Happy Holidays

copyright 2013 by sherry Garland


Looks Like November slipped by without me posting a blog. November is often the busiest time of the year for children’s authors because that seems to be the month that so many schools are seeking authors to speak to  students. Then, of course, December is a busy month because of holiday activities. These are my excuses and I’m sticking to ’em.

Because I have a manuscript due on February 1, I will not be posting anything informative or enlightening for Decembr, either.  It will be a mad, mad rush to meet that deadline.

So, I’ll just wish everyone Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year. May 2014 be the year when you sell that blockbuster, that award-winner, that will change your life.

A welcome banner

A welcome banner


School Visits – Part III

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland                                                            

Once you have agreed to do an author visit (either by phone, letter, or e-mail), now it’s time to work on the “technical” aspects of the project.  

The most important next step is to get the agreement in writing to avoid any misunderstandings.  Send the school a contract right away.  

►CONTRACT or  CONFIRMATION  LETTER should include the follow basic info:

1)         Date of school visit

2)         Number of presentations per day and the title of the presentations

3)         Grade levels of the audience and approximate size

4)         Honorarium fee

4)         Travel arrangements (specify number of nights in hotel; mileage costs if you are driving)

5)         Provision for meals

6)         Your address, phone & fax, e-mail address

7)         A Form W-9 that includes your Social Security number (or Federal ID #)

8)         Total amount due and when payment is due (usually on day of visit)

Your contract can be long and complicated, covering every little possible thing that may go wrong, or it can be very simple. My contract is only one page, but I also include a cover letter and additional information about the programs, the set-up, equipment needed and other “techinical aspects.” of the visit.

Send two signed copies of your contract plus SASE so the school can easily return a signed copy. If the school has its own contract or any other kinds of paperwork, request that these be taken care of well before the day of the school visit. Read the school’s contract carefully.  If there is a clause that says they own the rights to your presentation, strike that clause.


1)         Request to approve the final schedule (don’t forget to include set-up time and breaks!!!)

2)         Request telephone numbers of contact (both at school and home)

3)         Request information regarding selling of books and autographing

4)         Request that students prepare by becoming familiar with author’s work

5)         Request accurate directions to school (if you are driving) & where to park

6)         Request that someone meet you at the door & show you to the speaking location


1)        List of special equipment needs – AV, chairs, tables, easels, blackboards, microphones

2)         Promotional kit with recent photo, bio, copies of reviews, etc.

3)         List of author’s books, ISBN #s, publisher’s addresses & phone numbers.

4)         Some authors provide a reproducible autographed sheet so librarian can make book marks for students.

5)         List of special food requirements

6)        Home and cell phone numbers

Signing books

Signing books


One of the greatest things about an author visit is the signing of books. Typically, an author does not charge a fee for autographing done in conjunction with a school visit. But do request that the librarian has included time for autographing in the schedule. You should not have to stay until 5 PM autographing books sold at the last-minute. The librarian should provide a sturdy table for signing, preferably in a quiet area of the library.

Here are the three main ways that book sales are handled at an author visit:

1)  Librarian orders books from publisher or book jobber.  Librarian sends a list home with students who bring their money to school and buy books before your arrival. Each book will have a slip of paper inside with the child’s name and desired inscription. Sometimes there is a cut-off date and no books will be sold on the day of the author visit. When you arrive at the school, you autograph the books throughout the day during your various breaks (or in your hotel room). You do not meet the students. Signed books are distributed later.

2)  Same as above, only students wait in line for the author to autograph the purchased books. Sometimes the librarian allows students to purchase books on the day of the author’s visit. With this method, the librarian may set aside an hour for just autographing. This method is more exciting to the students, or for authors who like to meet their audience, but it is hectic and it takes more time.

3)  Author provides books. With methods 1 & 2 above, you do not have to worry about any money transactions yourself.  It is all handled by the librarian or PTO. However, if you are providing your own books you will probably have to do some money-handling. You can ask the librarian to pre-sell them or you can have students buy them directly from you on the day of your visit.  Such sales transactions can become tricky because of state sales taxes and because of the possibility of checks bouncing. Either way, the librarian will need to know the titles & prices of your books. You will need to know the number of copies to bring.


