The librarian’s guide to hosting an author visit

by Tess Gerritsen

I love talking to groups in libraries, and I think other authors do as well. Some of my biggest audiences have been in libraries, where I don’t have to talk over the extraneous noise of cappuccino machines and clattering dishes and bookstore customers loudly asking where the SAT guides are. Library patrons love books, and they actually want to hear what you have to say. From an author’s point of view, there’s only one negative to doing a library talk: the precious time it takes away from your writing and your life. You can only fit a limited number of speaking engagements into your schedule, and you need to be choosy about which offers to accept. Authors need time at their desks and they need time with their families. They can’t spend all year driving around to speaking gigs. I try to limit my library gigs to only one a month, and only if it fits easily into my schedule.

If you’re a librarian, and you want to tempt authors to visit your library, here are some guidelines to making your invitation more attractive. And remember, authors speak to other authors, and if one has had a terrific experience at your library, chances are, she’s going to spread the word around.

OFFER A SPEAKING FEE. While this is always a big plus, it’s not absolutely necessary. Some authors are willing to speak if you’ll just reimburse them for transportation and overnight costs. We all know that libraries have limited budgets, and often I’ll waive any fees when the library I visit is particularly small. Or I’ll return the fee to the library as a donation. Please keep in mind, though, that many authors really, really need the money and it’s unreasonable to ask an author to come speak to your group if she has to do it on her own dime. She’s already donating her time for free. Offering a speaking fee may be the incentive she needs to accept.

PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION. If your library is within easy driving distance to the author’s home, then this doesn’t present a problem. But if the author has to come in from out of state, she’ll need her air travel reimbursed. And once the author lands in your town, how’s she going to get to the library? How’s she going to get to the hotel you’ve reserved for her? Make sure there’s a driver to take her where she needs to go. And offer to take her to dinner — the other librarians on staff may enjoy joining the party too!

PUBLICIZE. You want the author to be greeted with a huge turnout. You also want to use her visit as a way to attract new patrons to your library. So send out press releases. Call up your local newspaper and tell the features editor that there’s a hot author coming to town, and maybe they’d want to cover the story. Put up signs in your library announcing the visit, and mention the upcoming visit to every patron who checks out a book similar to the visiting author’s. If the crowd turnout is big, the author will happily recommend your library to other authors.

INTRODUCE THE AUTHOR TO THE AUDIENCE. It’s always nice to be preceded by a glowing introduction letting the audience know a bit about my career.

SELL BOOKS!!! It’s amazing to me how many librarians don’t seem to understand that this is the primary reason an author goes on the road to talk to readers. She wants to sell books. Selling books is how she makes a living, and if there are no books available for readers to buy at the event, then the author may feel her visit was wasted. DON’T ASSUME THE AUTHOR WILL BRING HER OWN BOOKS. Most well-known authors do not keep a supply of their own books, and if the author has a long list of titles, you can’t expect her to lug around multiples copies of her twelve backlist titles. Besides, we authors want the sales to show up on bookstore ledgers; we don’t want to be handling cash and receipts. So you must, must, must arrange for your local bookstore to come in and sell books during the event. Ask the author to provide a list of her available titles so the bookstore has plenty of time to order in copies. Make sure there are enough copies so that every patron who wants to buy one will have a chance to. (And remind the store that any unsold books can be returned to the distributor.) Provide time after the author talk for a book signing.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A HUGE LIBRARY — TAKE A CHANCE AND INVITE AN AUTHOR. I personally love to talk to libraries in small towns, libraries that seldom see authors. I find that in small towns, the audiences tend to be larger and more enthusiastic. I’ve been considering doing a driving tour to small libraries around the country. I’d love to be able to see states I’ve never visited — West Virginia and Louisiana, for instance. I just have to set aside the time to do it one of these days.

Most librarians do a great job of hosting author events, but for those who seldom see an author visit their library, it helps to know what authors need and expect. A little advance work can make the visit a success — and attract many more authors.

8 thoughts on “The librarian’s guide to hosting an author visit

  1. JT Ellison

    Tess, so good of you to post this today. I’ll admit to a sense of relief — sometimes it’s nice to hear that the author isn’t responsible for the work. I love library signings. They are a blast, and always have a good crowd.

  2. Naomi

    How timely this post is! I think libraries will be attracting patrons more than ever right now.

    I do a lot of library events, and most of them do provide nominal honoraria. There are even organizations like Poets and Writers who will underwrite author’s fees if appropriate.

  3. Jake Nantz

    See, this is what I love about coming to this blog. It never would’ve occured to me to schedule library events/signings, even though it makes perfect sense when you spell out how much fun it can be and how it can still be productive.

  4. Louise Ure

    Great advice for librarians and writers alike, Tess.

    I’ve got an event scheduled this Saturday at the Arden-Dimick Library in Sacramento and their upfront work mirrors all the best of your advice. I can’t wait!

  5. Allison Brennan

    I love speaking at libraries. I rarely accept a fee, unless the fee is specifically for transportation (gas, whatever.) Barnes & Noble had a great program last year where they brought in authors to the local libraries and BN sold books. The libraries that advertised it not only in the library but in the local paper or by putting flyers with the books people checked out had great turn-out; two of the five libraries I spoke to did very little of this and the turn-out was poor. Ironically, it was the smallest library that had the biggest crowd–standing room only.

  6. pari

    Tess,I’m going to send this link to some librarians I know . . . I’d suggest other commenters do the same.

    I adore talking at libraries and agree with Naomi that they are going to become more and more important as our economy lurches toward some kind of equilibrium during the next few years — – – – – – – or decades. .

    Thank you!


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