About the business of visiting schools

Many authors begin their career as presenters by talking about their first book at their own children’s school. This is usually a very friendly and enjoyable experience, with no payment involved. However, if you want to derive an income from visiting schools then you need to be professional and businesslike in everything you do, including your presentations, financial arrangements and marketing.

On the subject of professionalism, Kate Veitch asks: ‘ … if you were in business as a private consultant asking fees of several hundred dollars a day, what would clients expect of you?’ She then suggests that items such as business cards are a must, along with a resume of your ‘professional experience and publications, a list of services you offer and the conditions and equipment which the client must provide. Plus appropriate extras: a biographical note and photocopies of reviews and media releases.’ (Veitch, Kate 1995. Real live writers, National Book Council, Melbourne, page 48).

Getting experience

Offering to provide a free presentation at a local school or public library can provide invaluable experience for authors hoping to develop their presentation skills. With school budgets being what they are, it can be very difficult for new authors with only one or two published books and a fairly low profile to attract much interest from cash-strapped schools which would rather spend their money on a ‘big-name’ author.

In the early stages of a writer’s career, free presentations offer an opportunity to experiment, to see what works and to develop skills through trial and error.

Very few schools will turn down the offer of a free author visit. It is, however, important to limit this. Often, something that is free is not be given the value it is worth. Therefore the school might not prepare the students very well, or purchase the books and have them available for borrowing by students.

The way that a school approaches a free session by seems to have a lot to do with the way it is offered by the author and the wording of the offer. Introducing yourself positively and honestly by saying ‘I haven’t done a lot of school visits, but I would love to share what I do with your students, because I’m passionate about my readers’ is more about sharing your passion than about taking what you can from the experience, even though that is a large part of it.

Alternatively, a new author could think about approaching it in this way: ‘I’ve published [name of books], and I’d love to come and do an author talk for your Year 3 and 4 students. I know that author visits can be very expensive. I’d be happy to come for a reduced rate of, say, $75 for the session, or $200 for the day.’ This might cause the school to take the whole idea more seriously and you get paid more than if you did a freebie!

Naturally if a school is enthused about what you have done for free and wants to invite you back, it’s important to be able to say, ‘This is actually my job — could we perhaps negotiate a fee for next time.’ More on this in Money matters below.

Promoting yourself

Make sure all your marketing and promotional material, such as websites, posters, and trailers, are professional, whether made by you or someone else. It would be extremely worthwhile, if your technical skills are not of the highest order, to employ someone who is proficient in web design, or desktop publishing and layout and design, to build your website or prepare your other promotional material.

If you are concerned about giving out personal email and phone numbers, set up a separate email address on your website to use professionally, but remember to check it regularly and respond promptly. Most people are happy to make an initial inquiry via email so you don’t have to give out a telephone number.

Websites

The first thing you need is a presence on the web. Teachers and students will expect to be able to search and find you. If your publisher has a website make sure you have a page in the author section and include your contact email for bookings and enquiries.

Better still is having your own website. It doesn’t need to be an expensive, interactive site but it does need to look professional. It should have a well-designed one-page resume to download that includes your photo, a description of your books with images of book covers, a short catchy biography and contact details. Another excellent aid to planning and negotiating your visits is to use your website and or promotional pamphlets to publicise a ‘menu’ of potential sessions you could deliver. Kate Veitch suggests giving each of these sessions:

  • A title (for example, Creating memorable characters; How a picture book is made …)
  • A brief description
  • A duration (30 minutes; 2–3 hours; half day, etc)
  • Suggested age range the session is suitable for
  • Suitable audience numbers, including strict maximum
  • Any equipment needed …’ (Veitch, Kate 1995. Real live writers, National Book Council, Melbourne, page 48)

Also include the fees you charge, if you are prepared to travel and how to make a booking.

Key icon   Check out the websites of children’s authors and illustrators to get ideas.

Flyers

The information on your website should also be turned into a double-sided flyer that you can post out to local schools, put on a noticeboard at the public library, leave on the desk at a local bookshop, give out at meetings, conferences etc.

Business cards

You can’t carry flyers with you everywhere but you can take business cards. You can produce your own business cards on the computer, using sheets of the appropriate-sized cards available at office supply shops. These can be given to teachers and librarians at meetings, conferences, etc, without seeming pushy.

Networking

Join and attend events organised by groups such as the Australian Society of Authors, the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the Writers Centre in your area Fellowship of Australian Writers, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators or any local writers groups. Authors, especially children’s authors, are incredibly generous in sharing ideas and information with fellow writers.

See Useful resources and organisations below.

The Children’s Book Council in most states organises a range of talks, dinners and other events. Go along and meet other people who are passionate about children’s books and learn from their experience.

