10 Years of Virtual Authors UK

Today is the 10th anniversary of Virtual Authors UK, the directory site I set up to help UK schools find authors, illustrators and poets available for virtual visits.

The site was inspired by similar directory sites in the US. Concerned about the impact flights had on my carbon footprint, I stopped flying in 2005 and was looking for a more climate friendly way to engage with overseas readers, particularly in the US. In 2012 I received an invitation to Skype with an elementary school in North Carolina to read my picture book The Princess and the Pig and answer a few of the children’s questions. The session went really well and I was keen to do more.

Virtual author visits were already commonplace in the US and I was able to add my name to a couple of established virtual author visit directories including a page set up by author Kate Mesner and the now defunct ‘Skype an Author’ website run by Mona Kerby and Sarah Chauncy. Within a few weeks of adding my name to the directories, I was receiving regular Skype session requests from US schools.

A photo taken during one of my Skype sessions with a US school.

I was eager to do virtual visits with schools this side of the Atlantic as well but, despite my efforts to promote my Skype sessions through my web site and social media, the offer had only been taken up by a couple of UK schools. It occurred to me that one of the things that had helped virtual visits take off in the US were the online directories where schools could easily find available authors. So I decided to set up Virtual Authors UK as a directory of authors who were available to Skype with UK schools.

In 2014, when the site launched, most of the US authors offering virtual visits – and ALL of the authors listed on Kate Messner’s page – offered free 15-20 minute sessions. I decided that, to encourage UK schools to try virtual visits, I would initially follow Kate Messner’s example and only list authors who offered short sessions for free. I searched the internet for other UK authors who were offering free virtual visits. I found about twenty and contacted them to ask if they’d like to be listed in the directory, which all of them did. 

The site went online on 10 March 2014 and slowly began to pick up more authors. In 2017  I relaxed the free visits only requirement and the directory began to list authors who offered sessions for a fee. By the end of 2019, the directory listed about 50 different authors, but this number more than doubled in 2020 when the impossibility of making in-person school visits during the COVID pandemic encouraged many authors to take up virtual visits for the first time.

The site currently lists 125 different authors, illustrators and poets offering virtual visits using a range of software including Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, Microsoft Team in addition to Skype.

The site currently lists 125 differnt authors, illustrator and poets who offer virtual visits to UK schools.

Virtual author visits have now become as familiar as in-person school visits for many UK schools and I like to think that the Virtual Authors UK site has played a significant role in achieving this. I’ve been maintaining the site on a voluntary basis for the last ten years and at some point, I’d like to hand over its running to someone else on the understanding that it continues to be maintained as a free resource for both authors and schools. So, if you have experience running a web site and are interested in taking it on, do get in touch!

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