The number of authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators who do virtual author visits to schools are increasing in number all the time. A virtual author visit is a visit by an author to a school or classroom via electronic means: Zoom, Skype, or another such platform. While a virtual author visit may not be as effective as a live author visit, it can still inspire student participation and reading motivation after the visit is over, with the key to the success of the visit held in the hand of the host – be it teacher, librarian, counselor, or other*. The process is very similar to scheduling an in-person visit to the school, however there are some distinct differences and challenges.
If you are considering a virtual author visit for your school, library, or bookstore, watch our webinar discussion on best practices! The panel of experts includes author Traci Sorell (Indian No More, Lee and Low Books, c2019), Dr. Christina Dorr (Media Specialist, Weaver Middle School, Hilliard, OH) and Stephanie Bange (Author Events Coordinator, Lee and Low Books):
Read on for tips and guidance on how to set up a Virtual Author Event from our Events Coordinator, Stephanie:
Setting your budget
While a few authors are willing to do a limited number of free virtual visits, most authors depend on supplementing their pay by doing author visits. Hosting a virtual visit to your class is an economical way to bring in an author to speak, as you pay only for their prep and visit time. Many authors will give a quote for a range of prices based on the length of time spent with the class – usually between 20-60 minutes. Virtual visit fees can range from $20 to $200 and up, depending on many factors.
This cost need not come out of your pocket. Be sure to explore places for funding: Is there money available from the school principal’s discretionary funds? Are PTA funds available? Are there any grants available to the school system/library? Is there a local foundation or service organization willing to sponsor this? Ask around. You may be surprised to find funding in unexpected places.
Finding the right author to invite.
Like traditional author visits, it all begins with the selection of the author. First and foremost, authors are great reading motivators. Make a short, prioritized list of authors you would like to have speak to your group, with the reason why you want to invite each author. Do you want an author who can work with a certain age range? Speak multiple languages? If you aren’t sure where to start, contact email@example.com and we can suggest authors who might be a good fit.
Be sure to make the visit relevant to the group. It is a bonus if it is integrated into the curriculum. Books published by Lee & Low have a free downloadable curriculum guide available on our website to help you integrate our books into your lesson plans.
Reach out and invite the author.
Contact your first-choice author via the author’s website or through the publisher of their most recent title. As some authors have multiple publishers, if you should send your query to one of the others it will most likely be forwarded to the author for you. You don’t need to send a query to all of them.
First ask if the author does virtual visits; if so, then ask for their pricing. The quote should give you an idea of how much the author charges for a virtual visit, with a breakdown for time periods of less than an hour – for example, 20, 30, 45, or 60 minutes. Is there a price point that matches your budget? In some cases, authors may be willing to negotiate pricing – but don’t be surprised if they won’t. You may find the need to send out multiple queries to find a match for timing on the school’s calendar, author availability, purpose, and budget.
Schedule and plan out the visit.
Once you have identified an author who fits your budget, look at your lesson plans and list several dates and times when you would like to schedule the virtual visit. Leave plenty of time before the visit for you to prep your students for it and for the author to prepare the presentation. This can be as short a time as a week or several months or years, depending on the demand for an author, as many must schedule well in advance. Send your list of requested dates and times to the author to match the best time for them to schedule the visit.
You will also want to discuss a preference for the platform to be used, whether Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, or another tool. While some authors prefer the school to initiate the call, other authors will want to initiate it. If you need to record the visit for your students’ use, you will need to alert the author at this time with the reason for your need to record. Be advised that many authors do not allow recording a virtual visit, but they might make an exception during COVID as asynchronous viewing may be required. If you receive approval to record it, be sure that a date is set for you in the future to delete this recording.
Finally, you will want to settle on the format of the visit. This will largely be determined by the length of the visit. Many authors have a set outline or format for virtual visits; they know how the flow of these type of visits works best for them. Others are open for teacher input for the format. Keep in mind that typical visits of 20 minutes allow enough time for a Q&A with the author, but not much more. Visits of 30 minutes allow for a short reading or presentation by the author and a short Q&A. Visits of 45-60 minutes allow for a longer presentation by the author and Q&A time (with potential for a longer, deeper Q&A offered during 60 minute visits).