Donate one of your books to the school library as a gesture of appreciation. Mail a thank you note. If you are in another state, you may want to give the librarian a small souvenir of  your home state. Also, thank any library assistant or parent who helped a lot. If they are students, an autographed card or bookmark is usually appreciated. Promptly answer fan letters from students or teachers. If you feel it was an especially good school visit, ask the librarian to give a quote than can be used on future promotional materials.

Waiting for the program

Waiting for the program to start


 1.   School contacts author at least three months in advance.

2.   Author mails contract within a week. Author also sends a list of books, promotional materials, photograph

3.   School returns the signed copy of contract, plus any required paperwork

4.   Librarian notifies teachers of author visit

5.   Teachers assign author’s book or at least read parts of it to the students

6.   Students do projects related to the author visit – banners, posters, artwork

7.   Librarian orders books to be sold well in advance

8.   School makes arrangements for hotel and pays in advance

9.   Librarian and teachers make displays related to author’s books. Students put out a welcome banner

10.  Librarian decides eating arrangements ahead of time

11.  If you are driving, librarian sends you accurate, easy to follow directions

12.  Librarian sends letter to parents with price list for books

13.  Custodians are informed of what needs to be done; AV equipment is located

14.  Teachers explain the etiquette of being a good listener to students

15.  Students bring money for books. Order slips with desired inscriptions are placed inside books. An autographing area is designated.

16.  Author arrives in town.  Hotel room is reserved and paid for. It is clean and quiet.

17.  Author arrives at school on time (either picked up or driving)

18.  Author is greeted by librarian or assistants. Students help author carry in materials, if need be. The speaking area is clean and available.

19.  Speaking room has the equipment, tables, etc. that author requested

20.  Author sets up table and tests equipment – everything works!!!

21.  Librarian provides the author with beverage and shows her the wash room

22.  Students and teachers assemble on time in an orderly manner.

23.  Librarian makes a brief introduction of 1-2 minutes.

24.  Author presents an appealing program that keeps students interested

25.  Students pay attention. They do not talk, shout out of turn, fight, pass notes, punch each other, throw things, or make inappropriate comments. Any student misbehaving is removed from the room unobtrusively. Teachers do not interrupt the program to yell at students.

26.  Teachers pay attention. They do not talk among themselves, grade papers, or fall asleep. They keep a watchful eye on trouble-makers.

27.  No parent or teacher stands in the aisle videotaping author presentation  (still shots are usually okay)

28.  Students ask pertinent questions, not personal ones like “how old are you?

29.  Students do not swarm author afterwards asking for autographs on hands, shirts, casts, or bits of paper. Students, parents, teachers do not thrust a manuscript into author’s hands and ask for a critique

30.  If author is taken out to lunch, party returns in plenty of time for next program

31.  Time is allowed between each presentation for author to catch her breath, use restroom, get a drink, etc.

32.  Autographing is smooth and orderly

33.  Author is paid in full before she leaves

34.  Everyone is happy.

There are many other kinds of speaking engagements, for example, giving a speech at a conference, at a public library, or at a writer’s conference. Fees vary, but the basic rules still apply.  Good luck and happy visiting!!


Students Love Interesting Props

School Visits — Part 2

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland

There are basically two types of author presentations: those that entertain and those that inform.  The best programs have a good mix of both.

ENTERTAINMENT: Entertainment programs include things like musical instruments and singing, puppets, tall tales, dressing in costume, telling jokes, reading funny poetry or funny stories, and doing various antics that keep the kids laughing. This type of program is most often geared toward the younger audiences preK-2 and often includes a lot of student participation.

INFORMATIVE: An informative program will teach students something, either about a certain subject or about writing. This kind of program includes props, slide shows (PowerPoint), explanations and answering questions. A program about American history or a writing workshop falls under this category. These programs are geared toward older students, grades 3-12, and adult. Programs for high school and adult audiences usually have less student participation.