Visit your local public library and introduce yourself to the children’s librarian. You may be asked to judge a writing competition or be invited to participate in an event — it all helps to raise your profile in the local area. Children’s librarians often attend network meetings where author visits to schools are discussed, so if you are interested in visiting schools in other areas ask the librarian to mention your name or give out your flyer. There may even be an opportunity for you to give a short presentation at one of these meetings.

Adopt a local school and volunteer to give free writing workshops to their gifted and talented students. Working with a small number of students over a few weeks or a term can be very rewarding as you really get to see the outcome of your work. You will also gain some valuable experience and, like the children’s librarian at the public library, many teacher librarians attend network meetings and may be prepared to pass out flyers for you or arrange for you to speak at a meeting.

Visit local bookshops, especially if they are specialist children’s bookshops, and introduce yourself to the staff. They have regular contact with teachers and librarians and are often asked to suggest authors to visit local schools.

Subscribe to Buzz Words an online professional monthly magazine targeted at writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, editors and children’s book lovers, and/or PASS IT ON a weekly, online, interactive, networking newsletter for those involved with or interested in the children’s writing industry. They both contain wonderful information for new and experienced authors.

Speakers’ and literary agencies

There are agencies that arrange bookings for people working in children’s and young adult literature — at schools, public libraries, literature festivals and conferences in Australia and overseas. Many authors and illustrators register with an agency in their state. Not all agencies are willing to accept new authors with only one or two books published.

Most agencies charge a percentage of your presenter’s fee (usually around 12%) either directly or through fees charged to the client. This amount varies from agency to agency. Some also charge the client a flat rate booking fee or a daily rate.

Generally speaking your booking agent should:

  • List you on their website and other promotional material
  • Match you with clients requiring a speaker
  • Provide you with details about your booking
  • Negotiate your fee
  • Send out an invoice on your behalf
  • Follow up on unpaid invoices
  • Provide advice and feedback on presentations.

Many authors prefer not to sign an exclusivity contract with one agency. Some authors are registered with more than one agency.

Generally, it is convenient for schools to book an author through an agency as most authors do not want to give out their private phone and email details. However, for cash-strapped schools and libraries the booking fee on top of the presenter’s fee is a significant payment, which in some cases they don’t see as value for money. The quality and efficiency of the service provided by agencies varies from agency to agency.

  • Lateral Learning is a Sydney-based agency that represents both NSW and interstate writers and illustrators.
  • Speakers Ink is a Queensland-based agency with just under 200 speakers, authors, educators, illustrators, poets and performers, that also represents speakers from other states, New Zealand and overseas
  • Booked Out is a Melbourne-based agency with a wide range of speakers available mainly in Victoria and Queensland with some in NSW
  • Creative Net is a Melbourne-based agency set up through Ford Street Publishing
  • The literary booking agent Carole Carroll is an Adelaide agency representing authors, illustrators, entertainers, educators and motivational speakers.
  • Nexus Arts is a Melbourne-based agency and tours performers and presenters throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Money matters

Insurance

Authors need to accept responsibility for ensuring they have adequate insurance cover. It is up to you to assess the risk involved in any bookings you accept. If you are using your vehicle and claiming a travel allowance you may be asked for details of your insurance policy. At the time of writing, the majority of authors do not have public liability or professional indemnity insurance. However, some public libraries, private schools and all ACT schools have begun requesting that authors have $20 million coverage for public liability. This type of insurance is difficult to obtain and/or very expensive. If you have personal insurance discuss extending the policy to cover public liability.

Some companies that specialise in insurance for performers:

Australian Business Number (ABN)

If you are going to charge for your services then you need to have an ABN to include on a tax invoice. If you don’t already have one, it only takes a few minutes to apply for an ABN online at the Australian Tax Office (ATO)

According to the ATO: If you carry on an enterprise and have a GST turnover of $75,000 or more ($150,000 or more for non-profit organisations) … you must:

  • register for GST
  • work out whether your sales are taxable (that is, subject to GST, GST-free or input taxed)
  • include GST in the price of your taxable sales
  • issue tax invoices for your taxable sales
  • obtain tax invoices for your business purchases that have GST included in the price
  • account for GST on either a cash or non-cash basis
  • report sales and purchases by lodging activity statements (even if the amount to be reported is zero), work out whether they have any adjustments and pay GST to us.
Key icon  See a sample tax invoice .

As you will have to keep records for tax purposes you may consider setting up an accounting system.

Fees and charges

The Australian Society of Authors sets recommended minimum rates for writers and illustrators working in the Australian market. The ASA rates recognise the time and effort involved in creating your work and public appearances and that time spent talking about your books is time away from earning a living writing them. The ASA also recommends fees for judging competitions, travel and accommodation. The fees do not include GST and authors are encouraged to negotiate fees that are higher than the minimum.

