After thirteen years of blogging, this post continues to be the most read on my website. Now that school visits are up and running again, this feels like a good one to repost.
If you’re interested in me visiting your school in person or virtually, be sure to click through to learn more. As a former teacher, school visits are one of my favorite things — a way to connect with real, live readers and a chance for me to be in the school setting again. If you’re considering asking any author to visit your school, I encourage you to read through this post beforehand.
Yesterday I shared tips on finding authors who are interested in school visits. Today I’m going to bring up compensation, a topic that is never easy to discuss but is nevertheless necessary, especially if you’re interested in inviting an author to your school. Let’s look at some commonly-held assumptions about authors and visits and contrast them with a more realistic glimpse at things.
Assumption #1: Shouldn’t authors offer free school visits? After all, it’s great for publicity. Some authors do offer free visits, whether when first starting out (I did that) or by offering one or two free visits each year (I’ve done that, too) or in other situations when they choose to do so. But here’s the thing:
An author is a professional. Just as we wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix a leak in exchange for publicity, we shouldn’t expect the same from an author sharing her expertise with young readers.
There’s an unspoken assumption attached to this one, the idea that once an author sells a book she has it made. In truth, it’s safe to say many of us make less (in many cases far less) than your average teacher. All of my books have sold for less than what I received my first year teaching, and that was in the mid-nineties in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the US. For an author, there’s no such thing as a steady income. Selling new books to a publisher can be sporadic if it happens at all. I share this because I think it’s important to have a sense of how slow and precarious establishing oneself in the writing world can be.
Assumption #2: We’d like to have a bookseller come when you’re at our school. Aren’t book sales enough to cover an author visit? Thank you to every school that considers book sales! To give a child the opportunity to own a book — any book — is a gift. And there is special meaning attached to a book written by an author the child has met. Unfortunately, though, book sales are not the same as compensation.
For example, for each book I sell, I earn around $1.80 for a hardback and $.50 for each paperback. (This money comes to me only if I’ve “earned out,” meaning I’ve made back the advance I was given before publication. Only about 25% of books earn out, by the way.) So while selling books at a school visit is wonderful, it is primarily a benefit for young readers.
Assumption #3: I’ve just looked at your rates. You sure expect to make a lot of money an hour! If you click through to my author visits page, you’ll get sense at what I charge for visits in the Albuquerque area, within New Mexico, and out of state. While some authors choose not to list their prices online, I like having that information available to anyone who might consider inviting me to present at their school.*
An author’s rates can’t be translated into hourly fees. When a school pays for an author visit, they are investing in the years of knowledge and skill she’s amassed. Not only does a school compensate the author for the work she does that day, but all the preparation that went into the presentations beforehand, the time spent traveling to and from the school, and the author’s time away from her writing desk. An author visit isn’t just an event, it’s an experience, one that takes time and preparation to get it just right.
Assumption #4: There’s no way my school can afford to bring an author in. Not true! Here’s a great post about how to pay for author visits. SCBWI offers the Amber Brown Grant, which annually gives one school “an all-expense-paid visit from a well-respected children’s author or illustrator.” Here’s a page with information on funding, another on grants. Perhaps money earmarked for field trips might be used for a school visit (think of it as a field trip coming to the school). Or maybe the PTA could help out. And don’t forget virtual visits, which cost significantly less.
Dan Gutman shares a wonderful quote from a student on his Perfect Author Visit page.
I am now reading more than any other part of my life thanks to Dan Gutman.
Isn’t this ultimately the wish of every author and teacher? An author visit is an opportunity to hook young readers, keep them reading, and serve their creativity, writing, and imaginations for years to come. It’s an investment, for sure, one I wholeheartedly believe is worth making.
Here’s a great post about the importance of author visits (and tangible ways to make them happen) from the Nerdy Book Club. And here’s another by Avi.
I can’t tell you how transformative an author visit would have been in my young life! Please consider inviting an author to speak at your school, and be sure you compensate them for good work they do.
* Now that I’m working with a booking agency, I no longer handle this aspect of school visits alone. Those interested in learning about my rates can contact Julie Ann Hartman of the Booking Biz.
Danette Haworth says
Great post, Caroline.
In addition to the time, travel, and preparation that comprise the visit, the school is also paying for the years of learning and the experience & education that make an author’s presentation worth attending.
As when we visit the doctor, we’re paying for more than seeing him/her for the few minutes we do; we’re paying for everything s/he did to put that white coat on.
