One of the most surprising joys of releasing my first MG—THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, about a young girl turned folk artist—was that I was suddenly able to do classroom Skype visits. I adore meeting my readers face-to-face. As someone who publishes YA as well, I wish high schools were as open to Skypes as elementary schools. I’d love to Skype with high school English classes—or even collegiate courses on adolescent or children’s lit.
Teachers have often told me they’re interested in doing Skype visits, but confess they’re not sure where to start. Skype is honestly nothing to be intimidated by—it’s no more complicated than a phone call.
In fact, Skype’s as easy as 1-2-3:
1. GET TECHNICAL
Before you reach out to an author, be sure you’re set up for a Skype visit:
- Head to Skype.com and download the program onto your computer, if you don’t already have it. (It’s every bit as easy as running an update.)
- Get a webcam and mic. In all honesty, most teachers prefer to use laptops; in that case, you’re already set. (And don’t worry about call quality; I’ve never had a problem seeing a classroom using the basic webcam on a laptop.) I Skype from my office (this allows students an inside look at where I work), from my desktop computer. If you’re going to Skype from a desktop, I recommend a webcam with a mic included, just for the sake of simplicity—you can grab one for as little as $20. (Again, more expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to better quality.)
- Test your equipment. Under “Tools”—“Options,” you’ll be able to make sure your audio and video work.
2. REACH OUT
- Don’t be shy. Authors WANT to Skype with you. Because of the rising costs of travel (among other things), in-person author visits are getting few and far between. If your classroom has an especially positive reaction to a read-aloud, track down the author and get in touch about a Skype. I guarantee they’ll like to hear from you.
- The author will share their Skype name with you. Add them to your contacts so you’ll be ready to go for your Skype visit. (On the date you’ve agreed upon, all you’ll have to do is log in, click the author’s contact, and request a video call.)
3. ASK YOUR STUDENTS TO PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME
- Every author will differ a bit on this point—each likes to conduct their Skypes a bit differently. I prefer to do straight Q&A sessions with students. The main reason is that I’m a “talking head” during a Skype visit. I need to keep the kids engaged, and the best way to do that (in my experience) is to get them involved. They need to talk directly to me. Having questions prepared ahead of time means there are no long pauses, and no one will be scrambling to come up with a decent question—nor will students wind up asking the same question multiple times. If your kids all have questions prepared ahead of time, a thirty-minute Skype will absolutely fly by—AND you and your students will all feel it was a success.
- Even if your author would like to give a presentation, I suggest asking them if they would incorporate a short Q&A session. Interactivity is the joy of Skyping. Students LOVE being able to talk to an author. It adds a new dimension to the Skype visit.
That’s really all it takes for a successful Skype—reaching out to an author your kids like, turning on your laptop, and asking a few questions about their book or writing. It gives your students insight into what an author goes through to get their book out. As an added bonus, authors also reinforce lessons you’re teaching: we emphasize the importance of revision, of critical thinking, of listening to feedback without being mad or upset.
You never know what the visits will spark—or how it will inspire your kids. As an author, it helps me to interact with students who are the age I’m writing about. I think of it as an equally beneficial relationship for everyone involved.
…And once you do the first virtual visit, and realize how easy it is, you’ll be off and running! Looking forward to seeing some of you via Skype.
Holly Schindler is the critically-acclaimed author of four YA and MG novels: A BLUE SO DARK (YA—starred Booklist review, one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth, silver medal ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year, gold medal IPPY Awards), PLAYING HURT (YA), THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY (MG), and FERAL (YA—starred Publishers Weekly review). Those interested in scheduling a Skype can contact her directly at: hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com. Visit Holly’s website here.