Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Skype Makes It Happen

My guest this week, children's author Margot Finke (who also has a manuscript critique service) talks about using Skype to make school visits across the country. 

I have always thought of reading as a Magic Carpet Ride to fun, adventure, and faraway places. I write books for kids because I want them to hop on my Magic Carpet and take a ride somewhere fun and exciting.

I have visited the schools in my district several times – but what about all the other schools in the US, and elsewhere, that it is not practical for me to visit?  And there are many schools that have never had the chance to meet an author,  discover how books are actually written, and ask the author questions.
And then it hit me . . .

All schools need is a Skype connection, a willing and dedicated teacher or librarian, and an author who loves to HOOK Kids on Reading – ME! Now for the nitty-gritty:
Places You Can Find Willing Teachers or Librarians
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and Jacket Flap are great for starters.  Check these places, as well as Yahoo, for writing list, and groups with schools, teachers or librarians.  Watch for anything that pops up on your IN box from or about teachers, schools, and libraries.  Put these all into a separate folder for later contact.
Join up with Skype and get your password and Skype name.  Then register for Skype in the Classroom.  This is where teachers go to find suitable virtual visitors to their classrooms. There you write a blurb about the Skype services you offer schools. This is my Skype Classroom page:

How to Promote Your Personal Skype Visits

You need a blog or web page that is dedicated to your Skype School Visits.  List a short bio + the titles of your books and where they can be purchased.  A simple uncluttered format works best. 

List class program for the grades your book(s) might interest, and stress that you are happy to fit in with curriculum needs. Offer to chat further about the teacher’s class needs, and your willingness to compromise if necessary. Add a link to this site, and any other blogs you feel would be of interest. Include your email address.

Be a Promo Ho!
Use every Social Media resource to promote your Virtual Skype Visits.  Draft a selection of promotional notes and keep them handy.  Every day, slip one of them onto the appropriate Facebook, Google+ or Twitter sites, etc.  Make sure you have a link to your SKYPE Blog on all your other blogs and websites. EXAMPLE:
Virtual Skype Visits
Get your class into reading overtime with
Mary Writer – author of 3 picture books
(Make sure your email address is on your Skype blog)

When a Teacher Contacts You . . .
As soon as you hear from an interested teacher, reply with details regarding what you offer. If she has never Skyped before, exchange Skype addresses. Then plan a practice run ahead of time. A friendly chat, with you offering ideas and help, will go a long way toward creating teacher support and enthusiasm. Ask what grade she teaches, the number of students, and if there is something special she would like from you.  Find out how much time you will have for it all.

Offer a package that fits the teacher’s class needs.  EXAMPLE:FIRST GRADE: Book Reading, short chat about writing your book, and Q and A time. Kids love to ask questions: Approx half an hour.
GRADE #2 and #3: Book Reading, chat about writing your book, ask about their writing, favorite books, and talk about some aspect of writing. Q and A time:  Approx 45 minutes.

The higher the grade, the longer the attention span, and the more likely a teacher will want some sort of short writing lesson, or an expanded version of how you write a book, and what is important in a great story.

A happy teacher, confident that you have done a terrific job, will pass on a good word about your SKYPE-orama!  Teacher jungle drums can be powerful stuff!

Set up Your Magic Carpet with Specific Grades in Mind
HOOK kid interest with the right book.

ADD SHOCK VALUE: if it works for a book, dress up as one of the characters.  Even a wild and crazy hat, false beard or make-up, will grab their attention immediately.  Any great props that fit the book will be a HIT!  Rabbit ears, mustache, magic wand or period costume.

I used to arrive for actual school visits dressed as an Aussie hobo ( bum to you!) Complete with a cork-brimmed hat to keep off the flies, and a pack with frying pan. Plus a tin to boil tea water. I walked in singing Waltzing Matilda. I guarantee no kid fell asleep after that!  And it works on SKYPE as well. Do a practice run with a friend for any new idea, and then adjust it for Skype.  Kids and teachers love a good giggle.
Load up your Magic Carpet with books that fit class needs. Ask the teacher if there are many reluctant readers, or kids with reading problems, like dyslexia.  Make your author visit as interactive as possible.  Ask the class what they like to read, their favorite book, who likes to write, and WHAT they write? 

