Are You Promoting Your Work, Or Stepping On Toes?

I warned you this is called Brain Burps for a reason! As I await the exciting debut of my novel and am nearly apoplectic with anticipation, it’s hard to concentrate on ANYTHING! So why not post something that will distract ME and at the same time, possibly help others who might be new at the whole school visit thang. So here is an article I wrote a while ago that I think is still timely. Hope it helps you!

If you have anything to do with the children’s publishing industry (and if you’re reading this column, I’m thinking you do), you’re aware of school visits: How authors and illustrators visit schools to get kids excited about reading, writing, and the creative process. These visits also introduce new people to your work, and can supplement the royalties you are hopefully receiving.

Your visit ends when the school day is done, by 2:30 or 3:00, and if you’re far from home, the best part of that after-work time is exploring local book shops. What a thrill it is to find your own books on the shelves! Even more fun is to make a new connection with a bookseller, and get to sign whatever stock they may have of your work.

Recently, a bookseller found out I was scheduled to do a week-long visit in her town. She and I got very excited, planning a store signing. I was thinking, “Great! I get to support an independant book store once I’m done with my school day.”
I was talking to school booking agent, Sharron Mcelmeel about this and was completely shocked when she replied that this was not always a good idea. Sharron, (author of ABCs of an Author/Illustrator Visit (Linworth); Children’s Authors and Illustrators Too Good to Miss (Libraries Unlimited); and 100 Most Popular Children’s Authors (Libraries Unlimited), among others), suggested that some hosts feel that the book store is profiting from the school’s expenditure. Especially if the store might be seen as competing with sales the host school is planning to help fund the visit. I was told that although the temptation is great to garner a little more publicity, it is better to get it from the school visits than to risk the bad vibes if the host, without their input or knowledge, feels that they have helped finance the book store appearance.

It had never occurred to me that I was beholden to my hosts after I’d done my job, though now I see her point. If an organization is footing the bill, they should get all of my “worth.” I wondered what the consensus was on this issue among my author friends. I had never heard of this problem, but then, I don’t think I’ve ever done a store signing when in town for a school visit.

Of course, there is no rule that is set in stone and therein lies the confusion.

April Pulley Sayre, author of Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad’s Tale, wrote to me, “Wow, Katie, that’s a new one for me. I’ve done lots of these store signings while doing visits to 6-10 schools in an area. In fact, many schools order through the local bookstores at a discount” …and…“usually the number sold at a bookstore signing is tiny compared to what sells through the schools.”

Alexis O’Neill, author of Loud Emily, wrote me, “Katie – I recently talked with a librarian who hosts a massive author fest annually, and she specifically mentioned “bookstore signing” as almost a deal-breaking issue if the author hasn’t cleared it upfront with the school visit organizer.”

Jane Yolen, co-author of Jason and The Gorgon’s Blood, wrote, “If you do the bookstore AFTER the schools, then they cannot complain, and kids who didn’t get their money in in time, or schools that ran out of certain books, can then deal with the store. Doing it BEFORE the visits is a no-no.”

It was suggested by a number of people to simply talk to the hosts and find out their feelings on the matter. I think that’s a good idea, and with many people it would work just fine. But what about about those people who may not want to come across as dictatorial, yet never hire you again because you went and did the signing. To that concern, Valerie Lewis, owner of Hicklebee’s Book Store in San Jose told me, “If that person (the school’s visit coordinator) doesn’t appear to mind, you’ve done your job.”

There is never anything wrong with at least signing stock, but if you make a large part of your income from visits, weigh the decision to do a formal signing. Check out how far from a school a bookstore is located. Ask your host how s/he feels about your doing a signing, and really listen to the answer you get, even if it’s one you’d rather not hear.

If your host says it’s not a problem, go for it. As Valerie Lewis said, “None of us has time to second guess what people say behind our backs. Life is too short. Besides, we all need to imagine they are applauding our cleverness and talent behind our backs and nothing more.”

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