Saturday, 7 April 2018

Working with Schools

You don't have to be a children's writer in order to work with schools – except perhaps if you write erotica. You need to be able to talk to children. This doesn't mean talking down to them. There are actually very few people who can't relate to children. Many "full-time" writers do many school visits. It can be well-paid and it can help you to promote your books.


At the time of writing, I charge £400.00 for a full day's visit. Very few schools actually pay that as I often offer a discount and I offer a couple of other models – see below. Two schools near to each other can also share a writer. It is important to charge – your time is precious. However, you might offer a few visits free or very cheap while you find your feet. If there are schools with which you have connections, try approaching them fist.
My £400.00 workshops includes all of the materials, a free book or two for the school library and all materials also on a memory stick for teachers to use later and for follow up work. The school only has to supply any stationery for the students. 
I always charge travel expenses. However, I work these out in advance and add it to the fee. That is 0.45 per mile plus £5.00 for breakfast, £10.00 for lunch and £20.00 for dinner, plus £75.00 for an overnight stay. Often, I'll go be train, which may be cheaper, but then expenses get bumped up by taxi fares. Sometimes the hotel or airbnb is cheaper, sometimes more expensive. Doing it this way is win/win. The school has a fixed price. I claim the expenses on my tax return.

The "free" visit

Note, I still charge travel expenses. This visit is limited to 1.5 hours. It includes:
·         A short talk about me as a writer 
·         Readings from a book of the teacher's choice
·         A Q & A session
·         One creative writing exercise
·         A chance for book signings
A fundamental understanding of this sort of visit is that you will have the opportunity to sell books.

The custom visit

This is where the school tell me what they can afford and you tailor your visit to suit them. I make sure travel expenses are covered.
I can customise my visit in the following ways:
·         I shorten the day
·         I don't give books to the library
·         The school shares me with another nearby school
·         The teachers produce the materials themselves - though there is a risk here that the material may not be produced. I take them along on my lap top or memory stick to the school just in case.     
·         I lower my fee a little  

Terms and conditions

Here is my contract with terms and conditions attached:

Contract for School Visits from Gill James

07778 866661 / 0161 723 0444

Date and time of event




Contact person – name, phone number, email




Parking arrangements 




Groups (year, number in each group)








Equipment I need





Equipment the school will provide




Estimate of travel expenses


Agreed fee


 Terms and conditions

1.      I will invoice the school about ten days in advance. Payment is due within one calendar month of the visit. An interest charge will be added to late payments.
2.      Even "free" visits will incur a travel expense charge.
3.      I am self-employed and pay tax annually. I must not be processed through your payroll.
4.      I expect to sell books at your event but I will provide them and process the sales. I shall supply in advance hard-copies of a letter to parents. I will bring the books. There will be an option for parents /guardians / students to purchase in advance. Please allow ample time for signings.   
5.      For paid visits I will bring all materials except for stationery. I will indicate which student stationery is needed. For "free" visits I may send you a few materials to be photocopied.
6.      You may at any time order one of my books from me directly as an inspection copy. If you are going ahead with this workshop you may keep this book free of charge. At paid workshops you will also be gifted another book for your school library.         
7.      Full-time staff from the school must be present in the event room at all times – otherwise my public liability will be invalid.  
8.      I must be allowed a short break at least every two hours. Please supply water.      
9.      Cancellation policy: if you cancel less than three weeks before the event 10% of the fee is payable. If I have to cancel because of ill-health, severe weather or public transport failure, the workshop will be offered at another mutually convenient time with a 10% discount. 
On behalf of the school
On behalf of Gill James
Gill James


This normally fits on to a sheet of A4. It's actually a constant work in progress and if you'd like the latest version, email me at
Most of what is here you will probably have negotiated beforehand via a set of emails. Incidentally, I usually print off all the emails and a copy of this before I go the school. Don't rely on your phone, tablet or lap-top. You may be without power or a signal when you most need it.
Always make sure about car parking arrangements and where the entrance to the school is. The post code doesn’t always take you to the front gate.