COMBINATION: The best programs are both informative and entertaining. There will be enough entertainment to keep the kids interested, yet they will be learning something at the same time. For example, I do a program about Texas History that includes many props and artifacts and dressing up of students in historical costumes as I talk about the topic. For my LOTUS SEED program, I bring lots of props from Vietnam, have several demonstrations, show slides, and talk about immigrants.

1.   SUBJECTS FOR AUTHOR PROGRAMS: Typical Presentations:

“What It’s Like to be an Author” (or illustrator) — slides of your office, research sites, etc.

“A Program about Writing/ Making Books” — steps author goes through to create a book from idea to finished product

“Program about the subject matter of your book”

“Writing Workshops” (smaller group, with writing exercises)


pre-K-2 lasts about 20-30 minutes + Q&A; grades 3 and up lasts about 45-50 minutes + Q&A.


A Typical School visit Set-up

–Don’t just stand there and read your book – anyone can do that

–Use visual aids – slides, artifacts, props, puppets, funny hats, art work

–Involve students – have demonstrations; use volunteers; ask the audience some questions

–End program with questions from the audience


An author’s fees will include the honorarium, lodging (if required) and transportation cost (airplane, automobile). Honorarium fees vary widely. Typically the more famous the author, the higher the fee because that person’s time is considered more valuable. However, this is not always the case. Also, fees vary depending on how bad the author wants the gig.  For example, if you have relatives in Chicago, you might decide to accept an author visit there even though the honorarium is below what you normally charge. On the other hand, you may decide you really don’t want to go to Chicago, so you raise the fee to compensate. Lastly, most authors give the schools a multi-visit discount.  for example, if you speak at only one school, you may charge $800, but if you are speaking to five schools, you may drop that fee to $700. You have to weigh your desire for income against your lack of desire to speak to a room full of twisty kids.

If you are a beginner with only one book (unless it is a Newbery winner!!!), you usually start out low and gradually raise your fees as you publish more books and become more famous. Test your presentations on a couple of schools for free so you will have a good feel for what happens.

Some authors charge a set fee for each presentation, for example $250 for one, $500 for two, $750 for three and $1000 for four. Others charge one price for a half-day and one price for a full day, no matter how many presentations are given. I personally do not give more than four presentations per day because my voice goes out and my feet hurt too much.

In Part 3, I will talk about the technical aspects of the author visit, equipment, schedules, selling books, craziness and some examples of memorable school visits.




copyright 2013 by Sherry GarlandIMG_0145

It’s that time of the year again — yellow buses are on the road, children are jumping up and down with excitement and parents are jumping up and down with relief that the long summer is over. Children’s authors should be happy, too. Of all the various writing genres, it is the children’s authors who are able to earn extra income as visiting authors at schools and to generate income from selling books to students. Besides that, speaking to students and meeting your readers is very rewarding and fun.

So how does an author get on this lucrative circuit? For most schools, it is the librarian who sets up the author visits. Occasionally it is a PTA parent or even a principal. Budgets are very tight right now, so the school wants to get the best bang for the buck. Here are a few tips for getting your name out there:

1) First you write a really good book and get it published. Self-published books can be fine, but it is more difficult to convince schools to spend big bucks on an unknown book.

2) Get your book reviewed in major review sources. Librarians have to know you exist to contact you. They read the reviews and if they buy your book they are more likely to contact you. Also, make sure your publisher enters your book in various contests. If you can get on a state reading list, you can write your own ticket and schools will jump through hoops to hire you.

