GRAB YOUR BOOKS
GO BACK TO SCHOOL!
by Paul M. Howey
author of Freckles: The Mystery of the Little White Dog in the Desert
Nearly every first-time author with whom I've worked over the years wants to get on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Sure, why not? Oprah has "made" a lot of writers' careers; but what are the odds of getting a call from her producer? (Pretty doggoned slim, I'd guess.)
These new authors believe that another valid measure of success is to have their literary works in bookstores nationwide. Another worthy albeit frequently elusive goal. There is, however, another outlet. One of the most important markets for your book might be right in your own neighborhood.
Your local elementary, middle, and senior high schools could well be your most lucrative outlet. Students are a tremendous audience. They're appreciative, responsive, and their questions intriguing and challenging! You might get the same things from Oprah's audience, but these school audiences are more accessible. And they like to buy good books. Books sold in schools have an advantage over those distributed to bookstores-they're almost never returned!
Deciding if school talks are right for you
Most books and authors are not suitable for the school market. It's not that there's necessarily anything wrong with them. They're simply not appropriate. To determine if you and your book might succeed in this arena, see if you can answer affirmatively to all of the following questions:
Is your book ...
Are you ...
Appropriate to the school's age group?
Have your book tested by children and teachers to ensure that it's written for the intended age range.
- Appropriate for use in a school setting?
Does your book contain any inappropriate language? Is any of the content unsuitable for children? Does it convey positive messages?
- Endorsed by educators and other professionals in the student arena?
Understandably, everyone wants to know that someone else in the field has approved it. Seek written endorsements from recognized and respected individuals.
- An enthusiastic and entertaining speaker?
You think Oprah might be a tough audience? Try speaking to a group of youngsters who'd probably prefer being at recess in the playground! You will need to be captivating, educational, and extremely flexible.
- Comfortable speaking to children and adults?
Your school audiences will most always include teachers, administrators, librarians, media specialists, and parent volunteers. Your message needs to reach them and appeal to them as well.
- Able to pass a background check?
While there's not likely to be a formal background investigation, often your references will be checked to make certain that it's safe to invite you to speak to the students.
Getting that first speaking engagement
If you're satisfied that you and your book meet these rather stringent criteria, then perhaps it's time to test the waters of public speaking in schools. But how to get that first engagement?
Before making that first school call, I believe it's important to have the best "school talk flyer" that you can create - something that sizzles and sells your book's message and your presentation, something that makes it clear the benefits students will gain by reading your book and hearing your talk. The flyer should also contain a list of the key professional endorsements and awards your book has received. This is your major sales piece. Make it as professionally appealing as possible.
Getting that first school talk is the most difficult step. Understandably, most schools don't like to be the first to book an author. They'd much prefer that some other school risk scheduling an as yet unproved author/speaker. If you have children in school, that's the obvious starting point for you. If you don't, perhaps you know school children in the neighborhood. Consider talking to their parents and asking them to make an introduction for you. If not, then ask who is responsible for booking authors and try to secure an appointment with that person.
Once you have a chance to meet with the principal, media specialist, librarian or whomever books speakers into the school, use this opportunity to sell the importance of your message as it relates to their students and to their school. Ask what you should include to make your presentation as appropriate as possible to their particular needs. Remember that you'll probably be addressing several groups of different grade levels, so you'll have to change your presentation for each. You don't want to talk "over the heads" of your younger listeners, nor do you want to bore your older audiences.
Selling books and charging fees
Also, ask if they'd be willing to send a flyer home with the students a couple of weeks prior to your talk. The flyer can describe your message and your book and also serve as a pre-order form for the students and their parents to purchase your book. Be sure to bring extra books with you on the day of your talk so that you can accommodate those who waited to make a decision.
Whether or not to charge for your talk is up to you. It may be that you'll want to charge a modest fee, at least until you've established yourself as professional author/speaker. Nearly all authors charge some fee, especially when there is travel involved.
Once you've done your first talk, be sure and ask for immediate feedback from the person(s) who invited you to speak. What they tell you will be the most valuable advice you'll receive regarding your presentation!
If you hear predominantly praise for your talk, it's always advisable to ask for referrals. These recommendations will make each of the succeeding talks that much easier to secure.
If you and your book are right for this market, you're in for a real treat. Nothing is more satisfying nor more rewarding than taking your message to the youngsters. They will amaze you with their curiosity and their frankness! Enjoy yourself, and always remember that it is an extraordinary privilege to be in their presence.
In addition to Freckles: The Mystery of the Little White Dog in the Desert (www.FrecklesFriends.org), Paul M. Howey is the author of two other books and the editor of 50 more written for young readers and for adults. He enjoys volunteering for several animal-related organizations and teaches humane education classes throughout Arizona. Paul is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, the American Humane Association, and the Association of Professional Humane Educators.
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