If you work in a school and intend to host an author visit, I recommend you read through this blog carefully. If you’re not, I recommend you don’t read it at all – this really is an example of writing to inform and not writing to entertain!
Every year I book three authors to visit our school. Our Patron of Reading always visits our Year 7s then I choose a different author each year to visit our Year 8s and finally we are “given” an author at discount price through the “Crossing the Tees Book Festival” for our Year 9s. I was pretty daunted the first time I had to organise a visit; worried sick I’d forget something important. Having done it several times, I thought I’d set out everything I do here so you can use it as a starting point for your author visits 😊 This list is pretty intense although not exhaustive. However, most of the jobs are just little jobs and don’t take long to do. It’s more a case of making sure you don’t miss any of them out, so tick them off as you go!
- PERMISSION FOR THE EVENT: Win over your Head Teacher. If you’re lucky like us, your Head Teacher will totally understand the qualitative value of having a visiting author and you can skip to 2). However, if your Head Teacher needs educating about the magic of visiting authors, I will be doing a separate blog on that shortly.
- CHOOSE AN AUTHOR: Do your research. It’s not enough that the author is an amazing writer and has single-handedly turned Dave Smith’s reluctant reading boy into a book-devouring monster. Can the author hold an audience? If the students aren’t engaged, they won’t receive the message. Sorry, but it’s true – your author also needs to be an entertainer. Ask English teachers and librarians from local schools for recommendations. Ask Facebook and Twitter. When you think you have the right one, read one of their books.
- CHOOSE A DATE carefully, you need to make sure that it’s not school Exams month, Sports week, Injections day or anything else that will get in the way. When we have an author for a whole year group, we try to choose a day and period when the whole year group are having English at the same time to avoid disturbing other subjects. This isn’t always possible in very large schools, but you can still go for majority in English to keep disruption to a minimum.
- OFFICIAL PERMISSION: Put in an event request (ours is online through our Intranet).
- COST: Confirm price with your chosen author and put in a purchase order request to your Finance Department. Currently in the UK the price seems to be £450-£500 for an author to give a whole year presentation followed by two workshops of about twenty students in each. I always add on the cost of two or three books for the library as well. Some charge travel and accommodation on top of this in which case it’s often worth getting in touch with local schools to book for the following day and halve the travel and accommodation costs between you. If you think your school cannot afford this, don’t worry – I will be blogging some top tips very soon. There IS money, it’s just knowing how to get your hands on it!
- BUILD EXCITEMENT: Liaise with the English Department and pastoral staff on how to get the students involved. For example, students could research the author and their genre(s), read blurbs or extracts from some of their books, think of questions for the author.
- ROOM BOOKINGS: Book the hall/sports hall wherever you’re having the presentation and notify the PE department (if they normally use it). Also book a really nice room for the two workshops.
- IT: Check with the author whether they need a laptop, speakers, over-head projector, microphone, headset, etcetera. If they’re bringing a presentation on a USB they will probably need to come early enough for it to be checked for viruses by the IT team. Book any equipment necessary. Most music or drama departments have microphones with amps.
- SITE TEAM/CLEANERS: Notify the site team about the room you are using – will they need to set the chairs out for you? Will the cleaners be required before/after the event? If like us, your Main Hall is also your Dining Hall, do they need to be in to set up for lunch?
- WORKSHOP STUDENTS: Select the two sets of twenty students who will be doing the workshop. Different authors offer different workshops and this will affect your choice of students. The presentation should have done the inspiring part, so now you need to decide which students you want. For example, you may be selecting PPG only (if that’s how the visit is being funded), More Able, weaker students, students who are already interested in writing, etcetera. You could even run a competition for the chance to work with the author.
- INFORM TEACHERS (WORKSHOPS): Give advanced notice to all the teachers affected by the students going to workshops and check that this doesn’t cause a problem. Also diarise a reminder for the teachers the week before and again the day before and finally on the morning of the event. Notify them by email, briefing, and bulletin.
- REGISTER Copy the list of workshop students to the Attendance Officer and ask for a tag to be put on the students’ names on SIMS so the classroom teacher remembers why they’re not there, or if the students forget and turn up, the teachers can send them to the workshop. Also keep a copy of the register for you, so you can take a paper register at the workshop. Make sure you have a runner who can take the register to the Attendance Officer on the day as you cannot leave a visitor unsupervised with students.
- INFORM TEACHERS (MAIN PRESENTATION): Give advanced notice to all teachers who will be affected by the whole year presentation. Explain that as it is during their lesson, they will need to take the register then accompany the children to the Hall and MUST remain with them for the duration of the presentation. This is REALLY important otherwise you may find yourself in charge of 300 students on your own! You must give them chance to contact you in the case of a problem – such as a planned assessment you were unaware of. Also diarise a reminder for the teachers the week before and again the day before and finally on the morning of the event. Notify them by email, briefing, and bulletin.
- LETTERS HOME: Send letters home to students’ parents/carers about the event, let them know how exciting and inspiring it is to have an author visit. Most authors have something on their website you can use to help show just how amazing they are. Indeed, some authors even have draft letters you can adapt. Make sure you mention on the letter that students can buy signed books and inform them how they can do this.
- BUYING BOOKS: Find out whether the author is bringing books with them or if you need to pre-purchase the books. Your local bookshop might like to provide the books on sale or return. Give them plenty of notice to get the order in.
- PARENT PAY: If you are using Parent Pay for students to contribute towards the visit or to buy books, make sure you set this up in plenty of time and make sure the wording is very clear.
- ADVERTS: Prepare adverts to create a buzz about the impending visit. Share adverts as posters around school, in tutor trays, on plasma screens, on school’s social media and in particular get the English teachers on board to promote it. Share your adverts with them to make it easy for them as they’re very busy people! Some authors will have ready prepared PDFs you can use for advertising so check their websites.
- PHOTOS: Arrange to borrow the school camera for the event. For the presentation take backs of heads shots with just the author’s face showing (no students’ faces). For the workshops, check on SIMS and make a note of anyone who does not have permission to be photographed for the website.
- COVER: Organise cover for yourself and another member of staff for any lessons and duties you’ll be missing whilst shepherding the author and students around the school. Inform the person in charge of cover and send a reminder to all a week before, again the day before and finally on the morning of the event.
- LUNCH for the author: where will they eat, what will you provide, who will they eat with? We invite the author to spend lunch with our student librarians as a special privileged treat after all the hard work they put in week in and week out. Students bring their own lunch, but I always bring some cake to help make it feel more special.
- BOOK SIGNINGS: where and when? Do you want your author signing books during break, lunch, after school? Who is providing the books? Some authors bring their own, but if not, you may need to ask a local bookshop to provide some on a sale or return basis. Who will be taking the money? Have you got a float if necessary? Do you know what price the author/bookshop is selling for?
- THE DAY BEFORE: As well as the regular reminders to the teachers, it’s also worth texting/emailing parents/carers to remind them about the event and that their child will have the opportunity to buy a signed book.
- AFTER THE EVENT, thank the author and send reports to those you need to send reports to about the success of the event. Create a write-up for the school website and link to the author on social media. Go home. Put your feet up. Pour a large glass of wine!
This does seem a lot and it is, but it is a lot of little jobs. The day will be exhausting, but worth all the sweat and tears. To hear the excited chatter of students about the author and the books on the day and hear the continued rhetoric around books days later is wonderful. Anyone who can inspire students to read is welcome in our school!
* Disclaimer: Always check with your school in case there is anything else that they need you to do and add it to your list.