by Kelly Carey
For two years I have enthusiastically participated in World Read Aloud Day. This annual event, held on the first Wednesday in February, brings authors and teachers together to host a day of virtual author visits in classrooms around the world. The day is fun and exciting, and meant to inspire students. But if authors don't take a few simple steps, it can also be nerve-racking and exhausting.
If you are a published author with a book to share and want to join this annual event, here are some tips to make your World Read Aloud Day run smoothly.
Visit the World Read Aloud Day (WRAD for short) site here to learn all about the WRAD program. The site is filled with information on how WRAD works, and offers great resources to make your involvement special. Once you decide to be a participant, you can register as a volunteer author on Kate Messner's blog here. It’s free to participate and you are not required to send books. All that is required is that you offer a few free virtual classroom visits on the first Wednesday in February.
Before you register, finish reading this blog. You'll want all the tips before you fill out your registration form.
The first time I participated in WRAD, I was SO excited that I booked visits from early in the morning and then every thirty minutes until late in the afternoon. Each WRAD visit is set to be fifteen to twenty minutes long. I foolishly thought that a ten-minute break between meetings was ample time to reset. By the end of the day, I was frazzled and exhausted. Not to mention hungry and needing a bathroom break!
Think about your energy level and stamina and consider how many high energy visits you can really do. My improved WRAD plan has me starting at 9am with visits on the hour until 4pm. I also built in a lunch hour. This is doable for me. Setting visits on the hour versus the half hour alleviates the stress if a school signs in late, or if technical difficulties cause delays. Sometimes, an energized classroom needs just a few extra minutes so one or two more students get a chance to ask a question. Building in a cushion will not only give you a chance to regroup, but it could also be important for the teacher and students excited for your visit.
Create A Sign-Up Form
Once you have decided how many visits you want to offer and at what times, you will want to create a sign-up form. I didn't create a form on my first year and the result was email chaos. Teachers were asking for odd times, conflicting times, cancelling, rebooking, and just when I thought I had overlaps smoothed out, emails requesting another change would hit my inbox.
A clear sign-up form ensures that teachers reserve a visit for an available time and only when they are really ready to commit.
I recommend using Sign Up Genius to administer your WRAD schedule. Sign Up Genius is free and easy to use. Check out Sign Up Genius here and for a sample of my WRAD sign up form go here.
My form asks teachers to provide the student's grade level, and the name, state, and country of their school. I also ask for an email contact that I use later to confirm the visit and gather information on a link for the visit.
Your sign-up form is the perfect place to layout expectations for the visit. WRAD visits are meant to be twenty-minute virtual visit where authors greet students, read their book, and offer a quick Q&A. This is NOT an hours long classroom visit with crafts and activities. Being clear on the format when teachers sign up helps ensure that everyone understands the structure of the visit.
When you register for WRAD, use the web address for your sign-up form on the registration. That way interested teachers will be directed to your form. Then go ahead and blast a link to the form out on social media. If you get email requests from teachers, you can eliminate confusion by replying with an email directing them to your sign-up form.
Once your form is full, you can direct teachers to an author friend or two who might still have open slots. Keep a few of these authors in mind and be ready to send teachers to their forms.
Send Confirmations and Reminders
Once a classroom has signed up, I send a confirmation email. I reiterate the format of the visit, confirm the time and date, and ask if the school will provide a visit link or if they would like me to send a link. I also ask the teacher if they would like their students to have the opportunity to order signed copies of my book (more on this later). A week before WRAD, I send out a reminder that reviews all this information again. This reminder email is a terrific opportunity to ask the teacher to emcee the Q&A by calling on students during our visit. With a virtual visit, I find this format works best.
Check Your Technology
All WRAD visits are virtual. While many schools will send you a visit link, some may prefer you to provide them with a link. Make sure you are ready and comfortable to work in different virtual meeting platforms. I defer to the school’s meeting platform of choice as many schools are required to use an approved system. But if the school wants me to set up the visit link, I use Zoom. I have found it helpful to create a separate Zoom meeting for each school. Some authors have a single Zoom link for the day, but I always worry that one school will sign in on top of another’s school’s visit.
