Somewhere in Great Britain a group of hopeful Book Event organisers is having a conversation something like this:
- LET’S GET AN AUTHOR TO COME.
- GREAT. WHO SHALL WE HAVE?
- THERE FOLLOWS EXTENDED
- DISCUSSION IN WHICH NAMES
- LIKE ALAN GARNER AND ROALD DAHL FEATURE LARGELY…)
- HOW DO WE ARRANGE IT?
If this scene is at all familiar… Start here with these questions.
Why do you want the visit? As part of a book fair? To give the bookshop a boost? To show that authors are real? To create enthusiasm for books and reading? To encourage children to write?
Who is your audience? Parents? Children? Both? How many will there be? What ages? How organised?
What do you want your visitor to do? Sign books? Perform? Talk? Smile nicely? Tell stories?
Where will it happen? Library? School Hall? Classrooms? Town Hall? Canal barge? Inside or outside? Do you expect your visitor to appear in more than one place?
What is the date? Can it be changed? What time of day? How many times and for how long do you expect your visitor to appear? Have you left enough time to plan it (at least eight weeks – preferably twelve)?
Thinking about all that should leave you ready to go on to:
Who shall we ask to come?
Some authors enjoy meeting their readers; others hate it. Some are marvellous with children; others are disastrous. Some can travel long distances and stay overnight; others are more restricted.
There are hundreds of authors. How can you find one to suit you? Don’t worry. Help is at hand.
A new list of authors, illustrators and poets willing to visit schools is now available from the NBL. The list contains addresses and/or publisher contacts, age range preferred, area preferred, availability and subject of talk. Also the NBL staff have helpfully provided a guide to geographical locations of authors and a listing of at least the last three titles published and presumably in print of each author, illustrator or poet.
The list is available from the NBL, Book House, 45 East Hill, Wandsworth, London SW18. Please send 30p in stamps.
And publishers can give good advice (ask for the Publicity person).
Maggy Doyle (in charge of Piccolo publicity) gave us this account of a typical phone call.
Book event organiser ‘Hello.’
BEO ‘I’m organising a book event and wonder if you could supply an author?’
M ‘Have you any idea of who you’d like?’
BEO ‘Well, anyone you can recommend, really.’
M ‘Right. What do you want him to do – sign books or do something?’
BEO ‘Em. I think the kids will get more out of visit if they’re involved a bit – we’d like someone to do something – but how much will it cost?’
M ‘Well, most authors do expect a fee of between £20 and £30 plus expenses but some don’t charge anything except expenses.’
BEO ‘Oh. I thought we might be able to have somebody free.’
M ‘Mm. You may have heard of event-organisers not paying anything, but it doesn’t happen often. Its mainly at book fairs when publishers take stands and books are in a represented selling situation (s’cuse the jargon). Then we’ll ask authors to come along on our behalf and pay any costs ourselves.’
BEO ‘Ah. Okay then.’
M ‘Now when is it? How old are the kids, how many in each session, how many sessions, how long is each session? Will books be for sale – if so, through which bookseller? Will books be there or do you want me to provide them? Will you meet him at the station, give him lunch, look after him? What kind of prevent publicity have you arranged? Will kids have read his books and be familiar with his work or will they be doing a project or other school work about his visit afterwards?’
BEO ‘Em …’
M ‘There’s an author (X) who lives near you. He’s terrific with kids – he’ll leave them with a lasting impression that books are interesting, enjoyable, exciting, useable and relevant – and we’ve just published his second book. What about him?’
BEO ‘Well … haven’t you got anyone more famous?’
M ‘Yes, we have, but they’re often so busy that they don’t have much time for personal appearances, and some do feel more at home with adult audiences.’
M ‘I can thoroughly recommend our new author, though; I’ve seen him in action. And he doesn’t charge a fee… ‘
BEO ‘Okay then.’
M ‘Right. I’ll ring him now and ring you back to confirm. Okay?’
BEO ‘Okay. Thanks for your help.’
M ‘Okay. Bye.’
M ‘Hello, sorry, he can’t make it… now we’ve got another terrific new…
How much will it cost?
Authors’ fees vary (£25 per day plus expenses is average) so it is important to find out what is involved. Be clear about exactly what you want an author to do (e.g. number and length of appearances, size of audience, etc.) and settle all financial details with the author (or his publisher) in advance. You can save on hotel expenses by offering hospitality in someone’s home – but check first; some authors insist on hotel accommodation.
Can you afford it?
Sometimes authors come free.
1. At book fairs some publishers will provide an author free. (Check and arrange this well in advance.)
2. During Children’s Book Week specified authors agree to waive fees and publishers pay travelling expenses. (Booklet and details from: Margaret Turfrey, Book Marketing Council, 19 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3HJ)
You can get help from the Writers in Schools scheme.
Since 1st April this year the Arts Council of Great Britain has devolved this scheme to the Regional Arts Association.
In preparation for this devolution, the Arts Council prepared a selected list of writers to visit schools, colleges and other educational institutions during 1980/81.