Carole Dagg says
I agree with all Danette’s points. Each program I write to spec takes several days to prepare, and each distills what I’ve learned in twenty years of writing. I’m itching to be back to work on my book in progress, but all the prep for upcoming events is keeping me from my basic job of writing the next book. Just because I love what I do doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid for it.
Carole, I know the meticulous work you bring to your books is reflected in your presentations — costumes and all. Wish I could see you in action!
Janet Fox says
Such a terrific post – I’ll use your resources myself!! Thanks!
Thank you, Janet. xo
Donna Galanti says
Caroline, thanks for this post! I too did my first visits for free. It was wonderful to get experience presenting and meeting readers and selling books but YES, as professionals getting paid is part of that. You list great reasons why and what goes into our presentation. There is also time involved with travel to and home from the visits as well. Thank you!
When schools invest in a visit there is a sense of its importance that is evident all around.
A great post, Caroline, and well said. It comes at a nice time as I’m preparing for two free visits today–in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. But I don’t do free visits other than these sorts of occasions anymore, for all the reasons you mentioned. 🙂
The author should be free to determine if a visit is free, don’t you think?
Wendy Orr says
Great post. And in addition to all your reasons – which all have my heartfelt agreement! – my final reason for rarely doing school visits free is that I find the school is usually much more appreciative and the kids better prepared if I charge. My big exception is One School One Book – they always seem to have done such huge preparations that I am happy to Skype for free. But generally, even Skype – “we’re just asking for half an hour of your time, no travel involved,” – still takes preparation, setting up, and the energy of presentation which means I can’t jump straight back into work, so half an hour is really half a day. (Not to mention being dressed & made up at 6 am because of time differences!) Thanks for having the courage to put it out there – we’re not greedy, we just want to be paid for our services.
I’ll be honest. Putting this out there made me sweat. But this felt important to share.
And I agree that schools that have financially invested are more invested in a visit overall.
Sheryl Gwyther says
I agree with Wendy’s comments above, but also like to add to the mix another reason I think it’s important for published authors and illustrators be paid for school visits.
If book creators continually agree to some schools’ requests for free author visits (and sometimes that might include a writing workshop) then it undermines the ability for other professional authors to charge the going rate for their work. Schools may be tempted to go just for freebies.
Government funding is woeful in Australia, and I imagine it is in other countries as well, but schools can arrange for ways to raise money for professional author visits.
Btw, I occasionally do a freebie or a lower rate one, when the circumstances warrant it … like at my local school, but they’ve repaid me by getting me back the following year (when they got a grant) to run a week long writing residency for which I was paid the proper rate.
Harry Bliss says
Well done. I love visiting schools, have for years all over the world. It’s great fun for the kids, but it’s also very hard work for me, like a lifetime of creative experience whittled down (coherently) into an hour of disguised fun. Author visits are an essential part of connecting one-on-one with my audience, especially now with so many electronic distractions. The creative brain games I employ take preparation, it’s work for sure. I draw for the kids and the teachers all the time. They can auction the art off to raise school funds or sell the drawings on EBay – either way, they’re always happy and I’m always exhausted…always.
So much I love about this, like ” a lifetime of creative experience whittled down (coherently) into an hour of disguised fun.” I can’t imagine how amazing it would have been to have an author visit my school.
And yes to the happiness and exhaustion. For me it’s a mix of the two.
Alina Chau says
I am a new author and illustrator. I just recently have my book published by Chronicle. Since my book releases, I start researching into book event, school, library visit etc.. Thank you so much for your posting. It has been most helpful. I especially love your analogy “Just as we wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix a leak in exchange for publicity” As an artist, from time to time we often receive “freebie” requests from potential clients too. Often people expect just having your art on their product is good publicity, and therefore, the artist shouldn’t expect much payment or zero payment. LOL I can totally relate to your story … ^______^
It’s so interesting to me how requests like this happen in creative fields. I want to believe people simply don’t know any better and when they examine their false assumptions will see our work like any other work — valuable.
Charles Ghigna - Father Goose® says
Thank you, Caroline, for taking the time to articulate so well what so many of us have wanted to say for so very long.
Thank you, Charles. This post seems to have really struck a chord. I’m glad a took the time (and found the courage) to post it.
Michelle Cusolito says
YES! YES! YES!
