Dear teachers and librarians,
Recently, one of my writer LinkedIn groups has been discussing school visits and doing them for free.
Most of them on this list say they don't mind doing the occasional free visit for a local school or as a favour to a friend. Really. And as a teacher-librarian I have benefited from some of these myself, usually from new writer friends wanting the practice, but also from the occasional big name writer - and have appreciated them.
And this is the thing: lack of appreciation. When I have had a free visit - always offered, never requested, because I 'd never do that, but when someone offers I won't say no - I have thought the least I could do was promote the author via the local paper if possible, provide a great lunch and a thank you gift. I have asked them whether they would prefer just a lunchtime visit with a small group or a full scale talk to a year level. They may bring books for sale and because most of our students can't afford it, I buy some from my own pocket for prizes and some for the library. Actually, I make sure the library has some before the visit and that at least a few kids have read them and can ask questions. I have a standing offer of book launches; I would pay for the nibbles myself and get in the papers.
But some of the writers and artists on this list had horror stories. One was of being left with a class to get on with it, with not so much as a thank you and, because this was a festival, there was a bookseller stall and none of that author's books on it, despite her having given the information well in advance. A festival suggests a school that could well and truly have afforded to pay - and probably did pay the other speakers, but this was a favour to a parent friend. Clearly, that school didn't value what they hadn't paid for.
An illustrator who did a free visit gave the school her sketches and was told afterwards that they would sell them and pay their next guest with the proceeds!
This is a controversial subject, on which full time writers blog frequently, usually against any freebies, and I don't blame them, but that isn't what this post is about.
Really, you should be paying, and paying well. If my school hadn't cut my budget in half, to the equivalent of another school's petty cash, I would never accept the free visit offers. But they're usually from friends and I can't help thinking how much my students would love it and I yield to temptation. This is their living and you wouldn't ask a plumber to come and fix your sink for free, would you? (Well, one of the teacher librarians at my school is a qualified electrician who has often been asked to do maintenance work, but still...)
But if your local writer or artist knows your school can't afford to pay much and offers to help you out, the least you can do is appreciate what they've done. Don't leave the visit arrangements to someone else. Do make sure that your guest feels like a star for the length of the visit. Promote them to the press - and for heaven's sake feed them!