Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What I Learned About Skyping

In March, I started doing Skype Author Visits via Skype in the Classroom.  They (Skype in the Classroom) were starting an author visit program and I just happen to be on Twitter and happen to see that they were looking for authors willing do to Skype visits.  My agent had been suggesting that I get in on this, but I didn't really know how to start - so it was seredipitous that I saw that tweet that day.

Very quickly, I got many requests.  Because I was an eager little bunny, I responded YES to most of them.   Since I started in March, I've done forty-six 30-minute free Author Visits.  I've learned a few things.

1. Pace myself.  I could only learn how many author visits I could handle by trying it out.  Now I know that I need at least 2 works days with zero visits.  And on days when I do have a visit, it's really best to only have one.  I did days with 3 author visits and it ate up all my time because it's difficult to get into a project when you only have 45 minutes between visits, and they are exhausting.  I need to be smiling and engaged and high energy for the full 30 minutes.  The kids deserve it. One visit a day is fine.  I take a break from what I'm doing, slap some make-up on my face, comb my hair, clean the area visible by my laptop, and try to be charming for 30-40 minutes.  Then it's back to scowling shlub-town.  :)

2.  Have a routine. 

My usual (after some trial and error) Skype visit consists of me reading one of my books (kids choice,)  doing a 10-minute collage demo, and answering questions.

I have grown sick of reading my own books, but I have learned what kids are drawn to.  (Ahem, Ninjas.  I also got a lot of Monkey Onos.  Very few chose The Simples.  I think kids prefer a single main character on the cover as opposed to a group.  They didn't identify with The Simples immediately.)

I don't always stick to this schedule.  Sometimes a teacher will want me to speak more on writing or story structure and that's fine.  But kids do enjoy watching me make something more than 30 minutes of gabby gabberson, me thinks.

3.  Send the school something afterwards. 

I have the kids suggest an animal that I will make as a collage demonstrate.  (They pick sharks and dragons a lot!)  Then, when it's finished, I send the collage to the school.  (I also write a little thank you note on the back of it, thanking them for Skyping with me and their great questions/suggestions, anything specific.)  They're usually pretty excited to get it in the mail - which extends the experience for them - and it's just an added connection. 

Sometimes, they get so excited about learning collage that they make their own.  The children from the Liceo de Monterrey in Mexico asked me to collage Monkey Ono.  They then made some fabulous Monkey Onos of their own!

Aren't those great?!

Here are some ninjas that a class made after a Skype visit:

They key that I learned about sending the collages was how to make them COST EFFECTIVE.  For the first month, I was making larger collages and the postage ($2.50 each) was killing me.  Now I make them post-card sized, pop them in a regular card-sized envelope, and use 1 standard stamp.  SO MUCH EASIER! 

If you're not an illustrator, maybe you can send some bookmarks or stickers, or even a simply thank-you note.  Just follow up.  It's professional.

4.  Have the students work on their questions ahead of time.

When students ask questions off the top of their heads, more often than not, they're just trying to come up with something to say to me.  They might ask me something that has already been asked.  And that's fine, but when they are required to sit down and really think of a good question for an author - without the pressure of having the author right there - the questions are so much more involved and interesting.

This is my favorite part of the visit, usually.  I've been asked where I get all my crayons, how did I become so intelligent (love that one), what inspires me, why did I start writing, what my favorite books are, etc.  And if they've read Monkey Ono, they ask about my cat, Java.

When I first started doing the Skypes, I'd be talking loud in the middle of the day to my computer. Java was always very curious as to what I was doing.  She'd come in, paw at me, meow.  "Who the heck are you talking to?" she'd ask.  I'd put her on the desk and try to read to the kids as she stuck her kitty face into the camera.  The kids LOVED it!  Java always stole the show.

Nowadays, it's no big deal to her.  The thrill is gone.  If she's around, I'll pick her up so the kids can see.  But sometimes she's just not that into it.  Fame has gone to her head and she takes it for granted.  ;)

5. Organize your visits.

For me, I found it best to give each visit an index card.  I wrote the date and time, contact info, and what I was supposed to do.  Read a specific book?  Collage? or did they want me to talk about writing?

Then I posted it on a door in my office, in order of date.

This way, I could easily move the cards around, should a date be changed.  And I could simply take the card over to the computer on the date of the visit, and glance down and know who I was talking to.

Plus, I need visual reminders.  By having cards in my eye-line when I was on the computer, I could always tell quickly when I had a busy day/week/ etc.

6.  Follow up the day before and make sure you have the teacher's Skype ID.

Most of the time, everything will be fine.  But every once in awhile I'll be sitting at my desk, waiting, waiting, waiting.  If I don't have the teacher's Skype ID, I can't call them. All I can do is wait.

Once, only once, a teacher left me hanging. I waiting 15 minutes, then I logged off.  Turns out she forgot.  It's not the end of the world.  We rescheduled.  The second time there was a sub, and she left me hanging to. I waited another 15 minutes. Then I get a little irritated, because even though I am at home, I have gotten myself ready, I have readied my studio, I have pull my books out, I have gotten some collage stuff together, and I am on time.  One missed connection is totally forgivable.  Two - come on, now. 

So just try to follow-up with the teacher and confirm your time, visit duration, and contact info.  Most of the time it will be great!

7. It evens out.

30 minute Skype visits for most authors (unless you're doing very well) are usually free.  I believe it's important to make personal connections with teachers, librarians, and students and it's difficult to do.  In-person school visits are great - I get paid and schools usually sell a decent amount of my books.    Whenever I make money - that is good.  Because it may surprise people to know, unless an author is famous (J. K. Rowling) or has a best selling series (Piggie & Elephant), one does not make a lot of money at this gig.  Book sales are very important.

But in-person author visits are expensive for schools.  And there's travel.

Skype is simpler, smaller, more personal.  I don't make the cash, but maybe the school or teacher will buy one or more of my books to prepare the students. (A teacher recently sent links to my books home to all the parents, so kids who wanted to include some of my books in their summer reading could do so.  That teacher rocks!) 

Maybe that teacher will tell other teachers or librarians.  Maybe those librarians will be on committees that give awards.  You never know how small appearances are going to pay out in other ways.

I trust that what I put out there will come back to me.  The trick is knowing how to balance your appearances and promotions with your quiet, work time.  Don't make yourself miserable and crazy.  And you learn that simply by trying things and seeing where your balance is.

Now I'll rest for the summer - well, rest from Skyping - and be eager to get back to it in the fall!

Thanks so much for stopping in!


www.carolgordonekster.com said...

I love Skype visits, too. I do request that for a free Skype visit, they or their librarian buy at least one of my books. Some don't get back to me. Others, months later, say the book is in, and we schedule. I do think it's important that the children see one of your books before the visit. This helps with questions and understanding the author better, in my opinion. But it is an incredible way to stay connected with children. I wish you continued success with your visits and your work.

Jeanne E. Rogers said...

Thanks for all this information, Julie. I have wanted to do a Skype visit for some time now, but have not been able to work up the courage. You may have given me the incentive I need to get a move on! Thanks.

Sarah Lamstein said...

Well done, Julie! Thank you!!!