Some authors charge per child (typically around $4.40) with a minimum amount per 45–60 minute rather than use the ASA rates.

Grants

Talk to teachers, librarians and other authors about what grants schools can apply for to fund visits. Check out the Ministry for the Arts in your state and the Commonwealth Education website to see if they are offering grants for anything you can focus on, such as  improving literacy outcomes for boys. Lack of funding is one of the main reasons teachers say they don’t have more author visits. If you can tap into or suggest sources of funding then you may be able to generate work for yourself. In NSW, the CBCA offer grants to financially, culturally or geographically disadvantage schools in their CBC2U program.

Dealing with requests to do ‘freebies’

Some teachers are surprised firstly that authors charge to visit schools and secondly the rate they charge. They think the fact that the author may sell some books as a result of the talk is sufficient payment. Prepare a short, polite explanation of how much an author receives per book and refer them to the Australian Society of Authors website (as above) for standard rates.

Sandy Fussell explains that writing and talking about her books is how she earns her living. Giving free writing workshops at a school is like a teacher teaching maths or reading outside school hours for free.

James Roy describes his approach to this issue. ‘I do present some freebies at my daughters’ school (at our school, each family has to contribute a certain number of hours of service to the school, so I go on writers’ camps and help launch the Year 6 Picture Book Project each year as my contribution) and I also do the occasional freebie at a local primary school that might be struggling a bit with funding and hasn’t been able to get an author for Book Week. There are also a couple of community projects for underprivileged kids that I have spoken at for free but that’s my choice, and I certainly don’t publicise that very broadly.’

Selling your books

If an author’s books are readily available through their publisher and/or bookshops, most prefer schools and libraries to purchase them through their regular supplier. However, if your titles are difficult to obtain, consider buying up some stock. If a school can obtain copies of your books they are more likely to invite you to visit.

If you decide to sell books during your visit, check if this is okay with the school and give them time to let parents know. Perhaps even draw up a list of titles and the cost so students know how much to bring if they are interested. Alternatively, you can sell them through your website or contact the local bookshop and let them know how to get your books if they have any enquiries.

For events featuring a number of authors, organisers will generally arrange for a bookseller to be in attendance. Contact the bookseller directly to make sure your titles will be available for purchase.

Registrations

All authors should register for the following:

  • Public Lending Right (PLR) and Educational Lending Right (ELR) are Australian Government cultural programs which make payments to eligible Australian creators and publishers in recognition that income is lost through the free multiple use of their books in public and educational lending libraries.
  • Copyright Agency is a not for profit rights management organisation who enable the use of text and images in return for fair payment to writers, visual artists and publishers.

Useful resources and organisations

Further reading

Reviewing journals

  • Reading Time (published by the Children’s Book Council of Australia)
  • Magpies online magazine (from the publishers of The Source, an online guide by subject to children’s fiction, poetry and short stories from around the world)
  • Viewpoint: on books for young adults (published by Melbourne University)
  • SCAN online journal for educators (published by NSW DEC)

Other associations

  • The Australian Publishers’ Association (APA) is the peak industry body for Australian book, journal and electronic publishers.
  • The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) is the peak professional association for Australia’s literary creators — biographers, illustrators, academics, cartoonists, scientists, food and wine writers, children’s writers, ghost writers, librettists, travel writers, romance writers, translators, computer programmers, journalists, poets and novelists.
  • The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) is a volunteer run, not for profit, organisation that was established in 1945 and is comprised of branches of individual members who are passionate about children's and young adult literature.
  • The Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Inc is a non-profit charitable, voluntary organisation which aims to bring together all those interested in writing for their mutual professional, cultural and social benefit, and to provide information and advice to them.
  • The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Australia and New Zealand (SCBWIA) is part of an international professional organisation for writers and illustrators of children's literature.

Libraries

Find state and local libraries

Writers’ festivals

The Literary Festivals Australia website tracks over 80 writers festivals in Australia, with details and information, and has links to a sister site, Literary Festivals UK.

Premiers’ and Chief Ministers’ reading challenges

Children’s choice awards

  • The BILBY awards — Books I Love Best Yearly (Queensland)
  • KOALA: Kids Own Australian Literature Awards (New South Wales)
  • KROC: Kids Reading Oz Choice (Northern Territory)
  • WAYRBA: The West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award
  • YABBA: Young Australians’ Best Book Awards

Writers’ centres

More resources

Find a rich array of literature resources here on the PETAA website (navigation right), including a valuable list of website resources.

The Australian Government’s Culture Portal lists over 4,000 websites about and relevant to Australian culture (including literature, poetry, film and drama).