1. Make an effort to keep expenses low. Recently I had the choice of driving, flying, or taking a train to a university conference where I was a speaker. Knowing that the conference was on a tight budget, I chose to drive, which saved at least $250 for the university. They reimbursed me in the loveliest way: with a carload of gardenias to take back home. (These were procured by a librarian’s husband, who works in the nursery business; schools, use your community connections!)
2. Engage the specialists. I love it when the art teacher happens to be crazy about “junk art” and uses THE DUMPSTER DIVER, or the P.E. teacher does yoga and is happy to read the poems in TWIST: Yoga Poems. If you have books that might appeal to certain specialists, let them know!
3. Involve the public library. I’m happy when I can help solidify great relationships between schools and their local libraries. I remember one school visit where about a hundred kids followed me from their school to the local library for a continuation of a writing workshop.
4. Reach out to teachers, librarians, and parent coordinators at places you visited in the past. A significant number of my school visits are “repeat business”–usually 5 or 6 years after my first visit, once the kids I met during my first visit have graduated. Many of those repeat visits came about because I sent a “hello email” reconnecting and letting my school contacts know about my new books.
5. Let yourself improvise, experiment, and have fun. While I admire authors who have a super-smooth presentation, some of my best moments have been the result of improvising, letting myself riff on a topic and come up with a new observation or example. If I can keep my presentations fresh for myself, they’ll be fresher for my student-audiences, too.
Janet Wong is the author of more than two dozen books for children and teens. She has been honored with the Claremont Stone Center Recognition of Merit, the IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, and her appointment to the NCTE Commission on Literature, the NCTE poetry award committee, and the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society committee. A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, Wong has performed at the White House and has been featured on CNN, Fine Living’s Radical Sabbatical, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.