Just a (Writer) Thing

Was reading a piece in the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators Bulletin (November/December 2014 edition). It’s called The Truth about School Visits: Tips for Handling Donation Requests by Alexis O’Neill. It’s not available online, not that I could find, so I hope the author won’t mind me quoting somewhat liberally.

“As children’s authors we’re wired to give,” O’Neill writes. “It feels good when we help a school or organization…

“But authors and illustrators earn a significant portion of their income from paid appearances…

“When schools expect authors to do school visits for free, then authors struggle to sustain a living as book creators.”

O’Neill suggests that, as requests come, we need to ask ourselves several questions including how much time the appearance will take away from our writing (and, if you’re a freelance writer, I might add, from the hustle), consider the expense involved and basically if you can afford to eat that expense at the time of the request, is the request reasonable (is it an in-and-out maybe or do they expect workshop time that may eat up a few hours, not counting prep time), is it a cause you support and can afford to give to. Then, he said, you set guidelines. He quoted one writer as saying, “I always charge schools something – even if it’s $50 for gas. I do two or three of these greatly-reduced school visits a year, and I choose who gets them based on how the situation moves me. I only schedule them when it’s convenient for me and I do keep the number to three, max.”

Some reading this will dismiss this as cold; it’s not. It’s practical. Even as someone who strongly believes in volunteerism, someone who has given more donated hours than I can count over time, I had to get real with myself and say no to the things I could no longer do – including some school visits. Of course, depending on your location it may also be impractical to expect schools to pay even for gas.

The article also suggests‘trade’ conditions such as ensuring that the school library buys a copy, preferably copies, of your book (again tricky if the school doesn’t even have or is just trying to build a school library), or getting the school to participate – through online promotions and flyers – in promoting the visit and by extension your book.

Because it assumes (not necessarily incorrectly) that we, writers, are wusses when it comes to saying no, it suggests that authors with the means to do so have booking agents and/or managers to manage such requests. And, there are authors like one referenced in the article, who like many of us doesn’t have such a thing but has a friend who serves as her ‘manager’. “She doesn’t mind getting the few requests mailed to her home a year. She hands them over to me and I respond and sign her name…This way, I can truly pick and choose without the guilt.” I’m going to assume she doesn’t have people emailing her or facebooking her directly with requests. As for the in-person requests, they can be the most awkward of all. “I just say ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do that anymore.’ End of discussion. No excuses. No regrets.”

Wow. I haven’t quite mastered the “no excuses…no regrets” bit. Instead I plot ways that I can find a way to give, because, back to the beginning, it does feel good to help when we can (and if we’re being honest, there’s a promotional aspect as well, an opportunity to create awareness about our books I.e. our products and our services I.e. workshops etc). On the point of finding ways to create the opportunity you’d like to see and be a part of, I think back to the writing workshop I did in 2013 and how I asked businesses to sponsor participants so that the young people who were genuinely interested wouldn’t find themselves unable to do so due to lack of funds. My most recent stream of workshops had one business coming forward to sponsor one of the participants, their initiative not my request. Something like that might work for future school visits, if there was such a business or businesses so inclined. Because I have to say it felt really good being able to get out there and do school stops again earlier this year; I hope to do more. I hope to be able to do more.

School stop.

School stop.

But I also think more than one-off visits are needed, I do feel that in-school writing workshops would be beneficial to our students (especially when I consider that I’ve had at least one teacher reach out to me recently for tips on teaching narrative writing to his/her students); it’s one of the reasons it’s on my Jhohadli Writing Project menu of options.

Anyway, I share things of interest when I read them, here, on Wadadli Pen, on facebook, the O’Neill article is a good reminder to give where we can but to remember that we can only give so much, what we do not only has value, it also costs. I appreciated it, too, for, among other things, highlighting that it’s not a just-us thing, but, wherever you are, if you’re a working writer, just a thing…one of the many things we have to consider.

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