Published Writers' & Illustrators' Pages
by Verla Kay
A webpage devoted to the business end of being a published author.
NOTICE: Verla Kay is not a lawyer, and any information disclosed about contracts and/or negotiation of contracts on this website is from her own personal experience and/or information she has received second-hand. It does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be considered such. It is on this website for the sole purpose of alerting authors to the seriousness of signing a written contract, and so that they will realize the need to be very careful before signing their "rights" away. Anyone needing expert advice on legal issues should consult a good children's book agent or a contract lawyer.
Your contract is one of the most important things about being a published author. What is in it can "make or break you" as an author. It can make your author's life wonderful and rich, full of happy experiences, or it can be a disaster waiting to attack -- and unless you have an agent to negotiate it for you, only YOU can determine what kind of experience yours will be. There is a lot more to a contract than just the "advance" and "royalties" and often, it's those other clauses in your contract that will determine what kind of publishing experience you will have.
There are many ways to make sure you are getting the best deal for you, and there is no one right way. I found one particular book on contract negotiations to be totally indispensable to me and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Here are my notes from the SCBWI National Conference in 1999, Things to Watch for in Contracts.
These are the steps Verla Kay took in Negotiating her own contract.
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School Visits and Author Talks
Many authors make the bulk of their income doing School Visits and Author Talks. Once you become an accomplished speaker (and believe me, you *can* become accomplished through practice and determination,) you may find it is one of the most enjoyable things about being an author.
It's important that you think long and hard about school visits and author talks, because it takes extensive planning if you're going to be a successful presenter. It's not hard. It's not terribly expensive for you. It can be wonderful and full of rewards. You do need to plan for your success, though. It doesn't necessarily just "come" with the position of being an author.
If you are very lucky, your publisher will decide to send you out on "tour." Usually this comes only to authors with many extremely successful books in print, or to award-winning authors. I can't give you any information about publisher tours, because I've never had the privilage (yet!) of going on one. The information I can share with you is what you, the author, can do on your own to get started doing school visits and author talks.
Unless you are already an accomplished speaker and have extensive speaking experience, (and most teachers are already accomplished in both of these areas!) you may wish to take a speech class and/or acting classes through your local schools. While you can get the experience you need "on the job" while doing author talks, you may find it much easier if you have some solid training in "performing" in front of people first. Many adult education classes and/or junior colleges have wonderful courses available for a minimal amount of money and they will pay for themselves almost immediately, as soon as you start earning money with speaking engagements.
Schools and conferences are always looking for accomplished presenters. Once you have gained a reputation as an accomplished speaker, you will begin to receive more offers than you want to accept. Be sure to decide early on how much you want to speak, and don't say, "Yes," to more than you can (or want) to handle! Being a speaking author is wonderful *if* you keep it to a level that is enjoyable for you.
The people hiring you to speak want someone that can bring the writing life "alive" to their attendees. You can only do that if you are excited yourself about what you are doing. It doesn't matter whether you have a vibrant, dynamic personality or are a quiet reserved person, your love of writing will shine through your presentation as long as you aren't "burnt out" or too tired to be excited inside yourself about what you are doing.
There are some great books out that will help you in your efforts to arrange and hold great school visits. One of the best I've seen is Terrific Connections, by Toni Buzzeo.
There are as many ways to arrange a successful school visit as there are authors. There are many things schools and authors need to consider when arranging for school visits.
It is highly recommended that you have a written contract/agreement form for every single author talk you plan. A written contract will assure that both you and the school or conference know exactly what you are supposed to do, when you are to do it, and how much you are to do. It will assure both of you that all financial arrangements are satisfactory, and that any necessary equipment for your presentation will be in place when you arrive.
Having everything spelled out in written form avoids many misunderstandings. When you arrive, you will know you are going to give 3 or 4 or 5 presentations for the day. If the school expects you to do extra presentations, you simply whip out your copy of the agreement (I always take it with me) and say," Oh, I'm terribly sorry. I was only contracted to do X number of talks today. See?" It works. You know how many bookmarks you need to have with you (if you give them out) because you know how many children/people will be attending each session. You know what time the sessions will be and when you will have time for bathroom breaks. You know what kind of talks they are expecting (about the author, how a book is created, how you did your research, etc.) so they will get exactly what they want. You know the ages of the children at school visits, so you can plan your talks to be more active (for the younger children) or more serious (for the oldest grades.) You know how much you are going to be paid for the day, whether they are paying for travel expenses, meals, hotels, etc. When you get done, there are no unpleasant surprises due to misunderstandings, because everything is in writing and has been signed by both you and the school or conference people.
