This past week was a big one for me in terms of public events—I taught two different classes for adults who want to write for children (one of them out of town), and I did a school visit with two 5th grade classes. It’s always a big change of pace for me when I have a busy event schedule—usually, as I tell audiences, I spend many of my days alone with my cat and my computer. So weeks like this require a big shift as I draw on the extroverted energy that hopefully I’ve saved up in my energy bank during my at-home weeks.
Along with bringing along lots of energy, it’s helpful to bring the right tools and display items to make these events go more efficiently and effectively. For those of you who are still thinking ahead to doing public presentations and school visits, I thought I’d share my own packing checklist to give you an idea of what items you should plan to bring once you start hitting the road:
- Copies of your own books for show-and-tell
- Copies of books by other authors as examples of points you are going to make during a lesson
- Copies of books to sell. Not all venues allow book sales, so whether you can or should sell books is a discussion you need to have in advance with organizers. And I always encourage the venue to manage the book sales themselves—it is one way for them to cover the costs of hosting the event, and it saves me from having to deal with managing the financial side of sales at the same time I am trying to autograph books. But even when the venue tells you they will handle the book sales, you can’t always depend on the organizers to arrange to have books on hand. Sometimes book shipments are delayed or other things go wrong, or they will ask you to bring the books even though they plan to handle the sales. For example, another children’s book writer I know was scheduled to do a bookstore event this week—and she found out the day before the event that the bookseller had forgotten to order any books. Fortunately, the author had a box of them with her (she was visiting from another state, but she’s learned to BYOB through hard past experiences).
- Bookplates (blank nametag labels work well, too), for those who want to buy a book after the event but don’t have enough cash along—that way you can sign the bookplate for them
- If you are in charge of selling books yourself, a PayPal device (or something similar) to handle credit card sales, a price list, and small bills to make change when everybody shows up with $20 bills
- Sticky notes so people can write down unusual name spellings for the autograph session
- Signing pens—I like thin Sharpies for picture books that are printed on glossy paper, but I find regular pens work better when I’m signing my novel, because that is printed on different paper stock and Sharpies bleed through
- Nametags for students/participants
- Materials for any activities you plan to do with students/participants
- Pens/pencils and writing paper (you’d be amazed how many people show up for a writing class without pen and paper along)
- The correct number of class handouts based on the number of expected participants
- The correct number of promotional handouts (bookmarks, postcards, etc. for your books or other services you offer)
- Sign-up sheet or forms to gather contact information for your eNewsletter (even if you don’t yet have an eNewsletter, you will want to collect those email addresses for down the line)
- Your speaker notes
- Directions to the venue—and double check to see if there are any major road closures or delays, because even GPS doesn’t know about weekend closures
- Bottle of water
- Candy—I bring small candy treats as prizes for a game I play with students during school visits. I always buy candy labeled as peanut free, gluten free, etc., and save the packaging to show the teacher. I also bring colorful pencils for kids who need a non-candy choice. And I check with the teacher in advance to make sure it’s okay that I’m handing out candy. By the way, adults love treats too!
- A snack for myself—for one all-day school visit in a very small town, the school actually forgot I was there (they had stashed me in the music room and some students did eventually show up, but it was clear that they weren’t really prepared for my visit)! So when lunchtime came and I was on my own as far as finding food, I had to go to the office and ask if there was any place in town where I could get something to eat. The office worker basically shrugged and told me she thought they sold sandwiches at the gas station. This was an exception—most schools are VERY welcoming and often go out of their way to bring in special lunches when an author is visiting—but you just never know what you’ll find.
If you already do school visits or other author presentations, what else do you pack to ensure a successful event?