Authors and illustrators across the UK have responded to the Coronavirus outbreak by creating and sharing hundreds of stories and creative activities for children in live and recorded videos and free printables that families can access from home.

Authors Caryl Hart and Jonathan Emmett have created Picture Book Author Events Online as a one-stop-shop to bring together and showcase a huge range of these resources from some of the best loved picture book creators. 

Caryl Hart tells us how the project came about and why she and Jonathan have given up weeks of their time to make it a success.

Creating Storytime Videos for Children at Home

On the 13th March, I read a tweet by author Sarah Crossan saying she was planning to do some live Instagram posts to encourage young people to get writing and to chat about books during self-isolation.

I thought this was a great idea and decided to post some videos of my own based on my picture books.

Caryl Hart Blog

Call to Action

Later that day, I put out a call to other authors and illustrators to see if anyone wanted to join me as I felt this was something I could do to help families who were stuck at home with young children.

Authors Holly Webb and Gill Lewis got back to me straight away and by the end of the following day I’d had messages of support from Steve Antony, Fred Blunt, Jonathan Emmett and Sarah MacIntyre.

Sarah alerted me to the hashtag #FreeBookResources that she and some other creatives were using to enable families and teachers to find downloadables and printables easily by searching on social media.

Picture Book Author Events Online – What’s On

By 15th March, Holly Webb had broadcast our very first video and I’d created a web page that listed timings of live broadcasts that our little group was planning to do.  I was sending out dozens of tweets and retweets to help highlight the resources that authors and illustrators were making available.  Many of these were existing resources, created to accompany the publication of specific books, so it felt like a great opportunity to help promote some of the brilliant work people in the industry were already doing before the Coronavirus outbreak.

Visit the What’s On Page here: https://www.carylhart.com/whats-on-2

Caryl Hart Blog

Picture Book Author Events Online Facebook Page

Following discussions on the best ways to broadcast live and building on his experiences with another project, Jonathan Emmett suggested we set up a Facebook Page that contributors could broadcast from, where we could also repost videos shared on other platforms.

The very next day, 16 March, the Picture Book Author Events Online Facebook page went live.  Jonathan was the first to broadcast from this new platform. We subsequently decided to focus the scope of the project on traditionally published picture books, in order to limit the quickly growing administration time needed for the project and ensure the quality of the material being shared.

Visit the Picture Book Author Events Online Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorEventsOnline/

Two days later, Chris Haughton, who had also started broadcasting his wonderful draw-along storytimes, kindly agreed to create us a logo. Chris’s first video, Shh! We Have a Plan, posted on his own social media and re-posted on Picture Book Author Events Online, had over 2,000 views.

Caryl Hart Blog

FreeBookResources Links Page

At the same time, I also set up another web page with links to free downloadable book resources for children to access from home. This includes both resources created in response to school closures, and those that predate the outbreak.

Caryl Hart Blog

Free Picture Book Resources and Videos for Children During School Closures

By the time schools actually closed on 20 March, the project, some great content and our administration systems were already up and running.

We now have over 1,000 followers on our Facebook Page and have broadcast and reposted over 250 new videos, all created since 16 March. 

The picture book creators shared on the page include : Steve Antony, Catherine Barr, Rob Buddulph, Cerrie Burne, Nathan Bryon, Jill Calder, Jane Clarke, Coo Clayton, Benji Davies, Nicola Davies, Helen Docherty, Elys Dolan, Julia Donaldson, Malachy Doyle, Jonny Duddle, Jonathan Emmett, Charlie Farley, Jane Clarke, Jim Field, Kes Gray, Caryl Hart, Chris Haughton, Timothy Knapman, Steven Lenton, Ben Mantle, James Mayhew, David Melling, Lydia Monks, Sarah McIntyre, Susannah Lloyd, Tom McLaughlin, Guy Parker -Rees, Tom Percival, Jane Porter, Kjartan Poskitt, Joshua Siegal, Zeb Soanes, Robert Starling, Kristina Stephenson, Linda Strachan, Ed Vere, Chris White, Gill White, Mo Willems.

Caryl Hart - Authors

Book Trust and Sunday Times Listings

Our resources are listed by BookTrust and were features in an article by Nicolette Jones for The Times: Your favourite children’s authors online for free: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/culture/your-favourite-childrens-authors-online-for-free-bhhzf5bm

Advice for Authors, Illustrators, Teachers and Librarians

As well as creating a one-stop-shop for content, Jonathan and I also provide guidance for authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians wishing to create story videos. This includes information from how to set up your studio, to licensing and copyright permissions.  Most publishers have relaxed licensing to allow content to be published online for a limited time period and are, indeed working with us to actively promote our material.

You can find our guidance here: https://www.carylhart.com/special-projects/guide

Showcasing Authors’ and Illustrators’ Work

All but the most famous authors and illustrators rely on their own efforts to promote their books to readers.  Those of us lucky enough to have publicists engaged by our publishers do get some help around the launch of a book, but this is generally for a limited time only. So platforms like Picture Book Author Events Online can be a great way for us to showcase our work and highlight all the extra resources we create for our readers.

Loss of Income due to School Closures and Event Cancellations

Many children’s authors and illustrators rely on events with schools, libraries and festivals to supplement the income they get from book sales. 

For books created as a partnership between an author and illustrator, each contributor typically receives just 5% on a hardcover and 3.75% of the selling price on a paperback. Royalties are paid in two parts. The first is an up-front advance of a few thousand pounds. If a book does well enough to cover this initial advance, contributors may then receive additional payments depending on volume of sales. This works out around 30p a copy for a book that sells at full price, down to less than a penny for books selling at a high discount.

But as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, this second stream of income has vanished overnight.   With schools closed and festivals cancelled for at least 6 months, many of us will lose thousands of pounds in cancelled bookings, lack of future bookings and the associated loss of direct book sales these events generate. I personally expect to lose at least £7,000 from my income this year.

Virtual Author Visits

I am hoping that I may claw some of this back through setting up virtual author visits using video conferencing software such as Skype and Zoom, which I have already trialled with a school.

While many schools are currently too busy fire-fighting to think about specific projects at this stage, I am hopeful that come the summer term they might be ready to look at ways to enhance their students’ learning and motivation to continue reading and writing at home. 

When this happens, Picture Book Author Events Online will be a valuable showcase of the kinds of stories and activities we have to offer, and could become a central point of contact for teachers to looking to book their favourite creatives for virtual events.

But for now, Authors and Illustrators continue to provide this huge variety of resources completely free, because we understand the importance of stories and want to support those caring for children at home. 

If you enjoyed this blog, have a read of our recent blog by Jeff Norton about what other children’s authors are doing  to help families, teachers and children during school closures: How Children’s Authors Are Stepping Up During Lockdown.