The Anatomy of the Author Visit on a Small Budget

Because we are located in the far northeast corner of Illinois, about 1 hour north of Chicago, our teens don’t get many opportunities to meet authors. We, at the Zion-Benton Public Library, decided to bring local YA authors to our town. If you are looking to do the same, here’s how we  did it:

The Planning: Nine to Six Months Prior. What Month Should I Plan For?

  • If you live in a town that has long winters like Illinois, it’s best to avoid late-November to March.  This year, it snowed in late March.  We do our author visit in April.
  • However, April is also the month for most book festivals and if you live in a small town and want big authors, avoid the month of April and November. Texas, Boston, NY, South Carolina, California, & Virginia have big teen festivals.  If you live in these states, check the dates of these festivals and avoid that month only because authors might not be available.
  • If you rely heavily on school promotion, you might want to avoid the summer or have it in early June and promote it at the end of the school year.

How do I get Authors?

  • Make a list of all the YA authors that live in your state.  Here’s YALSA’s list. Other ideas: Google it, check authors who visit your local bookstores, check the author page in teen books as you read them, many times authors put their hometown as the setting in their book.
  • Once you have a list, visit their website for their contact info.  If you email them and they aren’t responding, tweet them.  I do it all the time and they are very nice and they answer within the same day.
    • Have all your information prepared-date, time, event name, theme, projected audience.
    • They will probably DM (Direct Message) or email you to negotiate fees.  If their fee is too high, politely decline and they will most likely lower it or ask you what you can pay.
  • The earlier you book an author, the better.  It is not uncommon to book them nine months in advance.
  • Check their events page on their website. If they will be in the area for a different visit, they might be willing to visit you.  This is especially great if it’s a bigger name.

How to Get Free Stuff

  • We have a large book raffle or auction at every author event.  We giveaway between 50-150 books, bags, bookmarks, etc.  Here’s how:
    • I try to go to the ALA or Midwinter (American Library Association) Conference.  This is done bi annually and it features an exhibit hall where publishers give away free ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies). Between me and my co-workers, we obtain about 200 books.
    • You can contact the marketing rep of publishing houses.  I Google the publishing house and find their contact info and rep.  I send a SHORT email explaining who I am and I ask if they can donate books, bookmarks, bags to my event.  I always say the number of teens that will be at the event and I always stress that we are giving all books away to deserving teens.
    • Our library is a participant in the Baker and Taylor ARC program.  Every two months or so, BT send us about 20 ARCs for library staff and teens to read and review.  After we have read and reviewed the books, we save them to give away at our events. Honestly, I don’t know how we became participants. I would suggest asking your BT rep.

The Planning: Three to One Month Prior How do I get Teens in the Door?

  • We sent letters to homeroom and English teachers and asked them if they would circ the book from the featured author among their classroom. We also let them keep the book for their classroom library. We of course included the event flyer.  Several of them accepted and we purchased books and mailed them.
    • Instead of circulating the books, the elementary teachers read the book in class. This was even better because it reached more students.
  • Two weeks prior to the event, we sent the same teachers VIP tickets to pass out to the students who they think will come to the event.  All students of course are invited.
    • VIP included an ice cream sundae bar, a SWAG bag, front row lounge seating, and copies of the author’s books to the first 15 teens in the door.
      • You can make your VIP experience however you like.
  • One month prior, we sent VIP tickets and special invites to the teens who come to programs regularly.  The special invites have an incentive-teens receive a raffle ticket to every friend they bring. This is usually good for 10 teens who probably would not have attended the event.
  • We have a monthly book discussion group.  We had our group read the book by the visiting author.  This is to get them excited about meeting the author.
  • In house marketing is always important.  We do large displays of the theme and the books by the visiting author. We put event info in our new and popular books.
  • If you are worried about attendance, a good idea is to contact your local high school to see if any teens need volunteer hours.  Teens ALWAYS need hours to graduate.  We have the volunteers come 1-2 hours before the event to help set up.  They receive duties such as helping at the door, monitoring the food table, taking pictures, etc.  I then have the volunteers be an audience member during the author visit.  This way, you are filling the room.

The Authors

  • One month prior, I check in with our visiting authors.  I email them the itinerary.
  • Two weeks prior, I check in by providing my cell number just in case they get lost or have questions.

 On the Day of the Event

  • Photos.  We usually have a photo booth and a frame for their photos.  Somewhere on the frame we put our Facebook address for teens to see other photos and to like us.
  • Authors are the main priority.  Have a quick bio prepared, have water, and a thank you bag.  Our thank you bag consists of our library’s promotional items.
    • Always stand by the door so that you can greet them.
    • Show them where they can put their purse.
    • Explain what’s happening now and in the next hour or so.
    • We let the authors mingle with the teens before the event.  They’ll take pictures andAAH annie thumbs up sign books.  There’s always time at the end for signing and pics but sometimes teens get excited and they want to do it now.  That’s okay because it cuts down on the time it takes to get things signed at the end.

Other Program Activities We turn our author programs into an event.  It is always after hours and it is always 2.5 to 3 hours long. It’s basically a mini-festival.  We have found that we get more teens when it’s after hours than on a Saturday.  This is especially true if you live in a town where there’s nothing to do. We have a mall and a movie theater but they are 20 miles away whereas the library is only 5 miles away. If you can do an activity that’s based on pop culture, you’re more likely to get a higher attendance. For example, do an activity when a YA book is at the theater- Maze Runner, Paper Towns, Me Earl and the Dying Girl. Some other activities we’ve done during our visits:

  • A scavenger hunt-Maze Run, photo scavenger hunt, murder mystery.
  • Book speed dating
  • Craft related to the theme or genre

AAH group winnersThe Fan Favorite Book Raffle/Auction As I stated above, we do a large book raffle or auction after our author events.  Here’s how it works: If it’s a raffle:

  • We lay all the books out on the table.
  • We put a basket on the table
  • Each teen receives the double sided raffle tickets.
    • This is where more raffle tickets become an incentive.
      • If they bring a friend, they will get x number of tickets.  You can taylor it to your liking
    • We usually only allow them to win up to two times.  It will of course depend on the size of your group.  One win might be more fair with a large group.
  • Before the raffle, I remind teens several times to visit the table to see what book they want. Otherwise, during the raffle, they will take forever to make a decision.

If it’s an auction-This is more difficult for staff but it’s more fun for the teens.

  • In the invites, we tell teens how they can receive more points.
    • Following us on FB, Instagram, etc (If they don’t have social media, they can have their parents follow us)AAH friends group
    • Bringing friends.
    • Posting pics of themselves at the event to their FB, Instagram, etc
    • Best craft, or Photo Booth photo
    • Winning the scavenger hunt
    • Asking the author a question
  • Before the auction, we tally everyone’s points and post them on a dry erase board.  The tough part is having the teens prove their social media posts.  As a staffer, you are busy and then teens are interrupting you and showing you their posts and you have to stop and add points by their name.  It just gets crazy. If you can dedicate a staffer or a teen volunteer to monitor the points, it’s helpful.   It’s also tough during the auction to subtract points as they win.  Once again, an extra staffer is helpful.
  • It’s then run like an auction.
TM shakes hands after the panel.

TM shakes hands after the panel.

Author visits are stressful but it is worth it when you see the little faces excited to meet the person who wrote the book they read. Our author events usually cost between $650-$200.


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