Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Author Visits that Impress and Inspire


No two authors are exactly the same, so it makes sense to realize that no two author presentations are going to be the same either. However, there are certain hopes and expectations that the author visit will be good, that it will be relevant, and that above all, it will be inspiring, regardless of whether the visit is in-person in the classroom, or virtual via a web module like Skype.

As a teacher, I have the benefit of being able to understand both sides of an author visit. In today's economic environment where schools have tighter budgets and fewer teaching days, providing an author visit that meets and exceeds expectations is more crucial than ever before, especially if you'd like to garner additional visits. It's not enough to simply think that carrying the title of "I’m an author," and waving your books is all you'll need to bring your audience to their knees in rapt attention. In today's multi-media, multi-tasking world, unless you are a professional storyteller, the reality is that being just yourself by yourself probably won't be enough.

So how do you deliver a presentation that is good, relevant, and inspiring? Here are a few ideas that authors (and teachers) can use to help bring about a visit that will shine:

1) Identify your target audience. i.e., what grades would you like to visit? What age do you write for? What group size would you like to speak to? You'll want to specify this in your contact materials.

2) Identify the genre that your books fall into, and identify some of the other books/authors that will you be talking about in your presentation (aside from your own). Some schools are leery of bringing in authors who view school visits simply as a means to sell books. Your visit should go beyond this goal and include an obvious agenda of wanting to inspire young readers and writers as a whole, coupled with the realization that not every student will be a fan of your genre and writing style (and that's okay).

3) Identify the core curriculum that your presentation supports. For example, my book, Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again (which is a fractured fairy/folktale) fits in with the 3rd grade language arts program that strives to cover fables, folktales, and story structure. Therefore, part of my presentation includes having the students identify the elements that make my book a fractured folktale. A Google search of Core Curriculum for your state will bring you to web sites where this information is available. An example is shown here (Scroll down to page 11 in the pdf to see where the curriculum gets into specifics).

4) Provide a suggested schedule that is streamlined, specific, and succinct. For example, if the heart of your presentation is 20 minutes, follow it with 10 minutes allotted for questions and/or a writing exercise.

5) Keep the duration of your program age-appropriate. For example, it's difficult for some kindergartners to keep their attention glued to the reading of even one story; so these types of visits will be shorter and more engaged. Actually, engagement for any age-group is a must, but for kindergartners, allow no more than 5 minutes to read your story, followed by 3 minutes for questions, and then 10 minutes, if class time allows for coloring a related picture or putting together a story puzzle. Judy Torres, author of Duck, Duck, Moose, follows the reading of her story with a sing-along, where she teaches the students a simple repeating song that centers on her book and its characters.

6) Incorporate multimedia. This could include an accompanying power point presentation or book trailer, even if it's not your own, to highlight a discussion on plot elements or theme, for example. Again, utilization of a tool such as multimedia should be used for educational purposes, not simply as a sales pitch.

7) Above all, don't forget to find connections with the students you are visiting. Use student volunteers to help show specific concepts, such as demonstrating or acting out certain characteristics that the students would then need to put into words in an interesting way. Ask them what they like to read and write. Ask them who their favorite characters are and why. Plant the seeds for discussion and do a little digging, if you have to, with your own questions. Showing an interest in the students around you, rather than showcasing only your own work, is the greatest gift you can bring into a classroom setting. The best outcome will be that your inspiration will set the students moving forward with giant moon-steps as they pursue, develop, and share their own stories.

Shaunda Kennedy Wenger
is a teacher and award-winning author of ten books, including The Ghost in Me; Reality Bites, Tales of a Half-Vampire; Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again; and The Book Lover’s Cookbook, Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages That Feature Them. She was the visiting author at the Annual USU Young Writers and Artists’ Festival in 2012 and schedules visits to schools when her time allows. She blogs regularly at


  1. These are great tips. Thanks, Shaunda. I'm taking notes :-)

    Apple? ;-)

  2. Thanks, Shaunda, for the excellent tips. They all can contribute to inspiring children to pick up a book, in whatever format, and read for pleasure. A worthy goal, if ever there was one.

  3. I've done a few book club and library presentations, and your tips work well for these as well. I'm afraid my romantic suspense probably wouldn't go over with the younger set.

    Terry's Place

  4. While not a writer of children's books, I worked with school district students, grades 4-12, on writing projects for 5 years. Even though their work may have needed some grammatical polishing, their creative thinking often astounded me.

    Your specific points on ways to engage a class of students provide much food for thought. These transerable skills could be adapted to working with a group of seniors, for example, who finally have the time to write that book they've been incubating for decades . . . or helping them with a group project to create a history of the area or a local event.

    This is excellent information, Shaunda. Thank you for sharing!

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  6. Good tips ... would I have to bleep out any salty language in my stories?

  7. These are great tips, and I think your point that we can't just be us and wave our books around applies to giving talks to gatherings of adults, too. I have done several talks to clubs and found that entertaining them somehow is so much better than just telling them about me and my books. Sometimes I do a dramatic reading of a short story. Other times I may talk about the connection between acting and writing and assume a character role for a little while.

  8. Excellent points for an author making an appearance at any venue. I will be sharing and printing this off to keep for future reference.

  9. Great reminder that we have to go beyond just presenting our book. Although I don't write for children, there's still plenty to take from your post. No matter the age of the audience members, you still have to engage them.

  10. I absolutely agree with all your comments. And I love the idea of scheduling author visits with retirees who would like to write their own stories. In my experience, the presentations that have focused on bringing out the writers and readers in the audience are the most fun and rewarding. It definitely applies in all settings, not just with children.

    For the adult writers out there, why not piggy back a general writing workshop at the school with a presentation later that day or evening for the parents/adults in the community, either at the school or local library?

  11. Author visits are fun and it always encourages me to find kids who are interested in books and reading! I have only done in-person visits, no Skype yet.

  12. Power Point presentations are great for capturing an audience's attention. There's something about watching new stuff come up on the screen that makes a person want to look and see what's next. Makes everything said sound more professional, even if it isn't!

    Morgan Mandel

  13. Shaunda, your #7 really resonated with me. Making it about the kids and their concerns and their experiences is a great way to draw them in. Maryann I love your idea of creating arcs with other art forms as well, and LInda's to reach out to seniors. All great ideas, thanks!


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