School visits and other events not only will help you sell your children’s books, but they will raise your visibility as an author as well. However, in order to ensure that your presentations are successful, a great deal of advance planning is needed.
Prepare a Series of Three Potential Presentations
There are many different ways to present a children’s book. In a classroom setting, it’s important to tailor your event to the age of the students. What’s engaging to a 6-year-old is probably not going to work for a 12-year-old. No matter what age range you’re targeting, there are some common characteristics that make school presentations successful. Try to incorporate two, if not all three, of these characteristics into your own presentation. Dynamic presentations have:
- High energy and excitement—make it fun and interesting for your audience.
- High engagement—get your audience involved in a relevant activity and encourage them to participate.
- High educational value—tie your book to timely curriculum or a life lesson.
Allowing time for set-up and time to shift from one activity to another, for each one-hour block, you should plan for your presentation to be no more than 40-45 minutes long.
As part of your presentation, you will read your story. Do so with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and make sound effects where appropriate. You may want to act out your story with puppets or costumes or use different voices for the various characters to help bring it to life for the students. On presentation day, you’ll be an actor or actress as well as an author!
After you're done reading, choose a couple of the key lessons from your story to take a step further. Connect your text and characters to a touchstone relevant to the students, which could differ depending on the age of your audience.
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to structure your presentation, you should write three short “elevator pitches” to offer your idea to local schools and other venues. Each of the pitches should take less than 2 to 3 minutes to describe.
Here is an example of some pitches an author created for a fiction story about how desert animals worked together as a team to survive and thrive in the desert.
Pitch 1: Character Building
I read the story and also show the story on slides in the class with audio effects. Then, there’s an activity where I break students into small groups so they can work as a team like the characters in the book. This presentation emphasizes the life lessons of working as a team, playing to strengths, and minimizing weaknesses.
Pitch 2: Science Curriculum
I give a science presentation to discuss the desert animals and I bring some animals as well as photographs to the class for show and tell. We’ll discuss the unique physical features that these animals have. Then, I’ll read the story and we’ll talk about how the different animals in this fiction story behave like real animals do. The students will take home coloring and activity sheets. This presentation emphasizes animal adaptations to different environments as well as the relationship between nonfiction and fiction.
Pitch 3: Creative Writing
I read about two-thirds of the story to the class until it reaches the climax of the story. Then, I give the students the opportunity to write a few short sentences on how they think the story will end. We share some of their ideas and then I read the end of the story to them. This presentation gives students the opportunity to use their imaginations and creative writing skills.
Pitch Your Presentation Idea
Schools are only one venue for your presentation. Teachers, parents, and grandparents are all potential buyers of your book. Consider tailoring your presentation for adult audiences. Many different organizations, such as Lions Clubs International and other civic organizations, are interested in promoting reading and writing. Consider sending a postcard about your presentation to educationally-minded organizations. The postcard should be designed to obtain leads for your follow-up. You could also focus your talk for National Reading Day or National Day on Writing and promote these on your website. The ideas are endless.
Once you’ve honed your presentation ideas in a way that is unique to your book, it’s time to pitch them to the school librarian, school media specialist, or other school decision maker. Begin by calling the school and asking who coordinates school visits. Then, plan a time to talk with the coordinator about your pitch. If you prefer, you can hire a booking agent to do this for you.
Another great way to connect with schools is by advertising yourself on networking sites such as www.SchoolBookings.com. With a featured listing, your information becomes available to schools that are actively seeking author presentations. Schools are able to search for you by grade, topic, and location. Another networking site to consider joining is www.AuthorsandExperts.com. There, you can highlight your areas of expertise for events of all types and connect with members of the media for publicity opportunities.
Practice and Polish Your Presentation
Don't worry if the first couple of author presentations you do don't go exactly as you planned. You might find that you have too much or not enough time for your presentation or that your activity is too easy or too difficult for your audience. It will take a few times before you really start to feel comfortable. Also, you will find that your presentation will keep evolving over time. That's perfectly OK as well. The key is to not give up!
I'd love to hear some of your ideas on what has worked for you. Please feel free to add your comments below. My next blog entry will offer you tips on what to do after you've booked an event.
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About Linda F. Radke
Linda F. Radke is president of Story Monsters LLC and publisher of Story Monsters Ink® magazine, selected by School Library Journal as one the great magazines for kids and teens. For over 30 years, she has produced and marketed award-winning books for all ages. Clients and the media describe Radke as an industry leader in creativity, innovation, and customer service. She has received many publishing, public relations, and marketing awards, including “Book Marketer of the Year” by Book Publicists of Southern California. A former K-12 special education teacher and Arizona State University instructor, she has served as a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator for publishing and marketing. Radke is a member of the Children’s Book Council, National Federation of Press Women, and Independent Book Publishing Association. Based in Chandler, Arizona, she is passionate about helping authors make their dreams a reality. Radke’s motto is, “You can't compromise on quality. Do it right or don't do it all!”