3) Promote/advertise yourself to librarians and teachers. Here are a few examples:

a) Set up an attractive, appealing website (or blog) that shows your books and school presentations. Include your website address on all your business cards, flyers, bookmarks, postcards and letterheads.

b) Attend librarian and teacher conferences (rent a booth if you can afford it) and hand out brochures about your books and author visits. Schmooze  with the librarians and let them know you are available to make visits.

c) Attend book festivals (rent a booth or become a speaker) and meet teachers and librarians.

d) Do a few free or deeply discounted school visits to get the word out. You may want to start with the school nearest you, for example.

e) Create a social media presence — Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads, etc. and join listservs that librarians and teachers visit.

f) Check the websites and blogs of other authors to see what they do to promote themselves to schools.

g) Some authors use direct mailings of flyers, postcards, etc. to promote author visits. This method is more likely to work if you start with local schools or schools in towns where you are visiting. For example, I was attending a writer’s conference in another town so I sent e-mails to all the local school librarians telling them I would not charge a travel fee since I was already in town. This generated four school visits.

School Visits–Part II will discuss some of the topics that authors present during their school visits and what fees to charge.

A Blog About Nothing

copyright 2013 by Sherry GarlandVoices of the Dust Bowl

First the good news:  my picture book, VOICES OF THE DUST BOWL, received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award (Children’s Category).

Now the bad news: I had hoped to blog about my experience in converting an out of print title from 1982 into an e-book, but life got in the way. First, my husband had an ER trip and was sick for three weeks, then I got sick for a month (still am not fully recovered) and now the hubby is sick again. During the past two months we have had: one ER visit and hospitalization, three urgent care clinic visits, six lab visits (including MRI), three visits to our regular General Practitioner and five new prescriptions. In fact, one of the prescriptions is probably why my husband is now so sick he can’t stand up — don’t get me started on drugs!!

Needless to say, I had to postpone my work on the e-book. But I can say that it is turning out to be a lot more trouble than I expected. Since the book was so old, I did not have a digital copy. I mailed a copy of the book (very yellowed now) to an on-line company to scan in the text and put it in Word format. Well, actually I paid them for Word formatted, Word unformatted, PDF format and for Kindle format — about $35 in all. Since I wanted to update the text (for example people used to dial “O” for emergencies before there was 911), it turns out that the only one of those formats that I could actually use was the Word unformatted.

As I reread the text, I discovered several misspelled words (where was the editor!!!) and some scenes that needed tweaking and updating. Frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing and used the Word formatted version, only to later discover that I could not use that version for an e-book. So, I had to start revising all over again using the Word unformatted version. I was in the middle of doing this when I got too sick to continue.

I also experimented at designing book covers — that was lots of fun and deserves its own blog.

Hopefully, I will be able to report on the experience of converting an OP book to an e-book next month. Hope everyone stays well.

Reality in YA Novels

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland

Shadow of the Dragon

Shadow of the Dragon

As you can tell from my previous posts, I’m not a big fan of the paranormal/supernatural vampire-werewolf-wizard novels that have been so prevalent during the past few years. I’m not saying that some of them aren’t well-written and wildly entertaining, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Give me real people, real situations, real places.

To me, realistic fiction can be set in the past or the here and now. For example, something like Gone with the Wind is realistic because it covered real historic events. But many people define “realistic YA fiction” as contemporary fiction that deals with the problems of today’s teenagers: peer pressure, coming of age, first love, acceptance, identity crisis, drugs, teen pregnancy, suicide, a current event and so forth. There may be elements of mystery or romance entwined, but the plots are moved along without the intervention of vampires or other supernatural critters.

At the recent BEA convention, a panel of YA authors discussed the realistic YA genre and came to the conclusion that it is starting to pick up momentum, after years of taking a back seat to vampires and zombies and werewolves. Readers want stories and characters they can relate to. This is one reason the bSong buffalo boy - pbooks of John Green are so popular. For more in-depth information about this BEA panel, read Publisher’s Weekly article: The ‘Real’ World: A BEA 2013 Children’s Panel.

I got my start in the world of children’s literature by writing realistic fiction and also realistic historical fiction. I’ve seen realistic YA fiction, like ocean tides pulled by the phases of the moon, come and go. Maybe it’s finally time for reality to wash ashore, bringing life to authors who’ve been eagerly awaiting its return.


copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Voices of Pearl Harbor

I recently planned the book launch for my latest picture book, VOICES OF PEARL HARBOR. Even though this is my thirtieth published book, it was the first time I went all out to have a launch party. Afterwards, I analyzed the results and made a list of things I did right and things I did wrong. Hopefully you will find some of these things useful for your own book launch.