What you may need to negotiate

Be aware that many schools will try to put you on pay roll. This is totally wrong and you must fight it. Otherwise you'll be paying tax and NI twice. It's wise to include your tax number on your invoice. 
Always expect to sell books.
There should always be a member of full time staff with you and that should preferably be a qualified teacher. Okay, sometimes they'll sit at the back of the class and get on with their marking. Most, however, join in. You actually need this to validate your public liability insurance. More on that later. They know their students well and you should leave all of the discipline to them. You can remain the nice guy.  
Negotiate a break to suit you. I insist on having one every two hours and that I have water available.  Unless I am invited to lunch I take a packed one. You can usually sit quietly in the staff room to eat this. Sometimes this gives you the opportunity to talk to other subject teachers and perhaps start negotiations for another workshop. 
Be very firm about the shape of groups you are willing to work with. Be wary too of being asked to talk too long to a whole year group or even a whole school, though you might start and end your day that way.
Also be very firm about which age groups you are comfortable with. I personally will not work with lower than year 5 but am happy to go up to Year 13. 
Here are some patterns I've used:

Pattern 1

1.      I talked to the whole of a year group at the beginning of the day.
2.      I spent one hour with each of four classes
3.      I met the whole year group again at the end of the day for Q & A and book signing.

Pattern 2

I worked all day in the conference room with eight gifted and talented students.
·         We talked about what they liked to read.
·         We worked through a series of creative writing exercises to produce stories and poems.
·         We collaborated on a short play which we then rehearsed and performed just amongst ourselves. Later they polished it up and showed it to the rest of the school.  

Pattern 3

Children were cherry-picked to join groups of about 15 students. 
1.      I read to the whole of lower school and conducted a Q & A session.  
2.      I worked with Year 7 on Haiku, acrostic poems and some OULIPO activities.  See:
3.      I worked on story with Year 8
4.      I worked on play scripts with Year 9
5.      I lead a further Q & A – this time I asked the questions. This was followed by a book signing.  

 What you might do in your workshop

Obviously you want your books to feature prominently. Negotiate with your contact person about which book/books might be the best to use.  

Topic of your book

You might have a book with a strong theme or setting. You could base some or the whole of your workshop on your research. I do this with my Schellberg Cycle workshop.  This is very suitable for Year 9 as that is when they learn about the Holocaust.

Creative Writing

Negotiate with your contact about what sort of thing they'd like you to do. They'll probably want to hook it to the curriculum. You will probably want to subvert that a little and in fact that's what they've invited you in for – even if they don't realise it.  

Produce a book

I have put together a workshop that can last one day or more or be delivered over several weeks. You can access it here:
We write, edit, illustrate, publish and market a book. This can be a free school visit as sales of the book cover my costs. 

Making sure you can sell your books

I send enough hard copies of the following sort of letter to the school. I keep a "float" of twenty books that I've purchased at author discount. If I'm using self-published ones I can offer a substantial discount to parents who purchase directly from me.
This sample letter makes it all largely self-explanatory:
Dear Parents or Guardians,
I shall be visiting the school on 31 March to deliver a workshop about my Schellberg Cycle project. This will form part of students’ education about the Holocaust.  This project was kick-started by a sabbatical from the University of Salford. I am an experienced secondary school teacher and university lecturer. 
 I am writing a cycle of stories based on a true story, partly about my late mother-in-law who came to England on the Kindertransport, and also informed by a collection of letters from her classmates: the girls wrote letters in an exercise book that they sent on to the next girl. Read more about the project here:
The workshop does deal with some of the horrors of the Holocaust but also looks at how ordinary German people got caught up in it.
The first story in the cycle, The House on Schellberg Street, is already published. It is Renate’s story of coming to England and being puzzled about her identity. It also tells of what happens to her grandmother, Clara Lehrs, and how this extraordinary woman, a Jewess and therefore persecuted herself, looks after a group of disabled children also threatened by the Nazi regime. The book is readable by children aged 13 and above and may also be of interest to adults. This story ends on a hopeful note.  
I shall be signing copies on the day.
·         If you would like a signed copy you can:
·         Buy it from Amazon and get your child to bring it on the day to be signed:
·         Send a cheque for £7.99 made to G James to the above address with a note that this is for the book. I shall bring the book on the day.
·         Make a bank transfer to G James sort code 60 18 28 /  Account number 19129823 and email me ( that you have done that.  I shall bring the book on the day.
·         Send £7.99 in cash on the day with your child. Note, as always there is a risk in sending cash into school and I also can’t guarantee that I would have enough copies. The other options are safer.     
Thank you for your support in this and I look forward to working with your child.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Gill James                                                                          

