March 17, 2018

Author, Author! | Programs That Pop

With the recent explosion of self-publishing and the relative ease with which one can become a published author, our library has been bombarded with requests by writers looking for us to host author talks and book events. The sad truth is, with rare exceptions, author visits can be a hard sell, requiring herculean PR efforts, even for established authors with respectable sales. Given the limited amount of program space at the library and the large number of high-demand programs, I can’t schedule events for every author who pitches me.

Combine and conquer

The necessity of saying “no” to so many aspiring authors was what initially inspired me to host a local author fair. The “no” became a “no, but,” as I explained that I was adding their contact information to my list of potential writers for an upcoming special event.

Beyond this self-generated list, I contacted local writers’ groups to ask them to spread the word among their members. Once I promoted the idea, finding authors was not a problem. In fact, I had to stop accepting applications when we reached 40, the maximum number of wordsmiths that could be accommodated comfortably in the library garden. Residents of our own district were given special consideration, but beyond that I based my selections on the promptness of the applications as well as appeal to a wide range of reading interests, featuring nonfiction and fiction of all genres and for all age groups. I did not vet the books myself, as one of the purposes of this program was to accommodate all of our local authors.

BOOKS IN BLOOM Sachem PL’s garden was “home” to dozens of local authors, such as Ralph T. Gazzillo (l.) and Leeann Lavin (r.)

BOOKS IN BLOOM Sachem PL’s garden was “home” to dozens of local authors, such as Ralph T. Gazzillo (l.) and Leeann Lavin (r.)

A leavening of bigger names

I felt it was important to balance the lineup of the self-published with a few better-known names. I invited any author who had spoken at the library over the past few years, as well as any other local scribes I had interacted with in my capacity as programmer for the library and various book festivals. I figured that even established authors who are not in the habit of pitching or selling their own books might be willing to come out to a one-day event held in their ­community.

Getting the word out

In addition to promotion in the library newsletter and in-house posters and flyers, I had a large outdoor banner put up in front of the building. I marketed the event heavily to local media, always making sure to mention the few prominent names. We also pushed the event through our own social media accounts, as did several of the participants.

We created an event brochure for the day. It contained a map showing the author locations in the garden, as well as a breakdown by genre and age group.

Arranging the authors

The library has a beautiful garden, perfect for hosting the event, and we happened to get lucky with a lovely day. I had also reserved the auditorium in case of inclement weather, and we could have had a successful event indoors as well.

I set up the event by audience, with sections devoted to children’s books, mysteries, memoirs, etc. The authors were each assigned a table on which to display their books and from which they could answer questions and sell their works. The library only provided the table and two chairs, with the authors supplying the rest (tablecloths, signage, promotional materials, books, change, etc.).

We scheduled children’s story times in the garden throughout the day to attract families with young children, but otherwise it was a stand-alone program.

Assessing success

After the day’s activity, I sent a link to a Google form questionnaire to all 38 of the attending authors, and out of 24 total respondents, 16 said that they “yes, definitely” would participate again, six said “yes, probably,” and two said “no.” Most of the comments were extremely favorable, such as “one of the best book fairs I have ever attended” and “participants were helpful, the public seemed pleased, and the staff more than capable and exceedingly prepared.” A few writers were disappointed about negligible or nonexistent book sales, though one poet who has experience with this type of event, said, “I often take part in events where there are no sales at all (by myself or other participants). I sold a few books, and I was pleased with that.”

Next time, I will be sure to schedule at least one additional event on the same day that would draw crowds to the library, such as a musical performance.

All in all, this was a successful occurrence. It is a good way to accommodate a large number of local authors while promoting reading and writing in your community, as long as the participants are reasonable about their ­expectations.

Lauren Gilbert is Head of Community Services, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY. She reviews fiction for LJ and Kirkus Reviews. Find her on twitter at @UffishL

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  1. Last year, I was one of the authors invited to participate in the Books NJ program at the Paramus Library. It was such a pleasure to be included in a panel discussion, then get to meet and greet readers as well as sell many of my hardcover novels and give away numerous paperback copies. A great many authors were included. I hope that every state will provide such opportunities for writers. Special thanks to the hard-working librarians who make such events possible!

    Jacqueline Seewald

  2. As an aspiring public librarian, this was a very helpful breakdown of the different stages – from preparation to evaluation – of planning an event. Much appreciated.