As children’s booksellers, our mission begins and ends with serving our community. This means not only championing great books, but getting out there and building curious, engaged readers. One thing I love about this job is that there are truly so many natural literacy partners and stakeholders out there who are doing great things and who love to collaborate. At the top of that list are the schools. We work more and more closely with our local school districts every year, and the more we work together, the deeper and more impactful our literacy programming becomes. We’re actively expanding our school partnerships in a number of ways, really focusing on the potential of this work through new festivals, citywide summer reading programming, bookfairs, and good old-fashioned author events.
We kicked off our school event season today with a visit from picture book superstar, Peter Brown. We put on about 140 author events at schools last year, and to do that (and stay sane) we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to make each of them a success. I thought that, as the new season starts, I would share a few tips from the trenches.
MAY THE BEST PROPOSAL WIN: We currently solicit school event proposals from 150 schools across 5 districts, and while we of course have trusted go-to partners that we’ve worked with for years, the best events sometimes come from proposals we don’t see coming. When a school truly loves an author, the enthusiasm and creativity that shines through can make for an incredible experience for all involved. We are lucky to have access to a lot of touring authors, and we want to give that access to as many Austin kids from as many parts of the city as we can. So we approach our event calendar with with an open mind and an eye to demographic equity.
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY: Most author tours booked through stores like BookPeople are designed to build support for new releases. The expectations for each event vary, whether it’s for a debut author looking to build word of mouth or a seasoned pro hitting the road to connect with eager fans. And while schools love hosting, they don’t know what makes a given event a success for the publisher, author, and bookseller unless you tell them. We work with all our school partners to make sure sales expectations and hosting needs for each event are built into our proposal process from the outset, something that has really helped us cut through misunderstandings so we can work together as a team.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS: School events can be tricky to wrangle, simply because they involve a third party. It is our job to make sure each event goes smoothly, but much of the promotion, set-up, and sales is coordinated by the schools. This means that communication and attention to detail really matters each and every time. As our program grew to over 70 events a semester, this meant adding a dedicated coordinator to keep an eye on all the moving parts–as well as a couple part-time hosts to go onsite and be our eyes and ears on the scene.
BRING IT ALL HOME: Authors work really hard on tour. Most do two (if not three) school events in a day, sometimes even followed by an evening event. We know authors need a respite from the schedule while they’re here. But we do try to bring them by the store for a snack, a stock signing, or a bookseller meet-and-greet. After all, booksellers are superfans too!