Some legalities

Public liability insurance

Most schools – and indeed other organisations – will insist that you have public liability insurance – and like you to have £10,000,000. You can obtain this for free if you become a professional member of NAWE: There are several other advantages of belonging to NAWE as are mentioned elsewhere in this book. Take a look at their site to see what else.  
The Society of Authors also offers this at a reasonable rate if you are a member and if you're not, you might want to think about joining. Find them at:

DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service)  Checks

This is all about child and vulnerable adult protection checks. The Service confirms that you are not a risk to children and vulnerable adults.
Strictly speaking you don't need these as your public liability insurance will insist that you have a full time member of staff with you at all times and you only need a DBS check if you will be alone with children or vulnerable adults. However, NAWE will again process it at a reasonable price and remind you when the current one is out of date.   

Finding schools

Word of mouth

Do you have contacts with local schools? Do you have friends and family who can help? How about popping in to your local school and leaving your contact details? This is particularly useful when you are just starting out.

Automatic listings

If you are a paid up member, NAWE, The Society of Authors and SCBWI (The Society of Book Writers and Illustrators) allow you a free listing:

Your own publisher

Many publishers will keep a list of authors who are willing to visit schools. We're starting to do this for Bridge House, Chapeltown and Red Telephone authors  

Paid for  

There are several paid for opportunities.  Here you can often add more information and update your details regularly.  I recommend Contact an Author:
I've used this myself quite successfully and I know the people who run it.

Sprint mail

This is a handy way of emailing all appropriate schools. They're not cheap but if a group of you bunch together you can make it cost effective. I've worked with a group of other writers very effectively.  Find them at:

Your own web site

Have a page on your own web site devoted to your school visits. You should include:
·         Details of what you do
·         Charges
·         Flexibility – what interested parties might do if they cannot afford the full fee.
·         Endorsements
·         Link to your books
·         Link to past events - a note here: never post photographs of students unless you have express permission. I tend to photograph their work or the teachers and get one or two of myself.  

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Using Social Media

It's free and can be really effective. It can also be very time-consuming, can actually put potential readers off if used clumsily and can expose you to some unpleasant people.

Plenty of choice

There are so many platforms to choose from and straight away I'd say limit yourself to a handful. If you're new to this, read the notes below and choose the one that seems to suit you the best to start with. Once you have a handle on this you might like to have a go at another one. It may also be a matter of trying out which one seems the most user-friendly to you.
I'm going to give you some of my personal tips here. The four most useful, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Pinterest. If you find something else that is really effective let me know on:  or put a comment below.  

Features of the various platforms

I'm not going to show you the mechanics of using these as they change all the time. It's best to go to the site and let it teach you itself. You can find the URL for each one simply by Googling the name. 


This is my all-time favourite. This is mainly because of the retweet function. Here's a story:
A woman was trying to visit an art gallery with her disabled friend but the gallery wouldn't let them in. The woman, who had a mere 100 followers, described her frustration on Twitter. Most of her followers retweeted and then their followers retweeted to their followers. Within a few hours thousands knew about this gallery and it was even visited that afternoon by a government official.
Now, imagine that with your books. 500 of your 2,000 followers like the sound of your book, so retweet it to their 2,000 followers. Not everyone will buy but even if only 15% do, that's quite a few.
I also like Twitter because you only have a limited number of characters for your message – this makes you write tightly and stops you wasting time.

