News, Notes & Inside Info from a Children’s Book Author

Fan Mail Wednesday #124 (School Visits 101, Travel Required)

September 15th, 2011 Posted in Along Came Spider, Fan Mail, School Visits

This isn’t the sort of letter I normally share, but boy is it ever relevant to my life lately. This is the time of year when I field many inquiries about my availability for school visits.

For educators who’d like help on that, I’ve posted on the topic many times before . . .

* Quickie overview of a standard visit.

* An author’s perspective, featuring my mantra: Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits.

* One Book, One School: Some reflections.

The easiest thing would be to click here on the archive for “school visits” and you’ll find links to all sorts of visits, reflections, complaints, experiences. Read them all and you’ll never want to see me again. It would be like the aversion therapy in “Clockwork Orange.”

Here’s my second oldest brother, Billy with cigarette, on an early 70’s Christmas morning when he received the soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange.” I remember being a little kid — Billy was ten years older, this was likely 1971, so I was 10 — and listening to him tell me all about that movie in jaw-dropping detail. That’s my sister Barbara, left. (Don’t you just love old family photographs?)

Anyway, just in the next two months, I’m looking at trips to MA, CT, NC, SC, and FLA. And I’m in discussion with educators in MI, NJ, CO, OH. It’s a change from my pre-hardcover life, when most of my visits were local. These far-flung visits require a lot more organization from the schools, because I can’t possibly visit a school for one day in, say, Kentucky. I’d spend more time traveling than working, and that’s a crazy commute.

Here’s a letter that is very kind and somewhat typical.


Hi James -

We’re wondering if you’d be available to visit MI in March 2011.  We’ve tentatively chosen Along Came Spider as our One Book, One City for Kids title, but we’d really like to have the author visit us after the kids have finished reading it.  I think our kids would really enjoy meeting you!

We purchase a paperback copy of our OBOC for Kids title for every 4th grader in the city, hoping that that will help get the word out about how much fun reading can be.  The students start reading in January and then usually have the author visit for a couple days in March, visiting 4 schools.  We’re flexible about the dates, and have run the program from March to May instead, but would really like the January - March reading months as our first pick, with you coming here two days in March. Those dates have typically been a Monday/Tuesday.  We’ve had good luck with school visits then.

We’re curious about your availability, and of course, we need to ask the questions about fees and travel accommodations before we make final decisions.

Thanks, and we look forward to hearing from you soon!

Sarah

I replied:

Sarah,

Great to hear from you.
-
I’ve got to figure out some kind of proactive approach to this recurring “problem” (in quotes!) in my professional life. Because it’s killing me.

So, long story short: Yes, thrilled, I absolutely WANT to visit Grand Rapids. I’d love to do it. The time-frame is still open for me.

However, I live near Albany, NY, so there are travel hurdles to overcome. I haven’t looked into the reservations, but I assume it would not be direct, making the travel pretty time-consuming. A lost day. My basic policy — and believe me, I’m still trying to figure this out — is that I need 3-5 days worth of visits to make the travel worthwhile.

I have to add, I’ve been fielding many requests for Bystander lately, so your interest in Along Came Spider both surprised and delighted me. I love that book, but recognize that it’s fairly quiet and, frankly, hasn’t been a huge seller (though it earned some very nice attention). Have you seen the companion book, Justin Fisher Declares War? Same school, different teacher, but some overlap with students (Trey and Spider make cameos).
-

I’m sorry, I really am, because I understand that good people tried their best, but I get depressed every time I look at these covers. What do they communicate about the books? The ex-boy in me thinks, Yuck. Does saying so make me a bad person?

I’ve been meaning to blog about a visit I enjoyed last year, when a school district in PA coordinated their efforts for a full 5-day visit. It was such a rewarding experience, because the librarians knew each other, used parental volunteers, and we even got to go out for a nice dinner and drinks one night. I really think that’s the model on how to do it, when hoping to attract authors who must travel. It requires more planning, but I think the payoff is huge.

Anyway, um, I’d love to hear that you think some other area schools might like to hop on the bandwagon. As you may know, I have titles for grades PreK-8, and am still most popular for my Jigsaw Jones series, so hopefully I might be appealing to other elementary schools.

Please stay in touch. And thank you — thank you, really — for giving this your time and effort.

My best,

JP
  1. One Response to “Fan Mail Wednesday #124 (School Visits 101, Travel Required)”

  2. By Juliana Rowland on Sep 18, 2011

    Where/When will you be in Florida?

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