done:
Before the event Jennifer worked out a programme with the school’s headmistress. As Summer is in Year Two and won the visit they agreed Jennifer would take a workshop with her class, Year One and also carry out an assembly for the whole school.
Ahead of her visit Jennifer provided the school with an order form which they sent home with the students so they could order signed copies of her book in advance.
I collected Jennifer from the station at 10am but her day began at 4am to make the trek to deepest, darkest Dorset. She stepped off the train wearing bright colours and a smile, wheeling a large suitcase filled with props, books, and a banner.
Jennifer was welcomed at the school, given a cup of tea and access to a laptop in the school hall where she could load up her presentation for the assembly.
Jennifer covered a table with a specially made table cloth which matched the colours on her book cover. She set up her props on the table - characters from her current novel and upcoming book .
When the children filed in Jennifer introduced herself and delivered her talk. It was inspiring to watch how she connected with the children right from the start. She told them about her own journey as an author and her book Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink whilst weaving in humour and making her talk interactive and relevant, conveying the importance of perseverance.
At the end of her presentation Jennifer took questions from the audience. She was kind and supportive of all the children. One little boy was excited to show her a comic he’d been working on and the teachers were over the moon to see him so enthusiastic.
Because of the time frame Jennifer went straight into her workshop with Year Two without a break. Once again she set up her props on a table but this time they were in touching distance and the children were immediately drawn to them, picking them up and asking questions about who they were. (Note: Props need to be fairly robust to withstand being handled regularly.)
One of the biggest draws was an impressive hedgehog Jennifer had made herself to represent a character in her next book, Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury. She asked the children to guess how many spikes a hedgehog has and let them touch her home made hedgehog while wearing gloves to protect their hands. They lined up immediately and were so excited.
Jennifer did a fantastic job sharing facts about hedgehogs whilst talking about her books captivating not just the children but also the teachers.
Jennifer set the children the task of creating their own secret agent which they loved. She brought enough work sheets for each child which she handed out. As the children worked on their characters, Jennifer went around the room and spoke to each child. After lunch she repeated her workshop with Year One.
‘I’m so happy Jennifer Killick
came to my school and signed my book. It was a really, really, really, good day
and I hope she comes back.’
Jennifer gave each child a signed postcard of her book cover so everyone had an autograph and also her web address if they wanted further information. I thought this was a lovely touch.
When I was at school we were lucky enough to have visits from writers Benjamin Zephaniah and Jean Ure. We had to root around for scraps of paper for them to sign, which I safely tucked in the pocket of my school blouse and my mum subsequently put in the washing machine. Less chance of that with a postcard!
The teachers were very impressed with the work Jennifer started with the classes and said they would be picking it up after her visit. They were also keen for her to return at some point as her visit had been such a success.
At the end of the school day a number of children who hadn’t pre-ordered books asked their parents to buy a copy, so it was a very good job Jennifer brought spare copies with her.
The whole school was still buzzing from Jennifer Killick's author visit days later. That's the impression you want to make!
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