Confirm the visit.
Once the parameters for the visit are set, you should get all details surrounding the visit in writing – the date, time, length of visit, size of the class (some authors will work with larger size groups, though it is difficult to personalize groups larger than 30), what is expected of the author, what your goal for the visit is, how it will be conducted, and who will initiate the visit. This can be documented by the author or the host. Some authors have set contracts they use. Remember that the confirmation must be approved by the other party before it is considered confirmed. We will be delighted to help you through this process with our authors.
Prepare your students for the visit.
Read the author’s book(s) and look closely at the illustrator’s artwork (if applicable), discussing them with the class before the visit. If possible, have the author’s book(s) available for students to browse by themselves before the visit – either in print or electronically. Be sure to include biographical information about the author in your preparation plans. Develop games and activities based on the authors and their books. You want the group to feel like this author is a celebrity or a rock star. Students should know enough about the visitor that they are not asking questions like “When were you born?”
Include some money in the budget to buy books to use as giveaways to students. Lee & Low, alongside many other publishers, offers a significant discount for book orders for author events. Books can be purchased directly from the publisher: contact Jalissa Corrie at jcorrie[at]leeandlow.com for more information about discounts available. If students or the school is able to purchase multiple copies of books, many authors will send signed bookplates for them after the visit is over – one for each book purchased.
Finally, Lee and Low eBooks can be found on several electronic platforms used by schools, such as Epic!, Baker and Taylor, and Mackin. Check for availability.
Questions in advance.
A virtual visit goes more smoothly if the students have submitted questions they have to the host before the visit. The teacher can then vet them, select key questions to read aloud, and forward these to the author in advance. This will help the author know what the group is interested in and be able to respond to them quickly. More questions can be answered, as time is more effectively used.
Depending on the length of time of the visit, the host and author can decide on how to proceed with the Q&A format. A shorter 20- to 30-minute visit might go faster if the author reads the question (attributing it to the student who submitted it) and responds; longer visits (45- to 60-minutes) might allow time for students to ask/read their questions live and the author respond during the Q&A portion of the visit.
When the appointed time comes, be ready to either initiate or receive the call (as agreed upon prior to the day). Remember it is up to the host to maintain order among the students, as the author is at a disadvantage in not knowing student names. The host must also be proactive about making sure students do not interrupt with racist or hurtful comments. During a longer visit with the class, the host also serves as “director,” guiding students when it is appropriate to ask the author a question. While the author will probably have an eye on the clock, it is helpful for the host to do likewise. Be sure to leave plenty of time for the author to wrap-up the visit and for you and the class to thank the author and say goodbyes.
Follow-up on the Visit.
If you are paying the author for this visit, give your finance office (or whoever is responsible for paying for the visit) a call to verify that the check has been cut and mailed to the author. Be sure to write a thank you note or email to the author. You can include some student work with your note. Authors love to hear from groups that they visit, often posting how schools respond to a visit on social media. Other ideas include:
- Students can write a short thank you letter (either as a group, small group, or individually) to the author, turning it in to the teacher who can send it with the thank you note.
- Anecdotes about student responses and comments after the visit are also welcomed. Authors like to learn the impact of their visit and get feedback.
- Hold follow-up discussions and continue reading the author’s books after the visit.
Finally, take the time to write a thank you note/email to your principal and the source of your funding. Be sure to share follow-up student work with your school principal and your curriculum supervisor at the school board office to demonstrate the value and impact of the visit. This will make it easier to make your case for another author visit in the future.
Author visits create lasting memories. Remember that for many students, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime event that can inspire them to read, write, and inquire. The excitement from a visit can carry on for years.
Ready to begin? Browse this list of authors who do virtual author events, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.