Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Westside Writers Schmooze holds an Expert Panel on Author Visits!

Best. Schmooze. EVER!!

Seriously. This November's meeting may have been the best Westside Schmooze ever -- and that's saying a lot for our beloved longest running schmooze in the region.

On Wednesday, November 10th, about 40 Westside Schmoozers gathered to hear an expert panel of a public librarian, an independent school librarian, and an independent book store owner speak on author visits: what they're looking for, the difference between these different venues, how we can get ourselves booked for author visits, and more. This genius panel was Lee's brainchild (awww, thanks, Rita!), designed to represent the three key sectors of the author-visit landscape. To this end, Lee invited the following all-star lineup:

Sharon Hearn, owner of Children's Book World, a full-service children's bookstore in West Los Angeles,

Elizabeth Abarbanel, librarian at the independent Brentwood School's upper campus,


Ann Wagner, Youth Services Librarian at the Santa Monica Public Library, main branch.

Our Panelists left to right:
Sharon Hearn, Elizabeth Abarbanel and Ann Wagner

From the moment the discussion began, it became clear how different these three categories of author visit are. A few of the eye-opening things we learned:

• Unlike schools, who pay for authors visits; and libraries, who give honorariums; bookstores never pay for visits. Instead, publishers offer to send
authors to them, and, if the bookstore agrees to host an event, the expectation
is that they will sell books. Local authors might approach a store to do an
event as well, but it works best if it's the author's first signing for a book,
because that is more likely to sell copies and draw a crowd.

• Schools look for ways in which an author's book or talk or personal story can
tie into curriculum. For example, if the book is historical it could tie into history, or the author talks about writing (or about how he or she became a writer) it could tie into English and creative writing, or maybe an element of your book and talk can be tied into Human Development (a class about growing up).

• School librarians and decision makers share information on listservs about how much authors have charged and how well their presentations went.

• Public libraries don't sell books (of course), or educate specifically. They also can't guarantee the kids in this setting will have read the author's work in advance, so they look for visits that are lively and interactive, and that will get their audience excited about the book and about reading. It's definitely a good idea to read excerpts during visits to libraries.

• Bookstores can sometimes coordinate with publishers to bring authors to schools--and set up pre-order sheets to send home with the kids. This type of visit can sometimes be quite large, with other schools bussed in.

• When bookstores are not involved, schools can still sell an author's books in conjunction with a visit -- sometimes through their PTA. Schools often get good discounts from publishers.

• Advice: Authors should definitely have Web sites through which schools can contact them.

• Best Piece of Advice of the whole evening: Watch other authors' presentations!

At one point during the Schmooze, a debate broke out on the merits of waiving one's fee for visits, with an eye to building brand awareness. This brought up the oft-cited advice: Should you decide to do a school visit for free or cheap, always indicate you have "waived your fee" (or provided an x% discount) to make clear you are providing something of value. To this, our expert panel hastened to add that you should also always make sure you have an advocate on the inside who will build enthusiasm and ensure the proper preparation for your visit. ("Free" does not equal a babysitting offer!)

Throughout the evening, Schmoozers also shared their own experiences with doing author visits, including fascinating descriptions from both Eric Drachman and James Otis Thach of elaborate video conferences, and visiting schools via Skype!

Here are a few more choice tidbits from the evening, from both our panel and Schmooze attendees:

Authenticity--the giving of yourself in what you share--is the best way to connect with kids.

If the kids have read your book, they will probably enjoy hearing "behind-the-scenes" stories about earlier drafts, inspirations, etc. Even if they haven't read the book, the real message here is that your book didn't come out perfect the first time. Rewriting is key, and everyone can do it.

Kids are so visual these days. Share your book trailer! Use PowerPoint! If you're an illustrator, draw! (Kevin Henkes has used old-fashioned slides! Patricia Polacco brought in her quilt!)

But: Avoid what Lee called "Death by PowerPoint." Your visual aids should not make sense without your presenting them. You are the most important visual aid in your talk. (Along these same lines, don't turn the lights completely off and stand to the side.)

This was a truly amazing Schmooze, during which we all learned so much! When it was over, many agreed that 95% of the information we'd heard this night was completely new to us. We didn't even know how much we didn't know!

For more excellent information on school visits, check out schoolvisitexperts.com by SCBWI's own school visits expert Alexis O'Neill.

Here, too, is a link from Westside Schmoozer Hannah Ruth Wilde showing how some authors have banded together to create an author visit contact site! www.authorsforschoolvisits.com

And the fun (and epiphanies) keep on coming . . .

NEXT month, on Wednesday, December 8th, the Westside Schmooze is having a hands-on workshop, "MAKE YOUR OWN PICTURE BOOK DUMMY," led by Special Guest Speaker Laura Lacámara!!

Laura is the author of Floating on Mama’s Song / Flotando en la Canción de
a bilingual picture book inspired by her mother, who was an opera
singer in Havana. Floating on Mama’s Song, illustrated by Yuyi Morales,
was released by HarperCollins September 1, 2010 and has already received its
first starred review--from Publishers Weekly! Laura also recently
illustrated The Runaway Piggy / El Cochinito Fugitivo, a bilingual
picture book for Piñata Books, an imprint of the University of Houston’s Arte
Público Press. The Runaway Piggy, written by James Luna, debuts November
30, 2010. You can learn more about Laura at her Web site,

As both a picture book author and illustrator, Laura is uniquely positioned to look at picture book manuscripts with an eye for both text and illustrations, and is the perfect expert to guide us in creating our own picture book dummies.

We'll see how our words work on the dummied-up pages, and learn how this technique can help us make our picture book manuscripts sing! For picture book authors (and illustrators, too!), fiction and non-fiction. Even if you don't write picture books, come! You will absolutely gain a new understanding of narrative structure through this creative process.

For this schmooze, Laura recommends you bring two (2) copies of a picture book text (or favorite poem, or whatever words you would like to work with)--one to mark up, and one to cut up--typed in 14-point font at 1-1/2 line spacing. It will be like a holiday crafts party, with cutting and pasting and storytelling, and the satisfaction of taking something home that you made with your own hands, from the heart.

As always, RSVPs are greatly appreciated to WestsideSchmooze@hotmail.com.

Until then, friends,

Cheers and Namaste,

Rita and Lee

p.s.: Our thanks to Eric Drachman for the photos!


  1. Oh! I forgot to say my favorite part! Discovering that librarians (including from schools, in this context) can also learn about authors via speed dating events at conferences! Where authors and librarians get a little bit of face time so librarians can learn what the authors' presentation might be like. Hahahaha

    Also wanted to thank Charlie Cohen for detailing his experiences doing Skype visits to schools, and

    to link to some articles by Kate Messner and Elizabeth Dulemba, about Skype visits, that Greg Pincus brought up at the Schmooze. I looked just now and found these three by Kate Messner (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6673572.html



    and this one by Elizabeth Dulemba (http://dulemba.blogspot.com/2008/12/my-first-virtual-school-visit.html)

    describing their experiences.

    Enjoy, everyone! Happy holiday week!

  2. For those of us on the East Coast who can't make these ever-informative schoozes, I can't thank you enough for posting all the great stuff for us to see here!

    Thank you!

  3. Yes, thanks Rita for the addendum in comments! And Lori, it's nice to see that it's not just locals! Enjoy,