Before You Sign | Virtual Author Visits

19 June 2019 Before

As an author with a global readership, you may receive the occasional request from schools, universities, festivals and other organisations to participate in a live interview or be booked for an appearance via a live-streaming platform such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or Google Hangouts. Before you agree a commission or offer some ‘author time’, it’s worth bearing the following in mind.

Is it appropriate?

Virtual visits are usually used as an alternative offer for organisations that are remote, overseas or have time or funding issues. Whilst they are undoubtedly convenient, they are not comparable to an actual physical appearance and will not offer the audience the same inspiration and engagement. They can have technology issues (buffering, poor resolution) and certain forms of audience engagement – e.g. activities, multiple responses, call and response etc, may not work well. 

What can I expect?

You could feasibly arrange anything from individual mentoring to engagement with a number of schools (via linked broadcasts) to a concert-hall of readers. Our Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Group (CWIG) authors report that bookings tend to be one-offs for short 15-30 minute interactive sessions for small group work of 10-30 pupils; or up to an hour for larger, older audiences.

What fee should I expect?

Authors should not be shy of charging – these talks make the same use of your professional time and reputation, and include the same high expectation of performance. Assuming the session is conducted from your home you are saved the time spent travelling and the host is saved accommodation and travel expenses; but you will still have to prepare for the visit and spend more time in administration – arranging the booking and testing connections in advance.

You are entirely free to set your own rate, but be aware that some UK schools, unlike US schools,  will not expect to pay. In a 2019 survey of CWIG members, authors detailed a variety of rates charging 50-100% of their usual rate for a single physical appearance in a school (commonly quoted as being £150) for a 60-minute appearance. Other examples included:

  • 10-15 minutes – ‘Free’ charitable sessions consisting of a short reading and Q&A. Some authors charged an administration fee of £20-25.
  • 20 minutes – £50
  • 30 minutes – £50-90
  • 60 minutes – £75-180

See also our 2013 guide: Authors Fees Advice for School and Library Visits.

What rights are taken?

Most visits are live-streamed only, but to avoid any misunderstandings it is sensible to clarify in your booking conditions what use the host (or you) can make of the material.

If you are willing to agree an exclusive licence for further broadcasts you may wish to agree some or all of the following: all rights in his/her contribution remain with the author, which will not be edited; a digital copy will be provided; the author’s moral rights will be asserted; the recording may not be publicly broadcast, put up on YouTube or otherwise disseminated without consent; the host may make [in-house use for non-commercial educational purposes] for a fixed period of [to be agreed]; or the host can buy an annual licence for continued use of the recording [for non-commercial in-house educational use] only.

Remember, an SoA advisor is always happy to review any draft agreement. Contact us here.

Offering a visit

Preparatory arrangements:

  • You may want to only offer visits on a particular day once a month – and to post your diary online with links to buy a time-slot via PayPal. If you are not comfortable making your diary available, ask for two dates and time-slots along with full contact details of the organiser who will be coordinating the visit and will be present during the session. Add their details to your contacts list.
  • Set out your payment terms, cancellation policy and what platform you are comfortable with (Skype, Zoom etc).
  • Take into account the time difference with international bookings: 3am might sound workable far in advance, but can be gruelling on the day.
  • Specify or agree a format – e.g. talk, reading, question-and-answer – alongside a provisional time-frame.
  • Identify the full nature and size of the audience. What sort of venue? Will the video be projected or are students going to crowd around a laptop? As with in-school visits, it is worth knowing if any participant(s) has any special needs that you should be aware of.
  • Children’s writers and illustrators should specify which key stages and ages they are comfortable addressing and identify what titles the children have read and topics/themes they are working on. Insist (particularly if you offer a free or subsidised visit) that your books are available to borrow and read after the session, that the children have read at least one of your titles, and that they have prepared questions. Remember – if the school has read the book, this frees you up for a more engaging Q&A rather than delivering a set talk.
  • Make sure that the organiser understands that you need to see and hear the audience. Ideally, ambient noise should be kept to a minimum (no shouting out questions en masse!) and a microphone used.
  • Clarify whether books are to be sold around the visit. Send posters, book lists and order forms in advance. You may wish to offer a discount for bulk-buys. Send additional materials (worksheets, quizzes etc) so they arrive in time for your appearance.

On the day:

  • Check the camera and sound your end before the start and what can be seen in your background. Tidy and remove any personal items. Most authors put a bookshelf behind them and arrange their books or merchandising (plush characters etc) so that they are front-facing.
  • Check the connection in the room well in advance so there is time to resolve any glitches.
  • Agree who’s going to ask questions from the group and ascertain how near or far they have to be at the microphone to be heard.

Then enjoy it!

© Jo McCrum

For more detailed information, particularly on offering school visits and for further information on directories, databases and resources, see the Guide to Virtual Author Visits.