Planning a virtual author visit?

Author visits can be one of the most effective ways to encourage children to read for pleasure. But with assemblies banned, children in clusters and no outside speakers allowed, how will schools manage author events this autumn and beyond?

We know that children's reading traditionally takes a dip over the summer, so how will several months of online learning have affected their reading skills? For thousands of children, reading for pleasure is likely to have taken a nosedive.

With 'catch up' funding available from governments to support children on their return to school, author events might be one of the ways you want to spend it in encouraging children back into books.

Many schools are already booking live author events, but the uncertainties around COVID-19 and second waves are making planning difficult. Virtual author events are a good contingency plan, and it's well worth researching what your favourite authors are offering.

Trevor Wilson of author agency Authors Abroad said, "We have asked all of our vast network of authors, poets, illustrators, storytellers etc to prepare virtual visit options until we get back to something resembling normality and they can visit schools in person."

ReadingZone has been finding out what is available in terms of virtual author visits, and why you might want to consider organising your own. While nothing beats having 'real live authors' in schools, virtual events bring their own benefits.

Virtual events can offer:

- easier timetabling

- more opportunities for planning to get the most from your author event, pre- and post-event

- a variety of online options for an event that will suit your school / classroom / cluster

- access to authors you might not meet otherwise - international authors or those who are in high demand

- virtual events can be a lot cheaper as schools won't have to pay travel costs, so they are more accessible, and the event itself might cost less than a live event / workshop.

For schools that have not previously run author events, an online event could be an affordable way to trial an author event with your children.

Audience sizes:

While large assembly-style events might not be possible, virtual events can still cover a whole year group, a class size or one-on-one sessions. They can be for an hour session or spread out throughout the day, with follow-up events or video sometimes available over several lessons.


Costs can vary from GBP 80 per hour to approx GBP 200 per hour, and authors can work with large groups or individual bubbles or mentor smaller groups. Visits can be conducted via Zoom or Microsoft Team - or even YouTube. Books can also be pre-ordered and signed before or after the virtual visit.

Creative online experiences:

So are schools booking in authors? "It has been surprisingly busy with schools requesting author visits - some are still going ahead with autumn visits and some are asking for virtual visits," says Wilson. "Most seem fairly optimistic that come January we should be almost back to normal."

The cancellation of author events, festivals and tours during the pandemic has been devastating for authors' income, author Candy Gourlay reminds us. "Most authors make their living from paid speaking engagements such as keynotes, panels, festival appearances and, crucially for children's authors, school visits. The advent of Lockdown resulted in the cancellation of 28 bookings for me."

While authors keenly anticipate a time when they can return to schools, for now, they are being extraordinarily creative in developing online events that will work well for schools and other settings.

Gourlay, who has created virtual events for her new non-fiction book about explorer Ferdinand Magellan, says, "My school visits are performances, very energetic and interactive but I just can't see it happening via Zoom and a powerpoint. I love making videos so I decided to create a 20 minute video presentation. Now, talking heads on video are really hard to watch, especially if you are a child. So my video incorporates excerpts from movies, cartoons by Tom Knight, a song and quizzes."

With her new book - Dark Blue Rising - also launched during Lockdown, Teri Terry was similarly forced to jump into the virtual world. After looking at a range of options, Terry decided the safest option was to create her own website. "For each event I created a password protected page on my website. Each page contained a series of short videos and comment boxes, where students could type in answers to questions I asked." She also fed back to their questions in live Q&A session following this format. The feedback from schools has been "overwhelmingly positive", engaging more reticent students, too, she adds.

"These are early days for virtual events," said author and poet Michaela Morgan, "but if they are organised properly, they could be as good or in some cases better for schools than live events because of the way they can be managed. For live events, schools have to plan their timetables around the author visit but with online material, the event can be run at a time that suits individual teachers, and they can embed it more easily it into their classroom work."