Here are some more functions of Twitter. 
·         It allows you to create lists, so that you can talk to like-minded people when you wish. I'm on many lists, some created by myself, some by others. Here are three examples: writing friends, YA literature, and music world.
·         You can send direct messages to people who follow you.
·      You can find people who don’t follow you –even celebrities and presidents of the USA- and message them publically.
·         It allows you to post pictures and videos.
·     You can post links and it will often pick up the picture from that link – remember posts with pictures always work better.
·         It will recommend people for you to follow.
·         It provides you with notifications of who has replied to, commented on or liked your post. You can also have these notifications sent to your mobile phone and email.
·         You can use the # plus subject to find readers including ones who are not following you. You can also use the # to find information on specific topics. Three I use are: #amwriting, #introtochildrenslit #Holocausteducation
·         If you use Tweetdeck for your posts, you can schedule them in advance.   
·         It's easy to block or mute someone who gets annoying. 


This provides the following features:
·         You are allowed to write as much as you like.
·         You have a timeline. I use this for personal news.
·         You can create pages. I have an author page, one for each of the imprints I manage, one for each book I have published or written and one or two for other things. The pages also allow you a call to action.
·        You can create groups. There you can chat to other people about concerns you have in common.  I am a member of several groups e.g. International Flash Fiction Network, SCBWI British Isles North West, and Writers Who Want to Write without Fear of Rejection. I run 1940s Authors. You can upload all sorts of files to the group.  
·         You can pin a post to the top of your page or group.
·         Facebook will suggest "friends" and people will contact you with requests to be "friends".
·         You can "unfriend" connections.
·         You can link up to Messenger from Facebook and send direct, private messages to people you follow and who follow you.
·         You can pay for advertising, limiting the budget and picking a certain demographic. Facebook supplies the tools for you to be able to analyse the outcomes.   
·         You can create or find out about events. Facebook keeps a handy record of all of the events you're signed up to.
·         It keeps a list of notifications and you can opt to have this fall into your email inbox.
·         You can schedule posts for the future.


This is more of a business site. I never put anything personal there nor do I rant about politics. I only use it for work-related posts – i.e. writing, publishing or teaching. Here are some of its features:
·         Your profile is much more dynamic than on all other platforms. You can really create something special here. Also you can download it as a PDF and use it as a CV. Every new publication should go on there. Personally I download the PDF every time I add new information to my profile. Just in case Linkedin has a wobble and loses the lot.  
·         You can use it to headhunt. Maybe you can find that book designer or children's librarian. And you may be headhunted.
·         It offers groups. I'm a member of several, e.g. Children's Publishing, Writers Hangout, LinkEds and Writers. I run the University of Salford English Network – this is for alumni, present and past staff and post grads on any of the English programmes.
·         It suggests who to connect with and you get invitations from individuals to connect. Here, I connect with other writers, publishers, school librarians, teachers, editors, those who work in the theatres, booksellers and people who look like potential readers.
·         You can post texts of any length, links, pictures and videos and you can also upload longer articles such as a Word document or as a PDF.


I must confess to really only using this for curating my research. I proactively look for pictures that help me with my novels. When I find something that is really spot on, I save it to one of my boards. This is very effective- I have 1920s' fashions, 1940s' fashions and picture of ladies' pistols, for example. 

Occasionally I look at other people's boards and occasionally other people look at mine.
You can "pin" any picture even if it is copyrighted because you'd only referring to it, not using it commercially.

Once you've joined Pinterest, your computer will prompt you to "pin" any picture you encounter. It does this very unobtrusively. 

Even with minimum activity like this I am gradually making more people aware of what I do. I also have a call to action associated with each of my boards.

