Because one of my books is nominated for the 2017 Sunshine State Youth Reading Award, I traveled to Florida for a week in November to do author visits at schools throughout the state. While I’d done many school visits in my area in the past, I’d never arranged a solid week of back-to-back visits in another state. I was part visiting author, part travel agent. It was a terrific (and exhausting) experience and I wanted to share some tips for successful out-of-town school visits.
1. Plan, plan, plan. Okay, yes, I’m a planner kind of person anyway but this skill was essential when putting together a week of visits that took me from one end of the state to another. I wasn’t super familiar with Florida so I researched everything from hotels close to the schools I was visiting to the best driving routes to tourist attractions I could check out in my downtime.
2. Prepare. I put together a detailed itinerary that included notes on each school I was visiting — a large or small group, the venue, which grade(s), and whether I was having lunch or autographing in addition to my presentation. I noted hotel check-in/checkout times, driving distances, and the name, cell phone, and email of each school contact, as well as the amount that was due for my visit fee. I emailed myself a copy of the itinerary and kept a paper version with me as well. I must’ve checked it a hundred times during the week! Having all the info in one place was key.
3. Confirm. The week before I left, I emailed confirmations to each contact, making sure I had the correct school address and none of the details or timing had changed. I went over everything so we were on the same page and I hopefully wouldn’t have any surprises.
4. Tech check. I carried two flash drives with my Power Point, just in case, and had emailed it to myself as well. Tech fails are always my biggest fear! I asked each school to have a laptop set up and connected to the projector but brought my own laptop as a backup.
5. Engage, share, connect. This goes for any school visit, of course, not just out-of-town ones. I engage the students with lots of questions instead of talking straight for an hour. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen authors talk and talk, losing the kids’ attention. I like to share tidbits of my childhood and personal life (kids love seeing pics of your own kids or pet). And, I try to connect with kids on their level, for example by talking about how editing a book is actually sort of similar to revising an essay for Language Arts. I also wove in some observations and questions about Florida.
6. Be flexible. Lots can happen! Thankfully, this didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard of schools forgetting an author was coming, Power Points not working, and microphones failing. I did speak in one auditorium that was set up for the holiday play and I kept having to step around props and parts of the set. And one of the schools I visited flipped around the order of events. Plus, I was prepared for any kind of weather since I was traveling from north to south Florida.
7. Post-its for book signing. I love Post-its for numerous reasons, but they’re lifesavers when it comes to signing books. There must be ten different ways to spell a name like Allie (Ally, Alli, Ali, etc.) so having each kid write their name on a Post-it on top of their book is so helpful when signing lots of copies. I always make sure to bring along my favorite pen and Sharpie, too.
8. Have extra books on hand. At schools where I was signing pre-ordered books, I made sure to pack a few extra copies in my tote bag for the one or two kids who’d forgotten to order and were invariably sad to miss out. And it happened!
9. Take pics on your phone. I made sure to have teachers snap a few pics of my presentation on my phone so I could post them on social media that day instead of waiting for them to email me photos they’d taken. I took lots of selfies with the kids too. They loved it and I felt like a celebrity 🙂
10. Follow up. After I returned home, I spent some time emailing the teachers and librarians I’d met, thanking them and following up on any requests I’d received.
I was honored to meet so many enthusiastic readers in Florida and I’d visit again in a heartbeat!
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (both from Penguin Random House). Her new middle grade novel, Ethan Marcus Stands Up, is coming in August 2017 from Aladdin Books. Find her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.