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Tips for event organisers: planning the perfect event.

Nicola Morgan (author, experienced speaker and advocate for reading) often blogs about how to make author events go well. Duncan Wright (librarian at Stewart's Melville College and former School Librarian of the Year) often organises successful author events. Nicola and Duncan got chatting on Twitter one day and decided to put together advice from both viewpoints. Then, Nicola got a fantastic 13-year-old reader to give the audience view. Here is what they all said.

Author Nicola Morgan's viewpoint

Every author wants your event to be perfect. We work really hard for that but there are things you can do to help us deliver. All authors are different but the following are common wishes, which we ask only so that we can deliver the best event possible for your audience.

Communication

1. Choose an author you really want and think about why. Read any event details on our website.

2. We realise that most schools have limited budgets but we ask you to understand that event fees are our wages and that the average income of children's authors is unmanageably low; freelance fees always appear relatively high because we have to account for preparation, discussion, admin, travelling, not just the event time. Be open and respectful.

3. Agree expenses. If an overnight is required, most authors value the privacy of a hotel or B&B rather than staying with a host, as it can affect sleep and energy.

4. Be really clear about what you want. A rough timetable is important early on, though of course changes may happen: tell us well in advance.

5. Try to keep all emails in one 'chain' so we can find info easily.

6. Discuss the possibility of bookselling. The author may have suggestions; sometimes we can supply books.

7. New authors can do equally brilliant events but won't be so experienced in the organisation: make sure you discuss/ask everything, from costs to content.

Before the event

1. Ensure pupils know about us. It's good if they prepare questions--it helps make the event their own. Get pupils to use our website.

2. Make sure staff know about us. This increases value as staff can discuss with pupils afterwards. Please ask attending teachers not to sit and mark books. Everyone will gain more if teachers are engaged and it's off-putting when someone isn't listening.

3. Check what tech and other equipment is needed. Will an IT angel be around?

4. If you've agreed bookselling, ensure that pupils are told (often!) that they need money. If bookselling goes wrong, it's embarrassing--and costly if the author has paid for books. Sometimes, you'll do everything right and sales will still be low, so don't worry--we just like to know you tried.

5. Make sure no one will film or record. Ask how the author feels about photos.

6. Tell the author ASAP if a pupil might be upset at certain themes because of a recent personal sadness.

7. Discuss refreshments. All authors are different but don't underestimate the mental energy required in delivering events; it is NOT the same as teaching all day (which I've done). School events are more like an actor delivering a one-person performance under high pressure in unpredictable circumstances.

On the day (I've omitted the really obvious things)

1. Give the author a few minutes' headspace before each talk.

2. A lively intro makes a huge difference to everyone's mood and excitement. It's amazing what a difference a poor/great intro can make to the author's energy.

3. Tell the audience not to film or record.

4. Bookselling: supply a place for signing and someone to sell. Ensure pupils don't mob the author! Post-it notes for pupils to write names on are a great help.

Please don't:

1. Suddenly ask the author to 'pop into this class' if we haven't agreed this in advance.

2. Feel that you have to entertain us during breaks. You have work to do and we might value breathing space--just ask.

3. Introduce us with the phrase, 'X needs no introduction.'

4. Leave us alone with pupils--a condition of our Public Liability insurance and not because we are scared!

5. Forget that many of us are much more stressed than we might look.

6. Worry about anything. If you've done all the above, it's going to be a great day.

Finally

We want exactly what you want: a great event that people will talk about for all the right reasons. Almost none of us are prima donnas and anything that sounds like a pompous 'demand' is really only so that we can give you our best event. But most of us are fragile: doing a talk is very exposing and our career, income, reputation and emotional wellbeing are on the line. So, if you want to earn our undying gratitude, just do one more thing, if you possibly can: say 'Well done--that was great.' And gosh, I hope it was, because I worked hard to make it so. And I'm saying thank you to you now, because school librarians are my heroes and neither readers nor I could survive without them.

Librarian Duncan Wright's viewpoint

This guide is just a guide, not hard and fast rules. 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 organiser and author and that is without doubt the most important aspect of a successful author event.

Communication

1. Increasingly, initial contact may be via social media with Twitter being a favourite of mine. Apologies that this is so direct but trying to reach you via a publisher's generic email address is rarely successful. If you don't organise your own events, please pass on contact details for the person who can help with this.

