School visits can be a rewarding experience and a great opportunity for a children’s writer or illustrator to be in direct contact with their audience. But before you brush up your performance and dust down your Powerpoint presentation, do think hard about the boring practicalities.
Schools are often inexperienced at arranging events. Many of the problems we end up advising on stem from easily-avoided confusion around expectations and expenses.
So: before you commit to a booking, please bear the following in mind:
Can you do it?
It’s easy to say yes to a gig – but is the visit feasible or financially viable given that you may lose more than a working day in travel and preparation? Have you signed an exclusivity clause with a literature festival that would prevent a school talk (we do not recommend this)?
How far away is the school, what time do you have arrive, and how much will it cost to get there? For example, will a hotel be offered if you need to stay overnight to arrive in time for a morning assembly? Can you charge for a taxi from the train station if the school is too far from any bus route? Who needs to approve your expenses and are there any limitations?
If travelling by car we suggest that you specify that you charge the HMRC recommended mileage rate of 45p a mile well as any additional parking costs (don’t expect that you will be given designated parking). If a school baulks at costs, or it’s not worth your travelling for a single session, discuss whether there are other schools in the area that may want to share a visit along with related costs.
What are you required to do?
Does the school know your work? This might seem too obvious a question to ask, but don’t assume anything. Check that schools know what age you write/illustrate for and whether the pupils are likely to be familiar with your titles. Talking YA to a mixed age assembly is not easy – nor is addressing year 7s who have never heard of you.
Discuss, ideally by phone, what the school are looking for in an event: for example, is it to tie-in with the curriculum or to energize reluctant readers? What number of talks will you do in a day to what age-group and what size of audience? Confirm what art or technical equipment you (and pupils) are going to need.
Ask whether any pupils have any special needs or problems of which you should be aware. Work out whether you are going to need lunch or breaks away from staff and pupils to prepare for your next session. If so, make those requirements clear to your hosts.
Fees and payment
After agreeing your rate (see below) confirm whether VAT applies, your payment terms, and whom you should send your invoice to (this might well not be the teacher or librarian booking you). Stipulate how and when you are to be paid – ensure you are to be paid as a freelancer and not off-the-roll as salaried staff, as it can be extremely difficult to recover tax once it has been deducted.
The ‘Beast from the East’ snowed off many World Book Day visits this year, so it is wise for your Terms & Conditions to address cancellation fees and timings. With unavoidable circumstances we’d suggest rearranging the date and being reimbursed for pre-paid expenses; but for cancellations within the school’s control you ought to be reimbursed any incurred expenses and paid in full if the event is cancelled within six weeks (50% if the event is cancelled earlier).
And if it’s you who needs to cancel we would recommend that a fee is not charged and that you reimburse the school if they have pre-paid expenses.
Take a mobile number for your contact so that you can call them if there are any problems, but make sure you’ve worked out exactly what you should bring before you set off. Waving your book jacket photo to prove who you are at reception won’t suffice when staff expect to see your passport and Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) certificate.
Many schools erroneously think DBS clearance is essential, but it’s not required for one-off supervised visits; only for regular and frequent visits to schools. Public Liability Insurance is usually required by schools/Local Education Authorities and we recommend this; the good news is that the Society offers a blanket scheme to members.
Not all schools will allow books to be sold and this can be a deal-breaker for some authors. Check that your visit will not clash with a school book fair and confirm whether you or an independent bookseller will sell books.
If it’s you, it’s worth asking whether a member of staff can help with sales, to free you up to sign the books and write nice amusing comments for the kids). Some schools will be happy to circulate promotional material in advance or book order forms post-event.
If you do not want to be photographed or recorded during a talk then stipulate this at the outset as well as before your session(s). Many children get distracted if they know they are being recorded or photographed, so this is not unreasonable. You may also want to check if local press are going to be present. Hopefully, the school will be courteous enough to tell you this anyway.
Most visits run smoothly, but it is wise to issue some terms and conditions or a letter of agreement in advance. For more detailed advice you may like to read the following resources: