Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 5, 2012

Tips on Avoid Horror Story School Visits

When author Debbie Dadey sent me this article sharing her school visit tips, I knew it would be something that could help the authors and illustrators who read my blog.

Even if you aren’t quite ready to do a school visit, this would be a good article to save for future reference.

Here is Debbie:

Horrifying Visits

               “There’s somebody out there,” she whispered as the lightning flashed.

I gasped as a thump came from the porch.  We were trapped inside the dark vacant house.  The storm had wiped out the electricity and there was no phone.  Our bodies wouldn’t be found until the next morning.  I looked around desperately for a weapon.

The start of a horror story?  No.  The start of a school visit?  Yes.  You know Dr. Seuss’ book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go?”  In my case, it’s the ‘Schools where you’ll go.’  Luckily, in the school visit above the large man on the porch was coming to check on our safety and my fellow author and I were in no immediate danger.  But I wasn’t so sure I was safe the time a parent left me in an old house in the middle of an Illinois corn patch.  By this time, I had a cell phone, but there was no service.  She told me not to worry that no one else was around and even though the house didn’t have a lock on the front door, I could latch my door with the hook.  Needless to say, I shoved a rickety chair in front of the door and shivered in my bed.

I’m sure if you’ve been on a school visit, you’ve had adventures.  Like when my friend Marcia Jones had a goat join her for breakfast or the time I almost fell into a massive ravine when I jumped out of an excessively hot car to throw up airport pizza.

But school visits aren’t always horror stories.  There was the school that had the local news filming as I was driven slowly down the school lane.  I waved out of the top of the white limo as the kids screamed and chanted.  There was the school that turned every classroom into one of my books and had activities to go with each theme.  And let’s not forget the schools that made up skits, plays, songs, raps, poems, and had dress-up days.  But no amount of awesome preparation can substitute for the kids’ smiles when they are enjoying my reading or talk.  That’s the reason to endure any late night horror.  And with a new series coming up in May, I am preparing for the best . . . and the worst.

Things to make a school visit less horrifying:

  1. A written agreement, sent in advance, spelling out what you both have agreed upon.  Note that you will need a table, water, microphone, projector, and screen (or whatever your specific requirements might be.)
  2. If you do more than four presentations a day you are either stupid or Superman.
  3. My website tells exactly what I want for lunch.  If you don’t tell, you may get a nasty school lunch surprise.
  4. Send an invoice in advance, noting that payment is due on the day of the visit.
  5. I send out a letter to teachers and students, so hopefully they’ll know I’m coming!
  6. My website has a checklist of things for schools to do to prepare for my visit.  It’s designed to make it easier for schools.  Feel free to copy what works for you.  It’s on my scheduling page, under events.
  7. Get cell numbers of your contact person.  Don’t be like me, standing outside the Frankfort, Germany airport for an hour waiting nervously for someone to pick me up!
  8. If you are driving, get directions from your host, MapQuest, and your GPS.  You can never have too many directions.  You can, however, have too few and be bone-tired and lost in the middle of Northern Indiana.
  9. Hand sanitizer will keep you healthy for the next school visit, especially when you are hugged by a little girl with pink eye like I was.  Of course, you’re on your own when the little girl sitting in front of you has lice (that was in Colorado and my head itches every time I think about it.)
  10. Bring pens that are comfortable to write with-hopefully you’ll be signing hundreds of books!
  11. I like to throw band-aids, breath mints, and cough drops in my purse.  The band-aids really come in handy when your pinky finger gets sore from signing.  The cough drops help when your throat gets raw from speaking too much and breath mints are never a bad idea.
  12. Always throw a breakfast/energy bar in your briefcase.  You just never know if you’ll get to the airport in time to eat before your flight.  A bottle of water saves you from some rural school’s brown water.
  13. Never, and I repeat, NEVER take a clip-on microphone to the bathroom with you!  Enough said.
  14. Never eat airport pizza.
  15. It’s nice if you can bring your own sign that lets kids know who you are.  Most schools will put up some kind of decorations, but for those that aren’t on the ball it’s good to have something that clues kids in to who you are.
  16. I have my own computer and projector that I bring unless a school assures me that they are prepared for me.  Even then, if I’m driving I’ll have my own in my car.
  17. Kids in the back of a gym cannot see your book; no matter how high up you hold it.  If you are speaking to a large group, you need your book covers on a PowerPoint presentation.
  18. Get a Targus ‘clicker’ so you don’t have to be near your computer to advance to the next picture.  All you do it plug it in and click!
  19. I love to give away books during my presentations.  You may love it too.

Debbie Dadey is the author and co-author of 151 books, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids and The Keyholder series.  Her new series, Mermaid Tales with Simon and Schuster, splashes to life in May with Trouble at Trident Academy and Battle of the Best Friends.  Find out more at

Thanks Debbie for sharing your expertise with us.  Making sure we are prepared for all the little pitfalls can save all of us from walking out of a school totally embarrassed and help maintain our reputations in the industry.  Good luck with Trouble at Trident Academy coming out on May 8th.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. These are WONderful tips that “feed the dream” of getting published and having kids enjoy your work 🙂 Granted, the truly horrific events you described in the beginning are more of a nightmare, and never, in my wildest dreams, would I ever have thought they could have anything to do with a school visit! Wow!

    Thanks, Debbie and Kathy! Great stuff.


  2. thanks. Great list!


  3. I find these types of articles extremely helpful since I am just starting out as an author. Thanks for sharing.


    • Orples,

      I agree. All useful information. Better to learn things before we get in an ackward situation.



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