Regardless of the platform for the visit, you'll want to make sure your computer has a functioning speaker and camera. Set up a practice visit with a trusted KidLit friend to make sure things are working well. Be careful, sometimes when you move away from your computer and hold a book up, it blocks your voice and kids will not be able to hear you reading your wonderful words! To combat this, I recommend using Air Pods or headphones.
Make sure you create a visually appealing and appropriate background for your visits. Consider the lighting in your space and make sure that as the sun travels across the hours of your WRAD visits that you are easy to see and not shadowed or sun shined out. You can place copies of your books in the background and opt to wear colorful clothes that compliment your book’s cover.
Book or Slides
Think about how you want to present your book. Some folks will prefer to read a copy of their book as they hold it up for kids to see. Be sure you frame your book on the screen, so it is easily viewed. The advantage of holding up the book as you read is that you can point to certain things on each page for emphasis and pull the book closer to the computer camera for a zoomed in effect.
I prefer using a PowerPoint slide show as I read. The benefit here is that my face becomes a small little screen-in-screen image for my audience and the pages of the book fill their classroom monitor. For this method, I start out on camera, and then after introductions, switch over to the slideshow. After reading the book, I close out the slideshow and do the Q&A portion without slides. To create your book slideshow, you can ask your publisher to provide you with a PDF file of the book then build your slide show by making each page its own slide. If your publisher cannot provide a PDF, you can take pictures of each page of your book and upload them into a slide show.
Create a WRAD Day Schedule Sheet
Even if you have smartly assessed your stamina, set up a sign-up form, and managed expectations, the day can still be a bit hectic. Make a cheat sheet of the day for yourself with each visit, the teacher’s name, email, and a clickable visit link. This will keep your entire day and all those visit links in one place rather than having to click around looking for emails from individual teachers and nervously trying to remember where exactly you saved the link for each visit.
It’s a good idea to make sure the name of the school, town and state is on this sheet as this information can be a wonderful way to make a connection with the students in your opening introduction.
Option to Allow Book Purchases
Although it is not required, you can try to team up with a local indie bookstore and offer classrooms the opportunity for signed copies. You can also offer to send signed book plates to a bookstore near the school so that students can purchase signed copies. Both options involve planning.
To offer signed copies, I work in tandem with my local indie bookstore. I create and provide the school with a flyer they can reproduce and send home with their students detailing directions for ordering an autographed book. The bookstore agrees to facilitate the ordering. The benefit here is that I am not collecting forms or money, nor is the teacher. Instead, we direct caregivers/parents to order online directly from the sponsoring bookstore. To make this easier and cost effective for the bookstore, the bookstore bulk ships the books to the teacher for distribution to the students. Not every bookstore will be willing to partner with you to make this process happen, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.
If you can find a bookstore partner and you want students to have the books in hand for WRAD, you will want to allow time for the teachers to distribute flyers, caregivers/parents to order books, and the bookstore to mail the books out. Set ordering deadlines and allow for the time the bookstore will need to assemble and ship the books before WRAD in February. If this is too complicated, it is also fine to tell students that books can be ordered up until the day of WRAD and books will be shipped out 2-3 weeks after WRAD. All these details can be worked out with the bookstore.
Getting book orders is not the point of WRAD. This is an option that I mention when I send out confirmation emails. Some teachers will love the idea and others will politely pass.
Finally, some authors send swag to the schools like bookmarks and stickers. This is not something I have the budget for and so I have not offered this perk. But if you want to send out a thank you note with swag, just be sure you know how many students are in the classroom so that you send the right amount.
World Read Aloud Day is a wonderful chance to share your book with students. Take some time to plan out the day so that you, and the classrooms you visit, have a fantastic WRAD experience!
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