The Librarian’s Guide to Successful Author Events

Sometimes I should stay quiet when using Twitter. Recently I spotted a tweet from authorNicola Morgan where she explained that she was planning to write a blog post about what authors and illustrators would like from event organisers. I replied, tongue in cheek, that one day I was going to write a blog post about what event organisers (often librarians) would like from those authors and illustrators.

I wasn’t expecting Nicola to reply saying that she thought this would be a great idea! This was followed by fellow writers and illustrators Helena Pielichaty and Sarah McIntyre also adding their encouragement to the idea. The result is below whilst Nicola’s version is available here

Both posts are written in the spirit of positivity and mutual respect. We both believe that looking at the situation from the opposite side of the fence can help both parties have an enjoyable and successful event.

Communication

Increasingly our initial contact with you may be via social media with Twitter being a personal favourite of mine. Apologies that this is so direct however trying to reach you via a publishers generic email address is rarely successful. If you don’t organise your own events please do pass on contact details for the person that can help with this.

If communication is going to be done by yourself please be prepared for a deluge of emails. I’m afraid we will have a number of questions and will wish to check arrangements on a number of occasions. We have a lot resting on this event so need to make sure all our arrangements are correct. If possible contact your publishers and let them know you are visiting our school and ask them to send us some posters and show cards advertising your visit. If they have some bookmarks and badges they can send even better.

It would also be helpful if you could pass us a contact number for the day of the event. This allows us to let you know of any last minute changes.

Money

We will likely ask (and if not we should do because how else are we going to budget for the event if we don’t) what the cost of your event will be. Please be as clear as possible when talking about your fee. If you charge £x for a ‘full day’ make it clear what a full day consists of. School days vary across the country and staff in each school will have different expectations of what a ‘full day’ will consist of. Nobody expects you to work solidly all day but most teachers will probably teach all day with just a 45 minute break.

Please also make it clear whether your fee is inclusive of VAT, this can be a rather nasty surprise if not made clear from the beginning. We are happy to pay travel expenses but we would expect you to use the cheapest form available. It would be useful to have a guide figure on how much this is likely to be in advance. At the end of the event please send your invoice as quickly as possible. School finance systems can be unwieldy beasts so the quicker you are in the system the quicker you will be paid!

The Day

Don’t be late. There is no excuse. I have a 120 13 year olds waiting for your event to begin and their (and my) patience will be wearing thin if ten minutes after the event was supposed to have started there is still no sign of you. Research the location of the school in advance and if necessary ask for a map/directions. However don’t be early either. If you arrive at reception 45 minutes before we have agreed I will either have to abandon a class in the library or feel guilty about leaving you abandoned in the staff room, whilst I attend to said class.

Please let us know in advance if you require to use technology in your talk. Schools are notorious for having exceptionally strict firewalls and unreliable IT. Please ensure you come with a backup plan – the IT may well fail. If we ask you to wear a microphone please do. We know what the listening skills of this group are and being more audible will help to keep their attention.

Regarding the content of the event we will have discussed what we want from the event with you beforehand. Please stick to this brief on the day. We will have primed your audience for this and both you and they will get the most out of it if you do. However do react to situations that emerge on the day. If you feel a particular story is worth developing please do. If in doubt a quick look at the staff present will give you reassurance or otherwise.

When you are planning your event put yourself in the shoes of the pupils you will be speaking to. The pupils you will be speaking to have been forced to sit in a school hall and made to listen to someone who they have never met before and for a large amount of the audience, have never heard of. Some might even be thinking that they would rather have still been in English with Miss Smith. You need to be dynamic, interesting, exciting and relevant. Your presentation needs to slick and professional and your delivery should be polished. If you are not sure you can do this, should you be delivering events?

Staff

A number of staff will be really looking forward to your visit and will see it as a wonderful opportunity for their pupils to experience hearing a published author talk. However I’m afraid some of the staff in the session won’t give your talk their full attention. Some of them may even mark work. I don’t agree with this and yes it’s dam right rude. In fact I may have already spoken to them and suggested that this isn’t the best example to set our pupils. But please remember that I need to work with these members of staff in the future. I need to persuade them that inviting an author in to talk to pupils is a good thing. If you choose to ridicule them that may not be very easy next time. And it will be the pupils, not the staff, who will suffer.

In an ideal world it would be lovely for you to meet the Headteacher during your visit as this would demonstrate how valued reading, books and authors are in our school. However in reality this isn’t going to happen. They will be far too busy running the school and all that this entails. Please don’t take this personally and think that it devalues your visit in any way.

Booksales

Be realistic when it comes to book sales. With the greatest will in the world you can give a stellar performance and might still only manage to sell 5 books. Over many years of organising author events there is no rhyme or reason on why some days book sales or good or some days bad. Each school will have their own system for dealing with book sales and please respect this. And if you don’t sell many books remember that after your visit your books are likely to be borrowed from the school library. You may well have earned some new fans after all…

The End

Schools are run by the timetable and the sound of the bell. Kids move at the sound of it so don’t worry if they vanish straight after the event. They don’t want to risk facing the wrath of Mr Smith, who they have next lesson, for being late. And I’m afraid I and my colleagues all have things to do and places to be. We would love to sit and chat with you but I’m afraid that’s not always going to be possible.

This guide is very much just that, a guide. These are not hard and fast rules and they are there to be bent and broken. I have organised a number of author events over the last 13 years as school librarian at Stewart’s Melville College and they have nearly always been great fun and well received by pupils and staff. This is because of clear communication between the organiser and the author and this is without doubt the most important aspect of ensuring both author and school have a successful author event.