Dawn Finch: The Icy Waters of the Digital Seas

This time last year we were all looking forward to a year of events and school visits and we had no clue that what was about to hit us was going to change the landscape of our work forever. This year all of us have had to rapidly adapt and even reimagine how we work, and I am endlessly impressed by how creatives have managed to navigate these new and very rocky waters and still stay afloat. One question I am being asked a lot is if I think physical school visits will ever return.

It is clear that Covid may place dramatic restrictions on what we are able to do for quite some time yet, and we’d be foolish to not acknowledge that. We have all plunged into the icy waters of the digital seas, but it turns out they were not as shark infested as we feared!

When this all began I was one of those who never did anything digitally (apart from a few frustrating meetings) and I would have resisted taking my presence online. Now, I’m not sure I actually want to go back to travelling up and down the country for things and I’ve become quite relaxed on camera. I’ve had messages from many creatives who have found new and exciting income streams via digital means, and some who have started doing digital and virtual visits after stopping doing physical ones for some years.

The rapid shift to digital visits has meant we’ve all had a lot of extra things to think about. I would strongly advise people to create or adapt their event booking contracts to fit virtual visits. Take into account things like the possibility of last minute cancellations, and to make sure that your rights are protected. If you are a Society of Authors member you can always have your contracts vetted and you can seek advice for contracts you might be writing yourself. The Society of Authors has some very helpful guidance for virtual visits, and you don’t have to be a member to access it.

Yes, the landscape of school visits has changed and I don’t think it will be “the way it was before” and that is because I am hopeful it will be better. I am hopeful that we will move to a time where we have the choice to have a digital and/or a physical presence. We’re not looking to go back to how it was “before”, but to a new way of working where the borders, boundaries and barriers we used to have around us have digitally fallen away.

Everything I’m hearing also leads me to believe that there is a great desire to have “real” visits again. I am absolutely convinced that as soon as people are able they will be booking school visits again. I am hopeful that the hunger for physical visits in schools will be such that we should all be prepared for it!

We all want those wonderful life-affirming visits when we can sign a book and answer questions and hear the live laughter and excitement of the audience. These days will come again because teachers, librarians and booksellers are as desperate for this to start again as we are.

Until then, plan your virtual visits with care, check your contracts, and value your digital presence as much you would value your physical presence.

Dawn Finch

Dawn Finch is the current chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG). Dawn is a poet and writer and has both written and contributed to many children’s non-fiction books. She has twice won the Brian Nisbett Poetry Award, and is in the process of writing a poetry book for children.