Don't be clumsy

None of your posts should say "Look at me. Look at me." You should use the 80/20 rule. Only 20% should be about yourself - and I'd also say that of that 20% only 20% should be direct promotion – "Buy my book" and the rest should just be of what is of interest to your readers. The other 80% should be you interacting with other people – e.g. retweeting, sharing, liking, commenting, asking and answering questions. 

I actually keep a list of all of the things I do and rotate them on each of the platforms. It looks like this:

What I'm doing right now
What I like
Subject matter of book
Ask questions             
Interesting web sites

These follow the main "about me" or "buy my book post".  However even these two may sometimes be subtle. Here's an example:
Call for submissions Chapeltown 
·         Ask questions
·         TRT interesting webs site  *
·         Quotes 
·         GJ Facebook   
·         What you like       
·         Pictures 
·         Linked in – what I'm doing  
·      Lists (Here I add any new people I follow to appropriate lists and then concentrate on one of my lists.)   

Unless otherwise stated, these are for Twitter. Notice the first two items are promoting other people's events. So, I go onto Twitter, paste the Kickstarter link and say why this is a good project. (Note this has now finished.) Then, I will react to four people's tweets before I get back to work. I look at the notifications first, as I do for Facebook and Linkedin.   

The * shows where I've got to.

I have a separate routine for Facebook, where I also rotate this list through all the groups I'm a member of.    

I recommend Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall. Much of what she says here applies to the other platforms:

How do you maintain time to write?

You have to, and in my case also find time to edit, publish and market my own books and others'.
I see my social media time a little like making a visit to the water cooler in the office. It's actually a bit of a break but I have to get back to work. So, I post:
·         First thing in the morning
·         After I've been writing for two hours
·         After I've been writing for another two hours
·         After I've checked my email
·         As I finish each item on my "to do " list

I also every so often schedule a few Tweets. I do look at Twitter and Facebook and react to them when I'm out and about and have a few moments to spare. E.g. when I'm waiting for a tram or for my order when I'm alone in a café.

This way I both limit and guarantee my presence.

Talking of email

This can also be very time-consuming but it also important to maintain – there might be an exciting offer from a publisher or a question from an eager fan. Fail to answer either and you ruin your reputation.

I actually get around 200 emails a day. After all, I work as a publisher and as an editor for multiple imprints, Twitter, Linked in and Facebook send me notifications and I'm interested in a host of different things. I rarely spend more than half an hour on them, however.    

I usually look after lunch. First I look through all of today's and yesterday's. I respond to anything that needs a quick response – query from an author whose book I'm working on now for example, or from one of the people who publish me. If something needs a slightly longer response, I put it as urgent on my "to do" list.

Now I start timing myself. I go back to the top of the list and "tidy up" the first three days. Much of the material is now out of date so not worth looking at. It can be deleted. Some needs filing. This usually only takes me a few minutes. I then have the rest of the half hour to take a more leisurely look at some of the interesting things that have recently come in.

I'll then keep my email open and from time to time I'll take another look and see if there is anything urgent I can answer quickly.

Who to connect with

Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin make lots of suggestions. They're often very good. Make sure that there is a mini-profile on Twitter or Linked-in. Don't accept anybody who has a blank profile or who has nothing in common with you. On Facebook you're usually fine if you have twenty or more mutual acquaintances. If in doubt, you can click on their name and find out more about them. You are probably all right as well if they only have a few friends but these include people you know really well outside of social media.

Beware, though, a lot of male American military personnel who seem to prey on women. Don't respond to them.

After each foray on to a platform I request five connections and accept or decline any suggested connections.

What if somebody gets nasty?

If it's just that they irritate, annoy, try to draw you into an argument or say nasty things about your book on Twitter you can "mute" them. You can also block them completely. You might want to "switch them" back on again later. You can "unfriend them" on Facebook though this is rather more permanent.

If it's slightly more serious and you feel threatened or they're clearly stalking you, even if it's only online, making threats or harassing you sexually, don't hesitate: contact both the platform provider and the police.

Don't ever get into an argument.

Don't worry: it's quite rare.