I teach workshops for authors and illustrators to help them create engaging, meaningful school visits. I’ve been saying this publicly in those workshops for years.
I also firmly believe authors and illustrators are better served by clearly stating their rates on their websites. I just recently left my role as the Cultural Committee Chairperson for the PTO at my kids’ school. That means I was the person responsible for hiring authors/illustrators to visit the school. As a volunteer, I didn’t have time to exchange multiple emails just to determine if a fee was in our budget. And if you are having to answer loads of emails that go nowhere, it’s a waste of your time, too. Plus, having to ask felt a little to like trying to buy a car- this unknown, unclear process. State the fees. If you are somewhat flexible, you can say that, but at least I have a sense of whether I can afford you or not.
Finally, for those who do school visits, I invite you to join or Facebook group on the topic. It started as a group for participants in my workshops but I opened it up to all KidLit/YaLit author and illustrators. Our group is a mix of newbies and more experienced presenters who ask questions, share ideas, and offer guidance. I do not allow self promotion- the group it specifically focused on helping each other grow and improve as presenters.
Michelle Cusolito says
Oops. Link helps!
Elizabeth Anker says
Only one concern. Work with your publicists and editors to make sure that publicity isn’t sending their touring authors on free visits to schools. . . which, I have to say from experience, is the biggest waste of publicity money in the game book.
Larry Dane Brimner says
Great post on why authors should be paid! I’d also add that contrary to popular opinion, authors must fund their own retirement and health/medical plans. We are not covered by a union. We are essentially independent, small businesses.
Natasha Wing says
Good points, Larry. People forget that we are a business, and not just an artist.
Joyce Moyer Hostetter says
I suspect every author has considered writing this post and now you’ve done it for us. It might be going viral! Thank you for articulating so much of what we know and feel. It’s so true about teacher salary vs. author income. I gave up the former for the latter. Poorer but happier.
I loved BLUE BIRDS so thanks for that too!
Natasha Wing says
Thank you for spelling this out. Because our audience is kids, I do feel like people expect us to do things for free (visits and donating books) “for the kids.” I love kids, but I also love writing. And when I get paid, I can continue to write more books that will inspire more children, and I will not have to look for a second job to supplement my income and take away from my writing. Please respect and pay us. Most of us do comp books and Skypes as a way to give back to the schools. But we can’t do that every time. We have to stay in business and pay our self-employment taxes.
Laurie Woodward says
While I agree that yes, professionals should be paid for their time, I am also a teacher in a Title One school and know the reality. We have very little money. Our parent participation is low and most of the fundraising that our small PTO does goes to field trips. (They are 100% financed by the PTO.) Other funds go toward things like school supplies.
Once a year there might be money in the budget for an author visit. Yes, it’s invaluable for the kids to meet individuals who made their dreams come true. I wish we had more money for it but with hard-working parents struggling to make ends meet, we just don’t have the resources.
I have asked author friends to come speak and am so thankful for their donation of time. So, while yes, authors should ask for compensation, once in a while could you also donate your time to schools that might not have the funds?
It really makes a difference in a child’s life.
Bethany Barton says
Where are you located? You should get in touch with AccessBooks. They are an amazing charity that puts libraries and new books into Title One schools. Lately they’ve also been bringing author visits to schools from authors donating their time. I’ve done some volunteer work with them to get into schools that are least able to afford these experiences with kids. They’re still mostly in Southern California, but lately they were able to get out to Puerto Rico to restore school libraries there, so they are growing!
David LaRochelle says
Thank you very much for this post. I’ve been giving author visits for over twenty-five years.
I was visiting a school where one of the parents was upset that the school was paying me to visit their students. He stood at the back of the room with his arms folded across his chest during my presentation. After watching me work with the kids for an hour and my presentation was over, he walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Now I know why you should be paid. Thank you.”
As authors and illustrators, we can make a huge impact on students, in a way that even the best teacher can’t.
Diana Toledano says
Thank you, Caroline. This post was really needed.
Also, many people think that working with kids is easy… Just because everyone can have kids doesn’t mean everyone can do it.
I love educating as much as I love writing and illustrating, but it’s draining!
How can authors go about requesting to visit schools? What sort of letters of emails can they send out to these schools? Please advise.
I think the cold call approach usually doesn’t lead to much. I’d encourage you to start with contacts you already have: your neighborhood school, or a school where you already know a teacher or family that attends.
Bethany Barton says
This is great! Thank you! 🙂