Organizer Tips for Author Visits

Organizers for events almost always ask me what my needs and wants are prior to arrival. I'm a very low-maintenance person, so it's pretty easy to answer. There are a few things that I've noticed over the years that are nearly universal across authors, so I've put together a few tips for event organizers on the most imperative things authors need the second we walk in the door.

Just remember this mythical animal - the BatCow.

Bathroom. Coffee. Water.

In most cases authors have just driven - or flown - in from places unknown in order to show for the event. It's pretty typical for a welcoming committee to spot us at the door, and immediately tell us how glad they are to see us, how much they loved our books, and if they can help carry anything.

All these things are really, really cool.

But usually the author really, really has to pee.

Point us to the bathroom before you tell us how much you love our books. Trust me, we all love compliments, but it's hard for us to respond to you with the appropriate amount of thankfulness when we're concentrating on not wetting down our legs.

The second thing I've noticed is that there is almost never enough coffee at events like festivals or gatherings with more than one author. Organizers seem to underestimate how much coffee authors are going to drink. The answer is a lot. We are going to drink a lot of coffee. Overload on the caff (not the de-caff) and I promise you there will be little to nothing left over.

Third - water. If we are on a panel, speaking to a group, or just hand-selling books from a table all day we are going to be talking - a lot. We need water. Bottled water with caps is best (take it from the girl who has spilled stuff all over her table - and books - more than once). If you're relying on jug dispensers and open containers there will be spills, and possibly, damaged books as a result.

These are the universal basics.

What else can you do? Plenty!

Parking can be a thing - especially if the author is appearing at a library and the spaces are taken by regular patrons as well as those attending the event. If authors bring their own books to events for sale, the nearer the entrance, the easier (and faster) setup will be. If you're able, assign a spot for the author near the entrance.

I've had schools use chalk to mark my spot, and libraries put a sign up to let patrons know not to park there. Either way is great (and I've never requested it, to be pleasantly surprised when it's provided). Definitely let the author know you've done this, though. We won't look for a special spot for us if we don't know it's there.

Tech is of the utmost importance. I've had a couple of visits where we were scrambling for tech to make things work before go-time. It's fine, things happen. But good communication before hand (and this applies to the author, too) can keep this from occurring. Ask your presenter if they need a projector, a screen, a mike, or if they have audio in their presentation. Also, be aware that a lot of authors are relying on flipping through slides with a remote during their presentation. Will the laptop be in the back, or the front of the room? Will the remote signal go that far? Stuff like that can be handled on the fly, but be aware of it beforehand so you can plan.

Book sales can help pad the author's takeaway from the visit, so always ask if they are willing to sign and sell. Some authors will request that you have a book seller available to handle sales, others have gone through the process of getting a vendor's license through their state so that they can handle sales themselves. 

Then - make sure it happens.

I've found Indie bookstores to be much more reliable when it comes to author visits, so ask a local bookseller if they'll do offsite sales before going to a big box store. If you do contact a bigger store, check, double-check, and check again to make sure they're going to be there. Once I had a bookseller no-show because there were too many people involved in the communication line, and things were dropped. Indies can be more dependable, but again - always double check that they are planning on being there a few days before the event.

If you are hosting a large festival or event, be absolutely sure that the bookstore has the books for every author who will be there. More than once I've been at events where an author has fallen through the cracks. Big festivals and fairs are a huge amount of work for the organizers, and things happen. 

But authors travel to most events on their own dime, and if they show up to discover that the bookseller has everyone's books but theirs... well, it's more or less a waste of their time - and money. Yes, we can still do a panel, answer questions, and pass out bookmarks. And chances are, most authors are going to do so with grace (there's not point upsetting librarians, organizers, and booksellers). But inside, trust me, they are not happy.

How to stop this from happening? Check. Re-check. Check again. Go down the list of books with the bookseller by author - and title - to ensure that books have been ordered for every author appearing.

Last thing when it comes to a bookseller providing the books - be sure if the author is promoting a series that you have ALL the available titles in that series. The author isn't going to have much luck hawking the third in a trilogy if s/he doesn't have the first and second ones on hand as well.

If the author is bringing books themselves have either people or a cart available to help move them inside the building - and don't freak out when you see how many boxes we have. Don't worry, we know we're not going to sell them all. I personally bring way more than I expect to sell. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

Lots of things to remember, I know. But there are just as many responsibilities on the authors as well - and I'll talk about those next week.