Author events can be perplexing, frustrating and hair-raising. They can also be a really good time.
Ah, author events at the library. Is there anything more fun? Author events can also be perplexing, frustrating, and sometimes hair-raising, but mostly when I think of author events I’m primed for a good time—both for myself and my patrons. If you’re ready to give author events a whirl, here are a few things to think about.
Why do author events? It’s a great question, and one to which you’ll want to give some serious thought before you begin an author program. What do you hope to achieve by hosting an author at your library? Maybe you want to:
• create a buzz in the community with newsworthy names
• establish the library’s role as the “life of the mind” for the greater community
• provide a hook for bringing people into the library
• reach out to portions of the community who may not have discovered your library
• raise funds
• build a connection with another community agency
• promote books and reading (my favorite—I think connecting readers and writers in this immediate and intimate way is one of the great things libraries can do)
Once you’ve decided why you want to do author events and how they tie into your library mission, go to all those other query words. Start with “who.” Who is my audience for this program? It might be your book club members, who’d be glad to be introduced to a rising literary star. We were able to introduce our book club members to local author Garth Stein before The Art of Racing in the Rain became such a phenomenon. It might be budding writers who want to learn more about the craft from authors like Mary Buckham, author of Break Into Fiction. Folks interested in current events turn out like crazy for authors like Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame. Who your audience is will determine what author you’d like to invite.
Then turn your attention to “what.” What kind of event will this be? Before you do any inviting you’ll need to know:
• When is it?
• Where is it—library or special venue?
• Who is your audience, and how many people do you expect?
• Is this a special event or part of a monthly series? How is it structured?
• Is this a panel or a single author?
• What is your budget for the event?
• How will you promote this event?
You will need to guess at the attendance, which can feel funny if you’ve never done this before and you really have no idea how many people will come. You need to come to some kind of conclusion as to whether you expect twenty or two hundred. Heck, you need to know that for yourself to decide on a venue and how many chairs to put out.
Once you have the bones of your event in place then you can go looking for authors. Essentially authors are available to you in three ways: you can contact them directly, you can work with a publisher, or you can hire an author through a speakers’ agency. The first two methods may or may not require an honorarium or a fee. Working with a speakers’ agency will most definitely require a fee. If you absolutely, positively have to have a certain author on a given date, working with an agency is the way to go. You just need to be prepared to pay the price.
If you are just beginning author events it’s a good idea to start local to build some expertise and a track record. To contact authors directly, watch the newspaper for ideas of local authors, check in at your local bookstore, and don’t forget the old-fashioned phone book. Look at publisher’s catalogs. Most publishers will list the home location of each author in the listing of the new book. Check author websites as well; they offer a wealth of information from touring schedules to contact information. Send a polite inquiry outlining the event you have in mind, and you’ll likely get a prompt response.
If your local authors are yet to be famous and you worry about drawing a crowd, that’s a great time to consider hosting several authors at once. Who can resist a panel of up-and-coming mystery writers, for example, or a showcase of local literary talent? Creating a series of authors is also a good tactic. Once your patrons have confidence in your choices, they are more likely to come whether or not they recognize the name.
The step beyond contacting authors in your community directly is working with a publisher to bring an author to you library. You may be able to catch an author on book tour or, depending on funds available, you may choose to work with the speaker’s bureau of a publishing house. If you are a stop on a book tour, the publisher generally bears the cost. However, you have a more attractive proposal if you can help out in any way. Perhaps you can provide transportation from the airport or expenses for meals or lodging. And please, no matter how lovely your home, offering your spare bedroom is not a viable alternative.
Many publishers have a library marketing person who can help you find a good match. Here’s where all your homework comes into play. Let the publisher know if you are looking for a specific author no matter when she is available, or if you have a particular event for which you need a speaker. Give him or her a written proposal that includes all that carefully thought out information about the audience and kind of event. Give as much lead time as possible, and keep your expectations reasonable. Please don’t call and ask for Stephen King next week. Well, unless you like the sound of loud guffaws.
Authors and publishers love a creative spin on author events. One romance author speaking at a library is fine as far as it goes, but consider the impact of nine romance authors and several hundred romance readers taking over a library for a day in a Romance Extravaganza. That kind of event generates excitement for the authors and the participants.
The publisher’s representative is a gold mine of information; give them your full attention. These folk know if the author you are after is a good speaker or a washout. They have a good sense of who will work for a particular kind of event. If they tell you something about an author, listen and heed their advice.
There one thing that you absolutely, positively must do at an author event is have books for sale. This is not negotiable. You can have your Friends of the Library do the sales, or you can invite in a local book store to sell; whatever works out for your situation. It is your responsibility. Do not expect the poor author to schlep his books around and make sales out of the trunk of his car.
On the day of your event, greet your author warmly and make him or her feel welcome. Make sure your promotional materials are in evidence. One poet recalls that he felt like a million bucks when he saw a banner stretching over Main Street welcoming him to town. Make sure you think about where he or she will speak (have water available, please), where books will be sold, and where the author will sign. Have Post-Its and pens available, and find out beforehand if there are any limits to the signing—such as no personalizations or no more than a set number of books.
Your mother will tell you it’s good form to send a thank you note to the author and the publisher after the event, and she’s right. For the author, include any fun promotional materials and publicity clippings. The publisher will want to know the attendance and how many books were sold. These small gestures will serve you well when you start planning your next successful author event.