As an author, I love that moment when I hit the “answer video call” button on my computer, and the smiling, wide-eyed faces of readers in Alabama or California or Montana pop onto my screen. Skyping with readers is a remarkably rewarding experience. I am, after all, Skyping right at my desk, and that means the readers get a personal peek into my writing world. I can grab my latest draft and hold it up to the camera to point out a specific line, or let the audience see the messiness of my writer’s notebook, or grab my guitar and sing a song that I’ve just written.
Nothing beats a “live” visit, but Skyping with an author is a great alternative for two reasons: it’s cheaper and it provides an opportunity that is often intimate. Surprise guests, such as the author’s dog, or cat, or spouse can make a cameo appearances; authors can pick up their laptops and show a quick glimpse of their desk, the rocking chair, or the favorite place to write.
If you’ve never tried an author Skype, the first thing you have to do is find your author. Many authors offer fee-based workshops or presentations as well as shorter Q-and-A sessions for a lower cost (or even free). If you have an author in mind, check the author’s website. Otherwise, there are sites that collect the names and contact info of authors who Skype, such as the Skype-an-Author Network.
Regardless of how you find your author, there are some tips and tricks that can help make the entire experience run smoothly and enjoyably. From the author’s point of view, here’s what you can do to be a great Skype partner. (You can also download an easy-to-use version of the checklist here.)
BEFORE THE SKYPE
- Try to list your information and questions in one email to reduce back-and-forth messages. Here are the typical details to clarify:
- Put your library name and the word Skype in the subject line when contacting an author to set up a Skype session and in all subsequent emails so that the author can easily find the message(s) if s/he has forgotten your name and needs to search.
- If the author has instructions on her/his website for scheduling a Skype visit, read and follow those instructions.
- Type of session: Q and A, workshop, or presentation
- Ages of participants
- Number of participants
- Length of session
- Date and time: Specify your time zone every time you communicate with the author
- Clarify if special materials are needed, such as notebooks and pencils
- Ask permission to photograph or make a video recording of the session, if desired
- Determine who makes the call; most author prefer the library to initiate the Skype when ready.
- Include all your contact info in one easy-to-read list in every email you send:
- Your library name and full address
- Your name, title, library phone number, and cell number
- Your Skype name.Authors receive lots of professional requests as well the usual myriad of personal and junk-mail messages. Imagine getting an email with “one more question” as the subject line, which only consists of the message: “Do you mind if we increase the number of kids? More signed up than I thought! Just let me know!” If the author can’t recall who you are or what you’re talking about, s/he either needs to write you back asking for clarification or search through emails using your email address to try and retrieve the previous emails and figure out your identity. Either way, you’ve given the author an extra job to do.Add the author’s Skypename to your Skype contact list and send a request via Skype for the author to add your contact to his/hers.
- Test your system–especially if you’ve never Skyped before–with someone. Call a librarian friend. Or your mom. If the author is Skyping for free or for a low rate, please don’t request a test call with the author.
- Make sure your internet connection is good. The stronger and more reliable your connection, the better your session will look and sound.
- If you will have a large group, an external microphone plugged into the computer can be helpful to pick up the speaking voices of the participants.
- Read the author’s work. Participants will get much more out of a session if they are familiar with at least one book and know the author’s basic biography: how many books has the author published, what type of books does the author write, etc.
- Prepare questions ahead of time for a Q-and-A. Asking each participant to write down a question on an index card often works well.
Questions that work best for Skype visits are specific questions related to one or more of the author’s books that do not require long, complex answers.
Examples of good questions: How long did it take you to write Invisible Lines? Why did you choose mushrooms as a recurring theme? How did you come up with the names of your main characters? If readers want to ask about the general writing process, please help them to be specific: Do you use outlines? Do you ever write with pen and paper? Do you ever ask anyone else to read your work before it is published?
Examples of difficult, hard-to-answer questions: How do you write books? Can you talk about the writing process? These are big topics that take a long time to answer.
- Go over the questions ahead of time to make sure they are appropriate. Many authors appreciate receiving the questions via email at least one day in advance so that s/he can pull any related visuals.
- Rehearse what you and the participants will do during the call. Where will they stand when asking questions?
Allowing individuals to step up to the computer’s camera and talk directly into the lens makes the experience much more fun for the author as well as the child or teen. Use this opportunity to practice public-speaking skills with participants. Focus on projecting the voice, slowing down, and speaking clearly.
- Remind everyone that there is no way of knowing how many questions will be answered in the time allotted. Have a plan for the order in which the questions will be asked and how to deal with any disappointment if the group is too large to have all questions answered.
- Don’t forget the Skype! If you come down with the flu that day, make sure to tell your stand-in what to do or else call the author and explain that you’ll need to cancel.
DURING THE SKYPE
- Have the author’s cell phone number on hand. If there is a technical problem, call the author’s cell phone and stay on the line until you solve any glitches. If you have to end the Skype call and try again, you can still be connected via the cell.
- Position the computer’s camera so that it captures the whole audience, if possible. If you have pint-sized participants who will be coming up to ask questions, make sure to have a step stool, if needed. It’s frustrating for the author if all s/he can see is the top of a little guy’s head.
- Begin the session by doing a “sweep” of the room so that everyone can wave hello. If the group is large and the camera can’t pick up everyone in the room, the participants sitting on the sidelines can feel left out. To avoid this, at the very beginning of the Skype, let the author know that you’d like to begin with a sweep. Ask the participants to say hi and wave as you physically move the computer from one side to the other, slowly, giving participants a chance to see the whole group waving on the screen. Then, set the computer down where it will have the best overall view and go on with the session. At the end, you can always “sweep” goodbye.
- Repeat questions from the participants if the author is having trouble hearing.
- Watch the time. Setting a timer can work well. Stop when the time is up.
AFTER THE SKYPE
Many readers mistakenly believe that all authors are rich and that every book they write gets published. This is far from true. Most authors don’t make a living wage from book sales. Many authors pay the rent by teaching writing workshops and giving presentations.
- Please consider showing your thanks for the Skype session by supporting the author’s promotional efforts. Here are some ideas:
- “Like” or “follow” the author’s facebook page, twitter handle, pinterest boards, or other social networking.
- Write and post a collaborate book review online.
- Have readers write and videotape a fun review or creative commercial for the book. Share this video online with parental permission, if needed.
- Write an article about the Skype experience and send it to your local newspaper or publish/post it on your library’s newsletter or website.
- Tell colleagues about the author. Word of mouth really helps.
Finally, if there is something the author could do to improve the experience, definitely send that feedback. Writing is, for the most part, an exercise in isolation; authors take great joy in connecting with readers and want the experience to be the best it can be.
Our guest blogger today is Mary Amato, an author of fiction for children and teens. She also enjoys teaching workshops in creative writing and songwriting. Her latest series for ages 7-10 is Good Crooks. Her latest YA is Get Happy and features original songs. You can find out more about her at www.maryamato.com or www.thrumsociety.com
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.