Thursday 3 February 2011

Library Visits…. from 'The Other Side'

I’m not referring to holding a séance, here. Though, if it could work and you could get Roald Dahl or C.S. Lewis or the like in for an afternoon, that would be interesting. But that isn’t today’s topic. Instead, I’m putting my other hat on for a moment, and looking at author visits from the library’s point of view.
Disclaimer: These are purely the views of the blog author (meaning me) and are not meant to represent anyone who may or may not be alarmed at the expression of any pro-literacy or pro-library sentiment which I may or may not hold.
Am I good to go on?
A few days ago, Candy Gourlay braved jet-lag, motorways and boxes of Tall Story that mysteriously vanished then reappeared in the boot of her car to visit Princes Risborough Library in Bucks. She had a year 8 class from a nearby school come for the afternoon: they were very tall! She hung around the delights of the Chilterns for the afternoon and stayed for a Chatterbooks event in the early evening which we opened up to other children as well, giving a challenging age range of 7 to 13.
Me, Candy & Tall Story
Last summer it was Jon Mayhew and Mortlock: he brought a gaggle of little (and not-so-little) Mayhews along to embarrass and to fill out the audience, and a crow. There was no school class or Chatterbooks this time as it was summer holidays, but we got a good group in and Jon soon had them making up scary stories that still give me nightmares.
Jon spreading nightmares...
The positives from these visits? They are many of course, but these are the things that stand out to me.
When Jon came last summer, there were the usual suspects in the audience. You know, the kids who always have a book in their hands, borrow armloads every week, and are thrilled to meet an author and get a signed copy. This is good. But what is better are the others who don’t much care for reading, only ever come to the library to borrow DVD’s, but got convinced to come to hear about flesh-eating crows. There were quite a few boys in this category that came to Jon’s talk and these are the ones I get excited about. Imagine if this is the first time a child voluntarily says, ‘I’m going to read this book’? You can’t over-estimate the importance of these moments.
'Read my book: or else!'
Likewise with Candy’s visit: she didn’t have the draw of flesh-eating crows, true. And the usual suspects were there again. But once more there were the others who got convinced to come along by hearing her opening lines:
Rush hour. So many armpits, so little deodorant.
Of course, you always knew your opening is important, but I bet you never knew that one day library staff might be reading it out to passing children to convince them to come to a library visit, did you? And after Candy’s evening talk there were a few more asking if could they join Chatterbooks. Hurrah!
Switching hats for a moment, from the author’s point of view – unless you are very famous – to have a successful library visit, with bums on seats, you really need the library staff on your side. Merely putting a poster on the wall and a sign-up sheet in a drawer won’t do the trick. Busy staff have to sell it, and you; they are more likely to do this with enthusiasm if they know you, and know stuff about you and your book.
Finally, you may have noticed that libraries are, well, a bit broke. So author visits to libraries these days generally mean the author gets paid in jam doughnuts. If they’re lucky, there may be a cup of tea involved, or even, a sandwich. Of course, you gain publicity for your book and a chance to meet your readers. The library should also make sure it has your book on the shelf when you come, which may even involve them acquiring extra copies of it in anticipation. And you may sell a few copies, as well.


  1. Teri - I was lucky I knew you! But how can authors who don't know librarians attract their attention? PS Love that picture of John. I'm going to put a top hat in my next book so that I get to go to libraries in one.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful time was had by all - and you CAN@T underestimate the power meeting an author has on encouraging children to read books...

  3. I completely agree about children meeting writers - I remember the thrill of meeting someone who wrote actual books when I was at school, it had a powerful impact. Not sure I've grown out of that.

    Great piece, Teri.

  4. I agree with the comments about meeting an author. I didn't meet an author until I was about forty! They were Gods to me, not someone I could aspire to be. They didn't wash up, do the ironing, get fed up, worry about the normal things in life. They weren't from a little pit village on the North East Coast! They were posh! I thank SCBWI for enlightening me and making me realise I too can join the ranks of muddlers.

    And I agree with Candy about putting something in the book. Steve Hartley has his big pants, Philip Ardargh has his beard, if you write about fairies you can dress up! I'm currently writing about a troll who burps - where's the green make up!

  5. It's great to see kids get all enthusiastic about a story - it gives me a warm and fuzzy glow. Well done Jon, Candy and Teri!


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