With older kids you can go into word usage, plot development, and cover art etc.  Leave plenty of time for the Q and A.  Tell them a little about yourself – especially something funny that happened, or how you got a lot of rejections before you learned the right way to write for great kids like them. RELAX and enjoy yourself. The kids sure do!!

Finally  Make Some Money
Once you have all this written out, keep a copy of your plan for each class. With a tweak or so for individual needs, you can send the same e-mail out for all enquiries.
Now for the MONEY SHOT.  In Word, design an attractive and simple order form you can send to the teacher. She will make copies that kids take home ahead of time to the parents. I have found that PayPal is the best method of payment.  Cash means more trouble for the teacher and checks can be iffy.
Your name  (Mary Writer – Author) top center.
Your address beneath this.  Website link and e-mail below the address.
Book title on the left – then price -  number of copies – total
Final total + postage - bottom right.
**Note that you accept PayPal.  Checks will have to wait until cleared.
If you only have one or two books, add small covers. The idea is to lay it all out in an appealing way.
At the bottom of the order form add a note that says parents can look at your books online, and email you if they have questions or concerns. This reassures both the teacher and the parents.  Include your Amazon page link.
If your big Skype day is several months away, ALWAYS remind the teacher a week ahead of time about your visit, and the necessity of copying and sending home those order forms ASAP.  Never leave details to teachers – they have enough to do, and sometimes completely forget about your visit.

Thanks Maggie, for letting me ramble on to your lovely readers.
Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband and family.
Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between writing. Her husband is very supportive, though not interested in children's books . Their three children are now grown and doing very well. Four delightful grandchildren round out Margot’s family.
Margot’s 13 published books are available through Amazon and many other outlets, including her website, and in her current FREE Book Catalog. Her Manuscript Critique Service helps children’s writers polish and tighten their stories before publication. Helping other writers succeed, and HOOKING Kids on Reading, is Margot’s special goal. She didn't begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot says, "I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes! "
Free "sneak peek" inside 8 of my books: including Taconi and Claude  + the sequel.
Margot's books on Amazon: and also B&N, Powell’s Books, and many more.
My free Skype school visits chat:
Manuscript Critiques:
Free book catalog:


  1. Many thanks, Maggie, for letting me chat with your lovely readers. Skype really is a wonderful way to reach out to children and HOOK them on reading - and YOUR books!!

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  2. Excellent post Margot. I'd set up a page on my website after signing up with the "Skype an Author" network. I had no idea Skype itself had the option of setting up lessons like this. Good to know!

    I love the idea of doing virtual visits but didn't really know how to go about setting it up. Your post has been very helpful and I'll be updating my website using your ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Margot: Thank you so much for all this information. I think this is something I'm going to work on over the summer. A couple questions, though. . .do you ever have technical difficulties with Skype? Sometimes when talking with my hubby at work we do! So, wondering if it has ever happened virtually on a school visit. Are your Skype programs shorter than your in-person programs?

    Thanks again!

  4. Thanks ladies. Much appreciate your comments and your interest.

    MARGO: I have not had technical problems so far, at least not in classroom visits. I have had some cut offs when chatting with my grand kids and daughter. I think a lot has to do with both operating systems. It works best if the person with the more powerful HD and chip instigates the call. This is why a short trial run ahead of the actual visit is a good idea. Iron out trouble ahead of time. And if it does cut off mid presentation, just dial again and go on with a laugh. Kids will take it all in stride.

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  5. Very informative post, Margot. Thank you!

  6. Great idea Margot. I had heard about this before but you take it to the next level and especially with the idea of targeting the visits for different grade levels. I love the international appeal to it also.

  7. If any readers find the comment system doesn't work for them, they can e-mail me and I'll add their comment to the list. My e-mail is maggielyons66 at gmail dot com

  8. Thanks Maggie, for inviting Margot to your blog.
    Hi Margot, Thanks for the great tips. I had no idea that this service existed and I will definitely be following up. I was interested in the way that you chose to monetize the process. Do you have hard copies of all your books that you send to students when they order? Do you know of any authors who charge for the actual school visit?

  9. Wonderful, Margot and Maggie!


  10. Great ideas here and it is all really very helpful. It is appreciated. Many thanks and best regards.

  11. Really appreciate all the comments on this blog and the fact you all have found the article useful.

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