Created by husband and wife team Ben and Shanda McCloskey, Author Visit Central is a website that streamlines book sales for author visits. In this interview, you’ll see how Shanda’s own experience with author visits led to the creation of AVC, as well as insight into what makes a great author visit.
What was your own experience with author visits, and what drove you to create Author Visit Central?
Shanda: Three years ago, I hit the ground running with school visits when my first books, Doll-E 1.0 (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018) and T-Bone the Drone (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019) came out. I was fortunate to get many requests to visit schools and celebrate STEM/STEAM!
I visited about 70 schools over two years, all in-person. I met all kinds of librarians from first year rookies to super experienced all-stars. Some schools had a local bookstore right in town and others would have to drive an hour or more to get to one.
It’s a really cool thing when a student gets a signed book by a real author they actually met at their school. It’s uniquely and personally inspires that child and, of course, helps the author’s sales numbers, too. It’s a win-win! But in order to make this win happen, authors typically tell librarians to call up their local bookstore to arrange a book sale. It sounds easy enough. And sometimes it is… If you live near a local bookstore that is well versed in school visits. But for most schools, it’s a much bigger ordeal to locate, connect, explain, arrange, and execute a school visit book sale with a book store.
To be honest, I was surprised how “old school” the methods of selling books at school visits were when I started in 2018. Most bookstores didn’t (and still don’t) have the capabilities to set up online book sales for schools, so it defaults to paper order forms, cash/checks, students misplacing money, librarians having to keep up with order forms/money and squaring up with the school bookkeeper etc. Sometimes, librarians also have to physically drive the money to the bookstore an hour away and pick up the books themselves.
It all just felt like too much to ask of educators.
So, my husband Ben (who is a web developer) and I, built AuthorVisitCentral.com, mostly for me! So now all I have to say to librarians regarding selling my books is: “I’ll set up everything. All you have to do is get the word out to families.”
How does AVC work?
Shanda: After we saw the AVC system work well for my own school visits, we decided to expand it for other authors to use as well.
Traditionally published authors can create a profile on AuthorVisitCentral.com and after approval, add their books, and set up book sales for each of their upcoming school visits as they are scheduled.
When a school visit book sale is entered into the AVC system, we create a lovely flier for the school telling about the event and how families can order personalized, signed books online with a unique event code.
After the book sale closing date, we place the bulk order with an independent bookstore who drop ships the books directly to the school. We email the orders (with personalization info) to the author and the librarian so the signing goes smoothly at the event!
How has AVC adapted to help both authors and schools receive author visits when in-person visits may not be possible?
Shanda: Because AVC is web-based, it works great for virtual author visits! Authors send personalized, signed bookplates to the school.
Ben: The web order form is the same for virtual and in-person visits. The closing date of the sale is the biggest difference.
For in-person, we like to end the sale a couple weeks before the visit to allow the local bookstore time to place the order and for the books to arrive at the school in time for the event so the author can sign them.
For virtual, we can extend the deadline a bit (even a couple days after the visit, if they’d like) to allow parents more time to buy the books. Then the author sends the book plates and the bookstore ships the books!
Who can use your services? Authors? Librarians? Booksellers? How are you able to funnel sales to bookstores?
Shanda: The system is set up for authors to create the book sales, but I’m sure that could change in the future if librarians and/or booksellers show interest!
We funnel all sales to independent book sellers that like working with us.
Are you able to share which authors have used AVC?
Shanda: A few to note other than myself are Bonnie Clark, Annette Whipple, Shelley Johannes, Jessica Vitalis, and Mary Boone.
Is there a fee to use AVC?
Shanda: We got so busy that we recently implemented a $30 per visit fee. The fee definitely slowed down business, but now I can serve the authors that truly value our service much better!
I see you have a podcast! What do you talk about on the podcast?
Shanda: Yes! Author Bonnie Clark and I started the Author Visit Podcast, all about demystifying the art and business of school visits for authors, illustrators, educators, librarians, parents, and booksellers! We started it in 2020 when the world turned upside down and everything changed. My husband, Ben, is the producer.
In your opinion, what constitutes a successful author visit?
Shanda: A successful school visit, in my opinion, is when an author presents material that they are truly pumped about in a way that compliments that particular creator. A shy author can give just as inspiring of a presentation as a shiny extrovert! I’ve seen it! It just looks a little different. But just like kids need to see all kinds of characters in the books they read, all kinds of kids need to see all kinds of authors present as well.
Finally, how do you see the author visit evolving?
Shanda: I definitely think virtual visits will be an option that sticks around long after the pandemic fades. Now that practically the entire world knows how to “Zoom”, it’s undeniable that it shrinks cost, time, and location barriers.
AuthorVisitCentral.com was created by a husband-wife team, Ben and Shanda McCloskey. Ben is a web developer by trade. Shanda is a traditionally published author-illustrator who loves doing school visits, but has struggled to find a simple way for schools to support her books and indie booksellers with a book sale. (And she’s not alone.)
Author Visit Central is a response to the complicated, outdated methods typically used to sell books when an author visits a school (in person or virtually).
Clara Hammett holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is from Jackson, Mississippi and is a former bookseller at Lemuria Books. She has reviewed children’s books for The Clarion Ledger newspaper and owned former children’s book review website Twenty by Jenny. She likes creating all forms of art and going for walks with her family. While she has held many jobs, her most recent one is that of mom. Her current reading stack ranges from Jane Austen to Jesmyn Ward and a lot of Sandra Boynton!