Virtual event options:

- An author video or live chat, introducing the children to the author and book, plus a reading

- Filmed or live Q&A with pre-prepared questions from the children

- Recorded workshops with suggestions for follow-up activities

- Online follow-up sessions with authors once children have created work from the event

Here are some things to consider when you're arranging your virtual author visit:

- Do you want your online event to be live, or to have pre-recorded footage from the author - or a combination of the two?

- What platform will you be sharing the event with your children? Check the author has the know-how

- Ask what the virtual event itself will entail and if there will be an opportunity for children to engage with the author - perhaps sending questions in advance, or a follow-up live Q&A (there may be extra charges for this)

- Find out if material is available for follow-up activities, and if there is a way for the author to respond to this in a further, paid-for online event

- Do you want to organise book sales with the author for signed copies before or after the event?

Here is a taste of what authors are offering online - and remember, once the children have 'met' the author online, how about bringing the author back for a 'live' event to follow up, when actual visits become possible once again?

AUTHORS' VIRTUAL VISITS (in alphabetical order)

CHRIS BRADFORD (Samurai / Bodyguard series)

- Offers an interactive package including a Skype author event

- Plus a dedicated website where teachers can access a book trailer, a reading and a challenge for either the Samurai or Bodyguard series. The Teacher's Pack includes material for about five lessons to follow up from the online event.

"During the Skype event I introduce myself, to the research I do for my books and the facts behind them, and show them things like my samurai sword, and I respond to the children's pre-prepared questions, to help keep them engaged. I can work with a small group but I've also worked with up to 300 children. A class size is perfect. My whole aim is to get children reading and to have books in their hands."

Chris offers a free virtual event (plus online resources) with the purchase of a class set of 30 signed books and posters GBP 250; or a virtual event only, for GBP 175. / @YoungSamurai

KARL NOVA (poet)

- I can give a straight talk which involves storytelling, sharing poetry from my book Rhythm And Poetry, a workshop with writing exercises I have created, get them share what they have done, a follow up event to monitor progress and offer tips on how to improve.

- I have done virtual live events that have been broadcast across different schools all at once, I have done more intimate zoom sessions with about 30 students. I have done pre-recorded straight talk/performance sessions for festivals that last 30 mins and have been used in a wide range of places with different numbers of students. I guess I can adapt my presentation to whatever number the schools sees fit.

"A virtual visit gets students excited and open to engage in what I have to offer through performing poetry, sharing writing tips and answering the questions they have about being the kind of author I am."

Events organised by Authors Abroad, @KarlNova

KATHRYN EVANS (More of Me / Beauty Sleep)

- A range of online events available, from rentable videos to workshops to live online talks and question and answer sessions. Student numbers can vary from a hall full of teenagers to a small number of students in a classroom via individual tablets.

- A rentable workshop is viewable on Kathryn's website, or it can be bought and downloaded. Free worksheets and a teacher's guide are available.

- Over the summer, Kathryn is also offering workshops to individuals - GBP 12 for a 90 minute workshop - with free places to disadvantaged children.

"Nothing beats a living breathing author visit but I can still deliver engaging inspiring content, and I can sign and dedicate books and get them delivered to schools. Author visits encourage reading for pleasure, debate about subject matter and can really help with writing skills."

Costs for Kathryn's events start at GBP 50 to rent a video for three days, or GBP 200 to buy it. Live events start at GBP 60 for a 30/40 minute workshop. / @KathrynEvansInk

DAN FREEDMAN (Jamie Johnson)

- Offers a 40 minutes online event, talking about his journey from being a reluctant reader and writer, to being a football journalist, through to writing the Jamie Johnson series and explaining how the TV show came about and then the origins and inspirations behind my latest book, Unstoppable, followed by questions from the pupils.

- Follow-up events are available

"The aim is to make the session fun and accessible. We want the pupils to go away feeling as though they have had good access to an author and understanding that even if they are finding reading and writing tough at the moment, that that is ok and things can change - especially if you have a passion for something. That passion can be a platform to achieve your goals. Pupils should feel the session was fun, inspirational and, hopefully with the mention of the famous names and TV show, cool too. The sessions should also be a springboard for the pupils to get into reading themselves as books being delivered to the school are part of the deal."