Don't end up like one poor author who did three days of talks and received nothing but a bag of cookies for payment at the end of the third day! (Toni Buzzeo, one of the authors of the Terrific Connections book told me about this.) That author's agreement was verbal. I'd be willing to bet it was also the last time that author didn't have a written agreement before she did an author talk!
Here is a sample agreement form, similar to the one I use for my talks. I recommend that you copy it and make any necessary changes in it to "mold" it into an agreement that fits you and your presentations, and then use it for all of your future talks.
Find out what other authors are doing. Check out Verla Kay's Author Talks pages for photos of her "in action" doing author talks and schools visits. Visit other author pages on the web and do the same thing with their websites. Read the applicable workshops on this website about promotion and school visits. Go to conferences and watch other authors doing presentations, and find out when your local schools are bringing authors in to talk to the children. Volunteer to help out with their author day and you will get a "ring-side seat" to see how other authors give presentations. Every one is different! Each author will have their own personal way of relating to the children, of giving their presentation. See what they are doing that you like (and don't like!) and taylor your own presentations to fit your books, your personality, your wants and needs.
Always remember, being a "real" author is a business, not a hobby! Doing author talks and school visits can be both fun and profitable, but it's also part of your business. If you can remember that, you will find it easy to price your services with a value that is reasonable, fair, and worthy of your services. Remember you should never feel "guilty" about charging for your presentations. Each minute you spend at a presentation talking to people is time spent away from your real occupation - writing. And for every minute you are talking to groups, there are many (sometimes MANY) hours of preparation "behind the scenes." It takes time to prepare a good presentation. Time to assemble the necessary materials to make your presentation exceptionally good, and time to travel to and from the place where you are doing the presentation. All of that is time taken away from your writing and it can and should be paid for by the people requesting your services. You wouldn't expect a lawyer, a doctor, or any other professional person to give away their services for free; neither should you be expected to give yours away for little or nothing.
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There are some excellent transcripts on promotion posted on this website. Be sure to read them, as they are full of wonderful, helpful information on promoting your books and yourself.
Q. Will I be expected to promote my own book even if I have a publisher?
A. While your publisher probably won't *expect* you to do your own promotion, there is no one more concerned with the fate of your book than the author and/or illustrator of it. You are, therefore, the best person to promote your book and should do everything in your power to help it sell and stay in print. Also, it's been my experience that the more you do to promote your book, the more the publisher is willing to do for you. It's like a wheel that goes around and around. The faster it goes, the more speed it picks up and the faster it goes. It gains momentum as it turns, and so will you, as you promote your books.
Q. What kinds of promotion are most effective for an author?
A. That's a great question! Anything you can do to get yourself and your book "noticed" by the public is going to help it. Doing school visits and author talks at conferences are great ways to "get the word out" about your books. Attending Library Association conferences, and Regional and State Reading Conferences (and offering to speak at them) is another excellent way to make people aware of you and your books. Getting on local radio and TV can be fun, helpful, and a very exciting experience for you.
Q. What about Bookstore Signings? Are they worth the time and money it takes to do them?
A. Booksignings at bookstores aren't usually extremely effective unless you are a big name author or are well-known in the community where you are doing the signing. I've found most bookstore booksignings that are held in conjunction with a regular story hour for children are the most successful ones for relatively "unknown" authors. For the most part, I shy away from all but the very local ones unless I'm specifically solicited for one through my publisher or another major source. (And even then, they usually aren't very successful. Now if I changed my name to J.K. Rowlings.... Ha, Ha, Ha! Then I would most likely have wonderfully successful signings.)
Q. How can I get on local TV or radio?
A. Call your local stations and ask if they have a local talk show that features artists in the area. Some of them have spots where they showcase local talent and they might be thrilled to discover there's an unknown author in their midst that they can feature. Also, think about doing a booksigning fundraiser for your local library, school, or other institution. Some excellent coverage on local radio and TV can come from donating your time and money (from the sales of your books) to a worthy cause. If you want to do this, be sure to tell your publisher what you are doing and ask if they would like to donate some of your books to the cause. They might surprise you with the number of books they are willing to give you for your fundraiser effort.
Q. What about mailing out brochures and/or flyers? Is this cost effective?
A. Unless you have an established list of names of people that have asked for information on your next book, your money might well be better spent in making up flyers and brochures to hand out at conferences and places where you go and have generated interest in you and your books. Colored postcards with your book cover featured on them can sometimes be a good thing as they are a little cheaper to mail out and make good advertising.
