A year ago I added this map to my author visit website. The 50-State Challenge is a personal goal of adding as much purple to this map as I can over the next decade. Today I get to announce…
No new states have been added yet! I’ve visited hundreds of schools since I was first published 12 years ago. I’ve travelled to many places I’ve never been before and have been invited back to a number of schools for a second time. For example, 2 years ago I did a visit to a school in Syracuse, New York, a 6 hour drive away. I was happy for the opportunity to visit a school in a place I’ve never been. This past spring I ended up visiting 3 more schools in and around Syracuse. Last May I went to Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ve now been there 3 times to visit 6 different schools. Even though I visited almost 30 schools this past year I didn’t add a single new state to the map.
I’m not complaining, I love visiting schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and my home state of Maryland. There are still thousands of school left to visit in those states. Still, I would love to visit schools in places I’ve been like Maine, Louisiana, Florida, Colorado and Texas. I would also be excited to visit states I’ve never had a chance to travel to, like Montana, Nevada or Alaska. Heck, I can’t believe I have not done a school visit to any state in New England yet!
So it’s August and the 2019-20 school year is beginning. I have a few school author visits on my calendar for this year and a few other schools that I’m hoping to go to contract with soon. I’m hoping to set up a bunch more for both the autumn and spring. Since I work for myself as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator my schedule is very flexible and I would happily do as many as 8 to 10 per month.
So, how do authors get bookings? I have all my information on my website; creaturesandcharacters.com so educators can simply contact me there. I’m also listed on a few sites that help schools find authors. Word of mouth is another way, sometimes a librarian or teacher who has seen my presentations will recommend me to a colleague from another school. I also post on social media. I, and I imagine many authors, have a hard time selling themselves. It’s very hard to find clever ways to basically say “Buy my books!” or “Hire me to come to your school!” In order to not be obnoxious I probably err on the side of being too modest or self-deprecating.
So what do you get if I visit your school? I do at least 3 assemblies. The average setup is 45 minutes for kindergarten and 1st grade and then an hour each for 2nd-3rd and 4th-5th grades. My hourlong presentation includes book readings, a very fun interactive drawing demonstration and a question and answer session that can go in many directions depending on what is asked. I bring along a lot of cool stuff. In the past I have projected my book pages on a screen while I’m reading. Last summer I found a way to create a non-linear slide show so I can jump around. I can read any book in any order and now, if someone asks about toys I’ve designed I not only hold up the toys I brought, I can also show large photos with details of the sculptures and prototypes. I just discovered that I can add video into the same presentation so I can show samples of my work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse or Peter Gabriel’s Big Time music video or even my animated book trailers.
I try to be very flexible with schools. I try to work within their budgets, especially when it comes to travel costs. My usual rate for a school visit is around $1000.00 for a day’s visit. If it’s within a reasonable distance I don’t add travel costs so a hotel room, meals and such all come out of that money. If I have to go further I try to keep costs down to a minimum. If I have to fly or rent a car I try to visit more schools on the same trip. This way travel costs can be split between schools. If I visit 3 schools in the same area over consecutive days those costs can be as low as $100 extra for each school. I’ve even waived the travel costs if it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit anyway or if I have family or friends to stay with.
So, how can you help? If you are associated with an elementary school please consider booking me. If you know someone who works at a school please pass my name along. For the next year, if anyone refers me to a school that I visit I will give them 5 signed books of their choice (if you refer me, let me know). Also, if you comment below before the end of August you can be entered to win a signed copy of your choice of one of my books.