By Toni Buzzeo
Cramped plane seats and heavy luggage needn’t be the author’s constant companion. Steep plane fares and airport pick-ups needn’t be the educator’s cost for a fabulous author visit either.
It’s a (brave) new world in the realm of author-student connections thanks to virtual options that have made connecting across long distances easier, less expensive, and still enriching for everyone involved.
It’s difficult to say whether we’ve advanced the technology that makes all of this possible because of our current tight economic times or whether the technology we needed serendipitously arrived on the scene just as the economy declined. Either way, no one is complaining!
The actual video chatting, via Skype (most popular) or other software (you’ll find a list here), is relatively simple, requiring a computer and video camera on each end as well as a data projector to project the screen image at the school or library, unless the audience of students is small enough to gather around a single computer monitor.
How do authors make their willingness to visit virtually known? Many include this information on their website speaker pages. Additionally the Skype and Author Network includes a round-up of hundreds of virtually-visiting authors.
While some authors offer brief ten-to-fifteen minute “taster” sessions for free, most charge for a longer visit, many visits falling in the range of $200-300 for an hour. Some authors will offer a 30-minute session for half of their regular fee (and you may find this is plenty of time for a group of kindergarten or first graders).
Contacts are made just as they would be for an in-person visit, generally by e-mail unless the author makes his/her phone number available at the website. Without travel planning, there’s generally a good deal more flexibility in an author’s schedule when visiting virtually, which is good news for all.
Nevertheless, advance planning still results in the very best visit, as teachers and librarians will need time to read the author’s work with students, create curriculum connections (in schools), prepare questions, and, if possible, host a book sale and signing.
Book sales can be planned in many ways, but the easiest is for the host to supply students with a pre-order form for the books, collect money, and obtain the books just as for an in-person visit (from a local bookseller, the publisher, a jobber, or the author).
If the author is supplying the books, he/she will sign them before mailing them. If not, signed bookplates are the easiest solution to closing the distance.
Plan to practice connecting online a week or two in advance of the visit to iron out any technical difficulties.
Schools may find that they have to make provisions for lifting a block on the VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) software such as Skype, which should be done in advance of this practice session.
Virtual visits can unfold in many different ways, but will usually begin with a brief presentation by the author, followed either by slides via desktop sharing or questions and answers between children and the author or, often, a combination of the two.
When engaging in questions and answers, student should approach the microphone or an adult near the microphone should deliver the question.
If the group will be very large, it may be advantageous for the author to have the questions in advance and simply read them aloud to the audience before responding.
To improve the feeling of personal connection over virtual space, the author should always know the name of the questioning student.
Do virtual visits provide the same level of intimacy that in-person author visits do?
But, do they close the gap that time, distance, and cost put between authors and many children?
Absolutely! 2011 may be the year to give them a try.
Toni Buzzeo writes from Buxton, Maine and Sarasota, Florida.
Her twelfth picture book, No T. Rex in the Library (McElderry, 2010), optioned in paperback and audio by Scholastic, was recently one of five titles selected for the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program and was included in 1.55 million Cheerios boxes.
Her popular Adventure Annie character also danced into a new volume, Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten (Dial, 2010).
In the video below, take a peek into Toni’s brand new writing cottage and then visit her web site at www.tonibuzzeo.com.