For practical reasons, only a limited number of names appear in this list, which is intended as a starting point rather than a comprehensive guide. Teachers, education advisers and other organisers of visits should not feel obliged to restrict their invitations to writers listed there, and further suggestions may be obtained from Regional Arts Associations.
The list is available from: Arts Council of Great Britain, Literature Department, 9 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LH.
Under the terms of this scheme you may normally apply for reimbursement of up to 50% of the fee and also all travelling expenses where long distances are involved.
Fees and expenses should be agreed between you and the writer concerned, and applications should be made in advance of the visit to your Regional Arts Association. It’s advisable to contact your Regional Arts Association to find out any regional variations to this pattern. (Some have been reported – please write to us if you meet any difficulty.)
During the first year of devolution of the scheme the Arts Council’s Literature Department will be pleased to advise you and will be maintaining close liaison with all the Regional Arts Associations.
Similar schemes operate in Scotland and Wales, and lists of Scottish and Welsh writers may be obtained from the Scottish Arts Council (19 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4DF) and the Welsh Arts Council (Holst House, 9 Museum Place, Cardiff CF1 3NX).
So – you’ve booked the author. You’ve got the cash. Is there anything else?
Bernard Ashley (a junior head and a writer who’s done a lot of visiting) gives us an answer in
An author’s eye view
You’ve got an author coming into the school: a real live writer who does professionally all that writing business the children are doing all the time. After authors no group has more demands made upon their written output than children in school have, so get your author into the classroom to help them, to show that books come from people like him, and like them. Don’t throw him away with simply a smile-and-be-nice-to-the-customers stint in the bookshop. Let the children read ahead of the visit, have their questions ready, and generally capitalize on having him in the school. He will enjoy talking about writing to a group who have actually read one of his books just as much as he will like being celebrated in a corner of the bookshop.
Since he is coming, work at making him special. Get him talked about, from Assembly mentions to break-time chats. In a primary school you can probably even name the day after him.
Meet him at the school entrance at the agreed time, having provided fool-proof instructions on how to get there. (Meeting him at the station or telling him to get a taxi at your expense is a nice courtesy.) Certainly don’t leave him kicking around a building being ignored (very easy in a comprehensive). It’s good for his soul, really, but he may not feel inclined to come again.
I like a job when I’m in a bookshop. Bookshop stints are all right for illustrators and writers of books on how to make kites – they sit and illustrate or stand and make kites. But a writer of fiction, used to scribbling illegibly in tatty notebooks, needs something public to do. Ask him to tell a story, take money at the till, declare something open – but don’t leave him being a Well Known Figure around the place.
Check with him first whether he minds signing other authors’ books. Some people are fussy about it. I sign anything, and others’ books get, `I hope you enjoy X’s book’ written in them. Be sure to have enough available on sale or return.
Involve your author’s publisher. The firmer and surer you are about what you want, the better the publisher will respond. Ask for posters, showcards, book jackets, photographs: and if they haven’t got any on your author demand to know why not, for heaven’s sake. He’ll be grateful for that. There he is, pushing himself around, and they haven’t got posters… !
One don’t! Don’t greet him with `Of course, I haven’t read any of your stuff myself, but you’re very popular with the children.’ (It’s the `Of course’ that gets him.) If you can’t do better than that, don’t bother having him. He won’t appear to mind your omission, but inside he’ll be writing you off as a discourteous charlatan. And don’t let him know you asked for someone else but the publisher sent him. He’s very sensitive, or he wouldn’t be a writer for children.
Overdo the cups of tea, and don’t keep on about how good H.E. Todd was. Make sure he meets the Head – and if you can’t say thank you in cash, give him a pen. He’ll treasure it – and he writes with them.
Don’t be afraid of new names. Being a famous writer doesn’t automatically make you good at talking or meeting people. New writers or less well-known people are often fresher and more enthusiastic – and they may soon be famous!
Think about alternatives to writers or artists. Publishers, editors, designers, printers, bookbinders, booksellers, reviewers and librarians are all part of the world of books.
There are plenty of horror stories about how authors have been treated. There are also plenty about how they have behaved! If you follow our guidelines you will have done your part. If you feel an author hasn’t come up to scratch tell him/her (politely), tell his/her publisher and tell us. Do the same if the visit has been a great success. Then we’ll be in a better position to give each other good advice!
Blueprint for SUCCESS
1. Be clear about what you want.
2. Contact authors and/or their publishers well in advance.
3. Make sure that you and the author are clear about fees and expenses, travelling arrangements, times, what he/she will do, etc. Confirm all details in writing (keep a copy) and keep in touch.
4. Arrange publicity: ask publishers for material, get children reading and talking, contact the local paper.
5. Arrange to have books for sale.
6. Arrange a timetable for the day’s activities.
On the day
Look after your author. Writers are human; they need food, drink, rest and reassurance just like the rest of us.
1. Capitalise on the visit in work in school.
2. Write to your author (encourage the children to write too) to say thank you and give him/her some feedback.