I recently began doing Skype author visits. These are virtual school visits done via a Webcam. I have done one and it was a fun and rewarding experience. Here I will share my experience and how to get started. (Note: when I say author, that can also man author-illustrator or illustrator.)
First of all, you need a Skype account. You also need a computer that has a Webcam and microphone. If your computer doesn’t have these, you can buy them. You don’t need headphones or a mic other than the one that’s built into your computer. You don’t need special lighting, but you should be in a well-lit, quiet place when you do a visit. Obviously, you need a fast, reliable Internet connection, and a computer that can handle Skype video (most can). You don’t need the Skype premium account. You can use the free one. You can’t do fancy things like split screens in the free one, but that’s OK. You can sign up for the Skype account on Skype.com.
The Skype an Author Network is at http://skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com. It used to be called the Wet Paint wiki, but is now Wiki Foundry. It’s free, has no ads, and is run by a librarian and an author. What’s not to like? Take a look around at what other authors and illustrators are doing. Logging in and finding and editing your page can take a little getting used to, but once you do it you will realize it’s very simple.
You can post text, links and photos on your author page, and videos in their video gallery. Videos are particularly helpful to show to teachers. Testimonials from teachers and principals would help you get work. If you are just starting out, try doing some volunteer Skype or in-person visits to get recommendations. Sometimes a teacher will have kids write thank- you letters. These are wonderful keepsakes.
Linked In is another good place to promote your Skype author visits.
Here is my page on Skype an Author. As you can see, it has my basic info and images to my books. I may update it. I have had several inquiries so far.
Many authors and illustrators, including myself, offer a free short visit, such as 15 or 20 minutes, and charge for a longer one. You can set prices for varying lengths of visits. If you have NO experience in teaching or author visits, you might want to do some volunteer or low-cost Skype visits. Spread the word. You can use the SCBWI speakers bureau on their site (if you’re a member), and of course to schools via your own network, blog, and social media.
My First Visit
I did my first visit as a volunteer for Read Across America. Someone from the school contacted me via Skype an Author. When I signed on it was a great moment to see all those little faces in the computer screen, and they could actually see me! Still feels futuristic to me. I was a bit nervous the night before and made sure to dress as I would have for a regular school visit. Except from the waist down… then, I could keep my PJ bottoms on if I had wanted. (If that’s not a reason to do Skype author visits, I don’t know what is!)
The school sent me their Skype name ahead of time and I called them at the planned time. I read my book Ralphie and the Swamp Baby to them. They had read it and were ready with questions. The teachers facilitated. It wasn’t a long visit and went very quickly. It was a lot of fun. It would have been great to record the visit, but I could not find free or low-cost software to do so. If you have a video camera set up or someone who could film you and your screen that’s one way to record it. I don’t feel I need to record the visits; I “recorded” it in my mind’s eye and it’s a fun memory. I e-mailed them a PDF project related to my book for them to do after, as the teacher had already prepared them with reading the book before the visit. I would like to make more use of these assignments. A teacher’s guide to your book is a helpful resource.
It would be harder to do an art or writing project with the kids on Skype than it is in person. But there is always a creative solution. On my Skype an Author Network page, I mention that I could do a two-part visit where I read to the kids and give them an assignment, then in the next visit I help them present it.
I happened to see this post on children’s author Margot Finke’s blog from just yesterday. Here she describes an international Skype author visit. I like that she finishes with a song. http://hookkidsonreading.blogspot.com/2013/10/skyping-in-new-zealand-with-perfect.html
As Skype author visits become more common, schools will integrate them more into their curriculum. They are great time savers for busy authors, and they are often money savers for schools, who won’t have to pay transportation expenses. It gives author and illustrators a great way to visit schools they might not have otherwise, and for children to interact with authors and illustrators they might not have otherwise. So it’s a win-win.
Children’s book creators are, of course, ahead of the curve with technology. I took Mark Mitchell’s amazing course, How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator, taught on a Wiggio group with live crits via AnyMeeting.
What I was most glad about was that emotional connection between author, kids, and book was still there very strongly with the Skype visit, just as it is in person. The children were clearly excited as was I. As we head into ever more highly developed technology and faster Internet connections, expect more use of live, interactive school visits.