Book signings in schools – some thoughts

True story: a school invites an author in to visit and work with all of the children. The author shows the classes exciting, beautifully illustrated books and shares how they came be be written. Excerpts are read, some funny, some full of amazing facts, some thrilling adventures. There are fun interactive challenges based on the book. The children ask eager questions.

One of the questions is, “Where can I get your book?” That question always happens. Of course it does, the author is master of getting children excited to read, knows exactly which buttons to press for each age group. The answer is usually, “Here today, at the book signing. I’ll be signing copies after school.”

But on this occasion, the author had to say. “Online, or from a bookshop,” knowing there is no local bookshop and no signing in school.

Where there is a book signing in school, it can be a life-changing experience for children who are disengaged from reading. Why? Because that is the moment when they are inspired to read, motivated to get a book, eager to take it home and read for pleasure, possibly for the first time. It can be the start of a journey where becoming reader reaps many rewards.

I know this is true because I have had several letters and messages from delighted parents (and teachers) over the years, saying how individual children were now asking for books, keen to go to the library, and reading every night for enjoyment.

Of course there usually is a book signing as part of a author visit on nearly every occasion. I visit around 50 schools a year and there will be perhaps one or two where the headteacher vetoes a signing. And I completely understand their reasoning, especially if the school has lots of disadvantaged families.

We’re also in a cost of living crisis. Many people can’t afford books, of course. But should we deny the opportunity? Is it fair to ask an author to enthuse children about a book but not give them maximum opportunity to read the book?

My view is that, as people who work with children and understand the huge benefits of reading for pleasure, we should be encouraging book ownership. OK, books are not cheap in the eyes of many people but the average book still costs less than a takeaway pizza. A paperback is about the same as two cups of high street coffee. Both the pizza and the coffee are soon gone, but the book is still there once read – to be shared or re-read, or kept as a treasured possession.

Of course there will always be children who will never be given money for a book at a book signing. That is why I always leave some free signed copies for the school library. That is why lots of schools budget for a few extra copies too (although amazingly many don’t). 

If a school wants to make a really big impact with an author visit in terms of boosting reading, then there are two ways to do it:

  1. Do some prep ahead of the visit – ideas here.
  2. Promote the book signing – the more children who buy a book, the more reading at home, the more benefit.

Here’s how to promote a book signing effectively:

  • Ensure everyone knows when the author visit is and that signed books will be available, including teachers, children and parents/carers.
  • Send book flyers home with a covering letter (I supply flyers for my author visits)
  • Ensure that children know that signed books are available to buy on the day only (I also supply posters for this, but it really needs teachers to be advocates)
  • Schools that have done good prep will have bought some copies of the author’s books in advance – share snippets of these pre-visit to build interest
  • Remind everyone to bring money, especially the day before the visit.

Finally, there’s just one more thing to clarify. I did hear about one school who refused a book signing on the basis it was a ‘Just about making money’. Well, being an author is a job and like everyone else we have bills to pay. That’s why I don’t do free visits. It’s how I earn a living. 

I supply my own copies of my books because it helps me earn a living. It is incredibly hard to survive as a full-time writer in C21 Britain. Publishers don’t pay much and royalties from books sold in shops and online are often pitifully small. Recently I received a royalty statement which showed that one of my most popular titles had sold 9,200 copies in the USA in 6 months. That would be great except my share was 13p per copy for a £9.99 hardback.

Authors receive similarly tiny amounts from Amazon purchases. That is why I supply my own copies of my books for school visit signings. I actually make £2-3 per copy instead of 13p. It does not make me rich, it helps pay the gas bill.

I also have to splash out hundreds of pounds buying the books in advance, storing them at home and hoping some children will buy them. Here’s what my study currently looks like:

Thank you for reading this! 

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