There are two event options: GBP 150 includes 30 copies of Jamie Johnson: Born To Play (KS2) / GBP 195 - includes 30 copies of Unstoppable (KS3) (Books and delivery included in the price) / @DanFreedman99

CANDY GOURLAY (Bone Talk / Ferdinand Magellan)

- 20 minute video presentation, including excerpts from films, cartoons by illustrator Tom Knight, a song and quizzes.

- This includes a free teaching guide that offers interesting ideas on how to frame the narrative.

Gourlay's YA book Bone Talk was shortlisted for the Carnegie and the Costa Book Award. This summer and autumn, she is running online events for her new MG book, a non fiction middle grade biography of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan - who 'discovered' Gourlay's native Philippines - in which she says she "worked hard to decolonize a narrative that has created much grief over the representation of Filipinos".

The video can be rented for 72 hours for GBP 60 or schools can purchase the video for GBP 150 - substantially less than the cost of a school visit. / @candygourlay


- Online events offered via Skype, which work best with smaller groups - a class at a time, rather than a whole school

- Content can vary but can include an author talk with activities; a writing workshop setting writing activities is also available, or Jennifer can just chat and answer questions. These talks are best suited where the class has been reading one of her books, as it allows a more interactive Q&A event and a more exciting reading experience.

Jennifer's online event is GBP 50 for a 45 minute Skype event, making it accessible to most schools. / @JenniferKillick

MICHAELA MORGAN (poet / author - fiction, non-fiction and picture books)

- Offers a professionally-filmed, pre-recorded event to schools, with a workshop element

- plus separate footage of Michaela answering children's questions, to personalise the event for the school

"The school might want to watch the video on one day, and to work for half an hour with me the following day, to follow up on the children's work from the event so I can give them some feedback; this is the advantage of working online since it's not possible to give this kind of feedback during live events. I can work across poetry, fiction, non-fiction and picture books"

Michaela's pre-recorded event costs around GBP 100, with a follow-up online session also GBP 100. / @MichaelamorganM


- A widely published poet, performer, entertainer and educator and recipient of the Laugh Out Loud Book Award in 2020.

- Offers a fun, engaging and interactive poetry sessions via any online platform. A typical session might involve a poetry performance, followed by a quick writing exercise and a Q&A session. Each of these can also be offered individually, and to any group size.

- Costs are typically GBP 100 for a 45 minute session; negotiable depending on length and number of sessions, and the individual circumstances of the school. / @joshuaseigal

TERRY TERI (Dark Blue Rising)

- A password-protected website is available with a series of short videos - Teri's author talk in manageable chunks (including talking about her new book, a reading, advice for writers, how she got published etc), with comment boxes, where students can type in answers to questions (eg what a story is about from its cover and trailer; what they thought would happen next after she does a reading), plus optional comment boxes to ask Teri questions to which she responds during the second half of the hour long event.

- As well as a personalised video addressed to the school taking part, Teri can also video responses to submitted questions from each school, or a live Q&A on a school-run webinar such as Zoom.

- The format allows students to take part remotely; or remotely with the teacher sharing the page on a school-run webinar; or in school with every student on a computer. It could also be done in a classroom with a teacher projecting the screen.

"The feedback [from schools] was overwhelmingly positive. Several librarians commented that many students who would be too reticent to take part in a live event were really engaged with answering and asking questions. That they were highly engaged and enthusiastic was obvious to me from the flood of responses - luckily I can touch type at speed!"

Both the talk and workshop can be run as a single event (starting at GBP 50 plus VAT) or multiple events over the course of a week (starting at GBP 150 plus VAT), with extra costs for comment boxes, video of responses to students' questions, even with a webinar Q&A run by the school (GBP 100 plus VAT). @TeriTerryWrites

28/07/2020Planning a virtual author visit?

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