Here are things to consider:

1) Location:  I live in a mid-sized college town. There are a lot of people milling around, but let’s face it, college students will not buy children’s books. There is only one bookstore in town and it is not known for its exciting book parties. So, I decided to have the book launch in Houston where I lived for 23 years and where I still have a larger base to draw from, especially the Houston Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). I chose a bookstore where several published members of SCBWI have launched their books so it was a location already familiar to most people. Also, the illustrator of this book lives in Houston. It is rare that both the author and illustrator can sign the same book, so that was a plus. The negative was that the round trip travel distance was 200 miles, so that used up about $35 in gas right there.

2) Theme: Most parties have a theme, whether it be a birthday or Halloween. book launch -- DebraA book launch is like a mini-party so it will be more appealing if you have a theme, usually the topic of the book you are launching. Since my book was about Pearl Harbor, our theme was a Hawaiian luau. People were encouraged to wear tropical shirts and festive clothing. I wore a Hawaiian shirt and the illustrator dressed like a WWII sailor.

3) Decorations:  The dollar store is your friend. I found a Hawaiianyellow plastic table cover, plates, saucers and colorful plastic utensils for $1.00 each. At the Card and Party Store I found plastic leis on sale for .19 cents. I bought a few fancier ones for $1.00 each for the author, illustrator and store personnel to wear. I also bought a pack of multi-colored balloons for $1.00. The illustrator brought two grass skirts that he bought at a Goodwill store. All these items added up to about fifteen dollars. In hindsight, I would not have bought quite so much stuff, but I now have enough decorations left over to have another book party here in this smaller town, later in the year.

4) Food:  Again, the food should tie in with the theme, if possible. The food should be finger foods or a cake that isn’t IMG_1360too messy, out of consideration for the clients and the bookstore carpets. Since we had a Hawaiian theme, I made yellow Hawaiian hibiscus flowers to put on top of chocolate cupcakes. I also baked a pineapple cake and served fresh pineapple chunks. And of course, Hawaiian punch. In hindsight, I would not have served so much food and I would have bought the cupcakes at the local grocery store instead of baking them myself. I love cake decorating and enjoyed making the hibiscus flowers, but it was very time consuming. We had a lot of left-over dessert that my husband and I have been eating — thus the recent gain of two pounds.

5) Promotion:  Start the promotion about a month before the event (a save-the-date kind of notice), then two weeks later, then a week before, then a couple of days before. Send the notice to your Facebook friends, writer organizations, your listservs, and e-mail your family and friends who may not be on the lists. I found Facebook to be the most beneficial and the one that attracted the most attention because I included photos, not just of the book cover, but of the decorations and the food. I think it helped to get people into a festive mood.

6) The unexpected: Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. The day before the launch, torrential rains hit this area. We had 6″ of rain at my house the day before the event and Houston had flooded streets. Luckily by the time of the launch, it had cleared out, but a couple of people told me ahead of time they would not come because of the weather. Conflicting events often occur. My launch turned out to be the same day as graduation at several area colleges and some folks had to decline my book launch because of that. Try to check the local calendar of events before booking your book launch. For example, if yours is a children’s book, make sure the launch is not the same day as the local SCBWI annual conference!!

7) Results: Since this was my first book lauch, I’m not sure what is considered good results. Non-fiction typically does IMG_1363not sell as well as fiction and a topic like the attack on Pearl Harbor has limited appeal. I know that all the people who attended, did so to show their support for the author and illustrator, not to buy the book for a child. Seventeen people participated with fourteen books sold. The publisher tells me that is considered a good event. Would I do it again? Probably. Since I only made about $7.00 in royalties, it was a loss financially. But not every event can be judged solely on a net profit basis. Like any party, I enjoyed seeing family and friends. And just knowing that people came out to show their support made it worthwhile.