Part two of our school assemblies series focuses on getting speaking gigs and what you can do to maximize book sales and positive promotion when you get them.
This is the second of a two-part series on school assemblies. Read part one, “Promoting Your Book (And Yourself) At A School Assembly.”
Let’s say you’ve put together a program for school assemblies that you’re happy with. Now you need to get some gigs. This post will address not only how to land assembly gigs, but also how to maximize your visits so you can have a fun assembly and sell lots of books.
Promote school assemblies on your website
Create a section on your website that is just for school visits. As I mentioned in the previous article, schools love it when authors come for a visit, and they actively seek out authors for such occasions. So you need to make sure your website has all the info they need in order to find you and decide if you are the right person for the job.
Children’s author Kim Norman does about 36 school visits a year. She was able to attain and maintain that level of activity partly because her website isn’t set up to sell her books, it’s set up to sell her school visits. Norman wrote a great article that details all the things you need to have on your website in order to effectively sell your school visits. It’s worth reading the entire thing (actually her whole blog is packed with school visit info), but these are the essentials of what you need on your site:
- A description of what you do. Hopefully you have this figured out after reading the first post on school assemblies.
- Contact info. List you preferred method of being contacted, including an easy email link.
- Fees/honorarium. Some authors prefer to not list fees on their website, though I would encourage you to do so. If you aren’t sure how much to charge, check out other author websites.
- Pictures of you in action. This will be hard if you’re just starting out, but when you do your first school visit, make sure to have someone snapping pictures of you. Bonus points for posting a picture of you using your hands and arms, so you look like you bring energy to your performance.
- Testimonials. Again, you have to do an assembly first, but be sure to follow that up and get a testimonial!
- List of schools you’ve visited. This will help you get more gigs as your list gets longer.
Another great addition to your website — and again, this will be something you can add once you’ve gotten a couple of assemblies under your belt — is a video. Check out author Sue Fliess’ video, which she created with iMovie and royalty-free music.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a terrific organization, and I urge every children’s book author/illustrator to join up. Their conferences are amazing — it’s where I met my first agent — and their message board is a great way to connect with authors and other contacts and get more tips for booking school visits.
The best way to get yourself a school assembly is to ask for one. Start local. If you have kids in school, start there (assuming their school is the age range you are targeting). If not, contact a neighborhood school, and let them know who you are and what kind of assembly you do. Include a link to your website. If you’re just starting out, offer to do a free assembly. Budgets are notoriously tight, so a school is likely to leap at the chance to get a free speaker.
Who to contact
Make sure you only email one person at each school. If the school has a librarian, email them. But every school is different, and, unfortunately, many do not have a librarian. The next best person to contact is the reading specialist. If you are unable to find one of those, email a vice principal or even a teacher.
If you land a gig at one school, you can use that appearance to piggyback additional gigs on the same day (or the preceding or following day). Immediately contact another school in that area and let them know about your appearance (be sure to name the school) and that you would be happy to visit their school as well. If there are travel expenses involved, you can suggest the two schools split your costs. (Of course, when you land the gig, you can always ask your contact to talk to other schools in the area on your behalf to help them defray the costs.)
Once you have a gig lined up, it’s a good idea to send a contract just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Author Brad Herzog has a speaking contract posted right on his website, which you can use as a template for your own.
The best school assembly I ever had was set up by a bookstore, and it was set up months in advance of my appearance. My bookstore contact took the lead and worked with the school on my behalf. I was new to the game, so I didn’t have any promotional materials of my own. No problem, my contact said, and she asked me to send her some jpegs, which she used to print posters. She sent these to the school librarian, who — totally unbeknownst to me — started an advertising campaign throughout the school, psyching kids up for my eventual appearance. She put up cryptic “Who is Mr. Pants?” signs all around the school. The bookstore worked with the teachers to take pre-orders of the book, and I sold about 50 copies before I had even stepped foot in the building.
