Author visits are an effective way to get students excited about reading. When students have a chance to see an author in person, they are often able to make some sort of connection with that individual. The two groups of students who almost always identify with a visiting author are those who love to read and those who are aspiring writers. But other students make connections with visiting authors, too. For instance, students might discover the author shares their interest in martial arts or theater. Or they might feel a connection when they laugh at the author’s jokes. Regardless of the reason, students who connect with a visiting author want to read that author’s book(s).
I see it every time my school library hosts a visit. As soon as the author’s presentation is over, that writer’s books are in high demand. Even when we have multiple copies available, they are quickly checked out and we end up with a hold list. The demand usually remains high for months.
I recently discovered a longer-term effect of an author visit when I created a book display of the most-circulated titles in my school library over the past decade. I would have guessed the most-circulated title would be a blockbuster-book-turned-movie like The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, or Divergent. However, I would have been wrong. The #1 book was Ashfall by Mike Mullin.
I wasn’t surprised Ashfall was in the top ten as it’s long been a student favorite at my school. A post-apocalyptic tale of 15-year-old Alex’s struggle to survive following the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, Ashfall was bound to be popular, especially when it landed a spot on our state’s high school readers’ award list. But what made Ashfall surpass those other titles (all of which were also in the top ten) in circulation? I think it was author visits.
Mike Mullin has visited my school three times. The first two visits were courtesy of a local bookstore that was hosting Mr. Mullin as he promoted Ashfall in 2011 and its sequel Ashen Winter in 2012. The last visit occurred in 2014 just after the third book in the series, Sunrise, was published. On that occasion, my co-librarian and I secured the funds to host Mike an entire day.
Mike is a dynamic speaker, one is who honest and straightforward with students. Teens respond to adults who speak to them as equals, so my students liked Mike right away. They also thought he was cool when he demonstrated his Tae Kwon Do skills in large-group presentations. As a result, each of Mike’s visits created a keen interest in his books.
I realize how fortunate I am. I work in a school that can not only afford to pay for an occasional author visit but is located near two bookstores that sometimes bring authors to my school free of charge. If you want to arrange an author visit but don’t see any way to fund it, here are some ideas:
- Ask your school, district, PTO, or alumni association for funds. Maybe you’ve never asked because you’re sure the answer will be no. Maybe it will be, but it’s worth a try. And, there’s always a chance you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Apply for a grant. Some state libraries and arts commissions offer grants that can be used to fund an author visit. AASL’s Inspire Special Event Grant can also be used to cover the costs of an author visit.
- Find a local author. Sometimes local authors will visit schools in their communities for little or no cost. Moreover, you won’t have to pay travel expenses for someone local.
- Find a new author. New authors who are still trying to establish themselves usually charge much less than well-known authors. If they don’t have to travel far, they might not charge anything.
- Split the cost with a nearby school. We’ve done this in my district. We’ve booked an author for the morning at one school and the afternoon at another school. Each school pays for half of the speaking fee and half of the travel expenses.
- Get to know the owner or manager of your local bookstore. As I’ve mentioned, my school has hosted numerous author visits over the years courtesy of two local bookstores. If you have a bookstore in your area, cultivate a relationship with the owner or manager. A bookstore that brings in authors often needs schools willing to host author visits.
- Post a project on DonorsChoose. A project for an author visit falls under the category of “class trip or visitor project” and requires advanced planning. It’s a good option, especially if you don’t have any local resources.
- Skype with an author. A 30-minute Skype visit with an author costs much less than a traditional author visit. Authors who do Skype visits usually post that information on their websites.
- Plan a field trip to a literature festival. I know a couple of librarians in rural Missouri who take students on a field trip to the University of Central Missouri’s Children’s Literature Festival each year. There’s some fund-raising involved in paying for the trip, but the students enjoy meeting lots of authors (some of them well-known) their schools could never afford to host.
Summer is a great time to research options for bringing an author to your school. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.
Author: Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan is a librarian at Rockwood Summit High School and also serves as the Lead Librarian for the Rockwood School District. A past president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, Margaret’s professional interests include advocacy, teacher collaboration, professional development, equity, and YA literature. You can connect with her on Twitter @mm_sullivan.