2. If communication is done by you, please be prepared for a deluge of emails. We will have a number of questions and we have a lot resting on this event so need to make sure all arrangements are correct.

3. Money: please be as clear as possible when talking about your fee. If you charge [pounds sterling]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 teach all day with just a 45minute break. Make clear whether your fee is inclusive of VAT. It can be a nasty surprise if not clear from the beginning. After the event, send your invoice as quickly as possible. The quicker you are in the system the quicker you will be paid!

4. We are happy to pay travel expenses but 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.

5. Tell your publishers that you are visiting our school and ask them to send us posters and show cards advertising your visit. If they have bookmarks and badges they can send, even better.

6. Tell us in advance if you require technology. Schools are notorious for exceptionally strict firewalls.

7. Let us have a contact number for the day of the event. This allows us to let you know of any last minute changes.

On the day

1. Don't be late. There is no excuse. I have 120 thirteen year olds waiting 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.

2. 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.

3. Technology--IT may fail so come with a backup plan. 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.

4. Regarding the content of the event, please stick to what we discussed beforehand. We will have primed your audience for this. However, do react to situations that emerge on the day. If you feel a particular story is worth developing, do. If in doubt, a quick look at the staff present will give you reassurance or otherwise.

5. When planning, put yourself in the shoes of the pupils. They have to sit in a school hall and listen to someone they have never met and, for some of the audience, never heard of. Some might even rather still be in English with Miss Smith... You need to be dynamic, interesting, exciting and relevant. Your presentation needs to slick and professional and your delivery polished. If you are not sure you can do this, should you be delivering events?

6. A number of staff will be really looking forward to your visit and will see it as a wonderful opportunity for pupils. However, I'm afraid some won't give you their full attention. Some may even mark work. I don't agree with this and, yes, it's down-right rude. I may have already suggested to them that this isn't the best example to set. But remember that I need to work with them in the future and to persuade them that inviting an author in is a good thing. If you ridicule them, that may not be very easy and it will be the pupils who suffer. It would be lovely for you to meet the Headteacher as this would demonstrate how valued reading, books and authors are. However, in reality they will be far too busy running the school. Please don't take this personally and think that it devalues your visit in any way.

7. Booksales: each school will have its own system for book sales: please respect this. And do be realistic about sales. You can give a stellar performance and might still only manage to sell five books. There is no rhyme or reason as to why sales are good or bad on each day. If you don't sell many, 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.

8. Schools are run by the timetable. Kids move at the sound of a bell so don't worry if they vanish straight after the event. They don't want to risk the wrath of Mr Smith. And I and my colleagues would love to sit and chat with you but I'm afraid that's not always going to be possible.

Viewpoint of 13-year-old pupil, Iona Cuthbert

I think there are two main points to consider when organizing an author event. First, whenever an author has come to visit our school, we were told on the day, knowing nothing about who they were and what they had written! It is much more interesting and exciting when we know who is coming! A good way to inform pupils would be by getting us to look at the author's website. Perhaps the teacher could also read a sample of one of the author's novels. Anything to make us feel excited.

The second point, and the most important thing in my opinion, is about the Q&A session at the end. In primary school and the first year of secondary, this is the highlight as it means you can find the answers to all your personal queries. From Year8/S2, however, it often happens that no one asks a question. This isn't because nobody is interested; in fact most people sitting there are dying to ask their question. However in secondary school it's not deemed 'cool' Many students are afraid of being teased. There is a solution to this, which I think many of us would benefit from. The teacher should hand out pieces of paper in class time before the author arrives. Then everyone who wants to can write down his or her question anonymously, without being embarrassed, and the author can pick questions from a bucket. Easy! I know I would like that at my school.

I think these two points should be tried and I hope that it will bring more interest for pupils in school and get more people excited about author events.

Duncan Wright is Librarian at Stewart's Melville College, Edinburgh. www.literatureforlads.com @litforlads

Nicola Morgan is an award winning author and expert on the teenage brain, stress and the science of reading for wellbeing. www.nicolamorgan.com @nicolamorgan
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Author:Morgan, Nicola; Wright, Duncan
Publication:School Librarian
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2015
Words:2147
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