Q. Is there a place to get inexpensive color postcards?
A. Yes. Go to the Modern Postcard website and check out their current rates and what they offer. Last time I checked, they did a whopping 500 full-color (excellent quality) postcards (4-1/2 by 6 inches) for about $95. (Modern Postcard - 800 959-8365 - Carlsbad, California)
Q. Do I HAVE to promote my own books?
A. No, but if you want them to stay in print, you may need to.
Q. Will I see immediate results from my promotion efforts?
A. Not necessarily. I find I often "reap the rewards" for promotion efforts after two or three years. A very unimpressive booksigning I did in a neighboring state at a bookstore had only three people show up, and only one person bought a book. But two years later I was contacted by one of those three people and asked to come and do a paid author talk at a conference. Was it worth it? I think so, even if it did take two years for it to "pay off."
Your goal with promotion is to keep your book in print for many long and happy years. Any time you are in the public eye, and making people aware of you and your books, it can only help you. It's like an advertising campaign. You see something advertised, but until it becomes "familiar" to you, you most likely won't rush out and buy the product. But if you see it advertised over and over and over again, eventually, you decide to try it out. You and your books are the same way. Most people won't get excited about you until you have become familiar to them. Keep your name "out there" and you will soon be a "household word." Promotion pays. Not necessarily today, but if you keep plugging away at it, and keep promoting, eventually you will reap the rewards from your efforts. And keeping your book in print is a wonderful reward! You worked too hard and it took too long for you to get that book into print. You don't want to see it come out, then quietly fade into nothingness almost as fast as it was published. You want your book to stay in print. Promotion is the key to that goal. Don't be afraid to promote your books and yourself. Remember, this is a business, and just like any other business, it will wither and die unless people know it is there, so get out there and promote your new book! Keep it alive and well. You are excited about it, you know it's a wonderful book, share that excitement with everyone you come in contact with. Promotion is a Win-Win situation. You share your love of your new book with others, and they get the thrill of discovering how wonderful it is for themselves. So get out there and PROMOTE your book! You're a real author, now.
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Promoting on the Internet - Coming Soon!
Q. Do I need an agent? How do I find one?
A. You do not "need" an agent to sell a children's book. If you "want" one, that's an entirely different story. But I highly recommend that you do a lot of research first about agents, what they can do for you and what you want and expect from one before you start looking for one. Check out the Writer's Tips page and the Transcripts page of this website for more detailed information about agents. If you have decided that you really want one, then I recommend getting the list of children's agents from SCBWI and using it as the basis of your search. There are numerous agents on their list and all are reputable and will handle children's books.
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Resources for Published Writers
Helpful Books Recommended by Verla Kay
Books Pertaining to Being a Successful Author
Time Management for Writers by Schwarz
For any author who finds it difficult to get the time necessary to do everything, this book is wonderful. It will inspire you and open your eyes to just how much you really CAN accomplish. A great book for people looking to improve themselves and their writing lifestyle.
The Business of Writing for Children by Aaron Shepard
A well-rounded book on the business end of being a published author. Information ranges from writing a story to promoting it after it has been published.
A Book to Guide You Through Negotiations for Book Contracts, Photo Permissions, Collaboration Agreements, etc.
Business & Legal Forms for Authors & Self-Publishers by Tad Crawford
This book gives you sample publishing and agency contracts. It not only explains each clause in the contracts, but also gives negotiation check-lists which I personally found indispensable when negotiating my own first contracts. Even if you have an agent, this book will help you to understand what your contract means to you, and what rights you have -- and do NOT have!
Back to Contracts
Books to Help You Promote Your Books
An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion by Susan Salzman Raab
Special Note: The author of this book is the president of Raab Associates, an agency specializing in promoting children's books
A small, but extremely helpful book detailing many effective ways for authors to market, promote, and publicize children's books. There are sample formats for promotional materials, as well as lists of organizations, contacts, and source materials to assist in promotional efforts.
How to Promote Your Children's Book on a Shoestring by Nancy Bentley & Donna W. Guthrie
An essential guide for promoting your books. Filled with ideas on how to stretch your advertising budget. This book can be ordered through the http://www.write4kids.com website.
How to Promote Your Children's Book by Evelyn Gallardo
Anything not covered in How to Promote... on a Shoestring is in this book. Between the two books, I found everything I needed for my promotional needs. I highly recommend both of these books.
A Book to Help You Plan and Give Dynamic, Wonderful School Visits and Author Talks
Terrific Connections by Toni Buzzeo & Jane Kurtz
An absolutely essential guide for anyone planning to do author talks - especially school visits. It covers every aspect necessary to both the school and the author for having a successful school visit. By knowing ahead of time what to expect, and how to "plan" for successful school visits, you can avoid disasters and disappointments and have wonderful experiences - both for you, and for the schools that you visit.
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