When I showed up for the gig, it was a surreal, rock-star experience as I saw my own picture posted in the hallways. Kids who saw me pointed and said, “It’s Mr. Pants!” The crowd was pumped for my show and I got big laughs in all the right places. And afterward, there was a huge line of kids, each holding copies of my book, waiting for me to autograph them.
It was amazing. And it was all about preparation.
The school had been hyping my appearance for weeks. The teachers all knew who I was and why I was there. Some of them even read my book in class. Order forms had been sent home to parents ahead of time, so kids either pre-ordered the book(s) or sent their kids in with money on the day of the assembly.
Barring any of that, the show would not have been such a home run. You can have the same thing, you just need to make sure you properly prepare the school.
So, weeks before your appearance, make sure your contact has the following.
Posters. You can go for a straightforward approach with your picture, name, and book and/or title of your show, or you can go for a more mysterious, “Who is Mr. Pants?” approach. These posters should be available for download, but check with your contact. School budgets are tight, and if you can print them up for the school, it will make it more likely they’ll actually get posted.
Order forms. In order to sell books at your assemblies, parents need advance warning that you are coming, what your book is about, and how much money to send in. The easiest way for this to happen is through order forms. Ultimately you want the parents of every student in every class who will be attending your assembly/classroom visit to have an order form. Check with your contact to see if it’s better to simply send him/her a PDF that parents can print out at home, or if you should send in your own copies. Make sure parents have plenty of time to digest the information and send it back in to the teacher with a check or money included.
You may get some kids who come with cash in hand to buy your books after your appearance, so it’s a good idea for your book to be an easy price for you to make change. Ten dollars is a great price if you can make that work.
(Once again, Brad Herzog offers a great example of what an order form can/should look like. The only thing I’d do differently is to customize it, detailing when you will be appearing at the school.)
Activity sheets. Depending on what grade(s) you will be speaking to, it may be a good idea to send fun activity sheets for teachers to give to their students. These can be coloring sheets, or lessons in how to draw your characters, or quizzes that may cover some of the material your book/assembly is about. The more they can interact with you and your books, the better. These are definitely best printed up by you and mailed to the school.
If you have any A/V needs, be sure to communicate this with your contact a week before your appearance, but as I said in the last article, it never hurts to bring your own cables/computer/thumb drive/whatever as you never know what you’re going to find.
Be capable of taking credit card payments
I’ve found that a lot of parents attend school assemblies and they may decide to buy your book on the spot. Same with teachers. Be sure to have the ability to take credit card purchases, if you can. I use Square, though I know there are other good providers.
At the assembly, you don’t want to introduce yourself to the crowd. It can be awkward and it doesn’t get things off on the right foot. You want someone who works at the school to be your hype-man and get the crowd excited. Before you arrive, ask your contact to have someone to do this for you. You can even email them a brief blurb for them to use.
At the beginning or end of your show, be sure to thank everyone involved in making your appearance possible. A lot of hard work has gone into this on your behalf, so be sure to thank them. Also be sure to include a shout out to all the teachers who interrupted their day to bring their students to your show. Even though they have most likely been looking forward to your assembly/classroom visit, they still had to take a break from their tightly scheduled curriculum.
Write a thank you note
Remember, whatever schools you visit probably have to do some fundraising in order to pay your honorarium and travel expenses, so be sure to send your contact a thank you card after your visit. Not only is it polite, but it goes a long way towards establishing a long-term relationship with the school. Maybe they’ll invite you back or pass along your name to other schools looking for assembly speakers.
Nothing can make you feel like a rock star more than a successful school visit. By following the tips in this article, you can make that a reality. If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments below.
Promoting Your Book (And Yourself) At A School Assembly
How To Improve Your Author Website
10 Tips For Creating Your First Children’s Picture Book
How To Go From Author To Salesperson
From Independent Author To Professional Public Speaker