7.10 WRITING AS A CAREER: AUTHOR VISITS
Top Tips for Author Visits
If you are embarking on your career as a children’s author (yay!) it hopefully won’t be too long before schools start enquiring about your author visits. These visits are a massive lifeline for we jobbing authors, not just for the chance to promote our books to our target market, but the welcome – indeed, necessary – extra money that they bring to the coffers.
I’ve done countless school visits in my relatively short career and while they can be wonderful, they are not without their pitfalls. Here are some of my hard-won thoughts on how to approach this important part of our job.
Put it online.com
A decent website is really vital for a gigging author and personally, I think it’s as well to set out your stall as clearly as you can. Put your prices, your offering, where you will travel, if you are VAT registered – unfortunately not all schools are brilliant at reading this info, but it does stop a lot of enquiries about prices etc that add to the dreaded admin time-slip – and it gives you somewhere to direct them when they ask!
Do what you do – and stick to it!
When I started out, I offered bespoke creative writing workshops for schools to fit in with their timetables, topics etc… that way madness lay! Schools will often ask for something just for them, or for you to do more/shorter/longer sessions – but only do it if you can deliver it and they are prepared to pay more for your extra prep time. These days, I am very firm that what I offer is what I offer – the number of sessions, the content and the price. If that doesn’t work, I wish schools well in finding an author who fits their requirements better.
Keep it low-tech
In the hundreds of schools I have visited, very few have had more than the most basic tech, so think very carefully about what you can realistically do on a visit. A lot of schools will now not even let you use your own USB stick, so if you have a presentation, you need something you can email easily that isn’t going to clog up everyone’s inboxes. I started out with a brilliant, animated presentation that worked in almost no school ever. I now have a single slide and try to provide the animation myself!
Get all the admin upfront
This is a perpetual bugbear of gigging authors – when schools suddenly demand paperwork on the day that you weren’t expecting. Although not a legal requirement, many schools now ask for DBS checks as part of their safeguarding policy. I personally do not carry one, so often this needs to be negotiated beforehand. Some schools also require tedious paperwork in order to pay you – try to get this ahead of time to avoid the already tricky payment process – and be prepared to chase your invoices to the very ends of the earth on occasion.
Safeguard yourself with good practice
Obviously children’s safety is paramount at schools, but you will find that schools differ wildly in their application of safeguarding policies. Some will not let you go to the toilet unaccompanied, others will let you roam free all day. But for your own protection and everyone’s peace of mind, I strongly advise having a policy of never being left alone with children. Even if you are DBS checked, your PPI (which you should definitely invest in, a good product comes with Society of Authors membership, which I’d also heartily recommend) will be invalidated if you are left unsupervised with children. It also means there can never be any question of what was said or done in a teacher’s absence. You are a visitor to the school – insist that you are supervised at all times and remember that you are NOT a supply teacher! Teachers should not be leaving you in charge of a class of children whose needs and requirements you do not know.
Save some energy for you
It is really tempting to take every visit you are offered – and as above, the money is often essential for authors to make ends meet. But these events are tiring – you are putting on a performance all day and may have considerable travel on top. You need to reserve some time and energy for your writing – after all, without it, there will be no school visits anyway! Self-care is super important, so be kind to yourself and be realistic about what you can do to stay both solvent and sane.
I could write several books on this topic, but I hope these are some sound starting points for saving yourself the stress of an unworkable presentation, or dealing with 30 hyper kids while Miss or Sir has a coffee in the staff room…
Good luck, comrade! May the author army be with you.
Maz’s debut children’s novel Who Let the Gods Out was published by Chicken House in February 2017 and was selected as the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month. It entered the bestseller charts on its first week on sale, has sold to 18 countries worldwide and has received over 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, Books Are My Bag and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year.
The sequel, Simply the Quest was published in August 2017, Beyond the Odyssey in April 2018 and Against All Gods in February 2019. Maz also narrates the audiobooks for the series.
Her acclaimed creative writing events have featured at Hay, Imagine, Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Latitude, Wilderness and many other literary festivals and primary schools around the UK.
Maz began her career as a TV journalist, critiquing for The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, and TV Times magazine and she still regularly broadcasts her views on anything from politics to parenthood on BBC Radio 2, BBC News, BBC Radio 4, Five Live and the bus. Maz has participated in the Casualty and Holby City BBC shadow schemes and her children’s poetry has been published in Caterpillar magazine.
Maz is much in demand as a comedy book and lyrics writer for the stage. Her original musical H. R. HAITCH, with composer Luke Bateman, was produced by Iris Theatre at the Union Theatre, London in 2018. She has previously had shows produced at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, Southend Palace Theatre and Bryanston Arts Centre. Her cabaret songs are regularly performed in the West End and beyond.
As a songwriter, Maz has won the Iris Theatre Work in Process songwriting award three years in succession (with composer Luke Bateman). As a scriptwriter, she won thescriptwriter.co.uk scriptwriting competition and a place in Philip Shelley’s Advanced Mentoring Lab at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. She was also shortlisted for the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum and the Scriptangel contest. As an author, she has won the hearts of thousands of children and as a nuclear physicist, she has been completely rubbish.
Maz also runs our MG Mentoring course.