Authors: How to Get Regular School Bookings
Visiting schools as a guest speaker is a key income stream for many authors. Develop a strong reputation as a speaker and you can earn considerable fees and sell tons of books while building your fanbase. Admittedly, school visits aren’t always idyllic – live performances can be unpredictable, especially when there are kids involved – but inspiring young minds can be extremely rewarding, not to mention profitable, for writers.
Indeed, it’s almost essential for authors working in certain genres. Children’s authors, for instance, have a huge advantage over their peers if they visit schools, because marketing online is notoriously difficult when targeting a demographic that doesn’t have access to online banking. However, kids’ authors aren’t the only ones who can benefit. If your books have educational merit then you will find a demand for what you have to say in schools. Yes, a historical memoir or a management guide may not sell as many copies to students during a visit as a Hunger Games lookalike, but it can still form the basis of an entertaining or inspirational talk that teachers value.
Content isn’t what holds back most authors. It’s the perceived belief that no schools want to hear what they have to say. The truth, though, is that schools welcome all sorts of speakers. It isn’t always their subject matter that generates interest. It’s the speaker themselves – how they inspire kids, make them laugh or get them to think. In many cases, authors struggle to get regular school work because they haven’t yet proven themselves. In true catch 22 fashion, you need regular school visits to build your reputation to get more school visits.
There is a simple combination of tactics you can use, however, to improve your chances, gain experience and kickstart your reputation as a speaker. Stick with them and, eventually, you will unlock this lucrative income stream, which you can tap into whenever necessary to stabilise your author earnings for the rest of your career.
Make Your Book a Teaching Aid
Certain types of books lend themselves well to being discussed in classrooms. Children’s books are an obvious example, but books from a range of genres can be adapted to improve how well they’re received. Business books, science guides, historical fiction, adventure stories — all contain themes and ideas that can get students talking and, therefore, can score authors school gigs. The only difference between those that gain popularity with teachers and those that prove to be a hard sell is that the success stories tend to be easy to use as a teaching aid.
Do you remember seeing books at school or possibly reading ones brought home by children in your family? If so, you might have noticed that their back matter often contains extra resources for teachers; suggested essay topics or talking points they can explore with their classes. They may also include links to extra online resources, even for subjects as simplistic as friendship or the importance of being honest. Obviously, not every book is suitable for schools, but most can be optimised to succeed in that environment. Adapt your book to make teachers’ jobs easier and they will make you a more attractive prospect when you’re being considered for school visits.
Nobody enjoys being cold called, but it works. After all, if it were a waste of time, companies would never do it. The success rate of this strategy is low, but it’s a good place to start. Besides, the results depend on individual callers’ strategies. Call 300 schools you find in the public directory with a hard sell and you’ll likely strike out 299 times. Nobody will pay out a lump sum to a random author they don’t know. Call them simply for information or to offer something for free, however, and you will see your success rate rise. You probably won’t gain the big payday you want at first doing this, but you will gain contacts and get your books into the right hands. Then, once you’ve shown that you’re actually a professional author, that’s when you can follow up by asking to talk at the school.
These early gigs won’t earn you a big speaker’s fee, if anything at all. However, they will give you the opportunity to sell books, grow your reputation and gain testimonials from teachers that you can use to pitch for paid gigs in the future. Don’t worry about earning for the first handful of events. Just aim to make a good impression and hone your skills. Consider any book sales you do get as a bonus. In the early stages of your speaking career, think of these events as your equivalent of gaining work experience – something to put on your CV. Their value isn’t in the money they earn you but the access they give you to better opportunities in the field you love.
Join an Agency
Agencies and speakers’ bureaus use their own networks to get more speaking gigs for authors and other professionals who speak on a range of subjects. You may think that these organisations are optimised to cater to politicians, entrepreneurs and celebrities but author clients are often regarded among their most highly prized speaking guests. Indeed, some high-profile writers can command up to five figures per event. Many speakers’ bureaus and agencies have developed thriving networks with the specific aim of engineering author engagements so they can deliver authors who work with them hundreds of opportunities every year. Some even specialise in working within the school system.
These organisations do take a percentage of your speaker’s fee but that’s a small price to pay for all of the extra school events they funnel your way. Providing you make a good early impression and play by their rules, they will sometimes generate you opportunities on a continuous basis. You can even join several at once to ensure your calendar stays full year-round. If two agencies offer you events on the same day, you can pick which one you want to attend. Just be sure not to play favourites for any particular company. As long as you stay impartial, all of them will continue to represent you in tandem, one picking up the slack when another falls into a slump.
Build a Teacher Mailing List
Work in publishing for any time at all, and you’ll quickly realise that many authors consider their email newsletter list to be their most important marketing tool. Powerful indie authors and publishing companies alike build mailing lists that contain anywhere between a handful and 100,000 readers. They do this to keep in touch with them long after a book launch. Put simply, this is because email subscribers are engaged, normally more so than most social media followers. Not only that, authors who own an email list can always reach their tribe, which isn’t a guarantee on Facebook or Twitter. If you build one, you can send your subscribers newsletters to notify them of new releases, promotions and upcoming events.
The principle is no different when building a following for running school events. Only, instead of having readers subscribe, you have teachers, event organisers and administrators. You don’t even need a fancy website. You can just ask teachers to sign up when you’re at their school. Once they give you permission, you can keep in touch forever unless they unsubscribe. As a result, you can let all of these teachers know when you have event vacancies so you can plug holes in your calendar. Or you could inform them when you release new books so they can order them into their school libraries and order signed copies to reward good students. Either way, keeping a mailing list will keep you in their minds and will result in more school speaking opportunities.
Do a Good Job
Writing books is a competitive profession that many people consider their dream job. As a result, there are millions of authors in the world, many vying for every opportunity they can find to expand their reach and sell their wares. Only a small fraction, however, are public speakers. Some find public speaking too scary to try. Others don’t want to travel. And some would simply rather spend their time writing and marketing their work online. Even those who like speaking don’t always turn out to be reliable or organised enough to make it work.
Build a reputation as an excellent speaker who writes fantastic books and steps up when others don’t, though, and you’ll steadily increase your demand for appearances. After all, teachers and administrators talk. If you’re reliable, entertaining and organised as a visitor, you will get repeat business and even referrals into schools you’ve never encountered. Visiting schools isn’t a quick money-grab; it takes effort and passion but it can help authors like you make consistent money and introduce lifelong readers to your books.
Getting regular business speaking in schools can be a challenge when you start but your efforts will compound over time if you persist, believe in yourself and your books, and work constantly to improve the experience you deliver. Do this enough and you could even get your book recommended as part of the curriculum, which can potentially translate into royalties and readers for decades to come.
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