A Recipe for a Great Author Event

Cynthia Compton - July 31, 2019

We were fortunate to host middle school author John David Anderson at our local library today, and as I sat behind the table of his books, swiping parents’ credit cards to purchase books for excited young readers, I thought about other successful author presentations and signings that we have been part of this year. There’s a formula for a good event, I believe, and tonight’s was a perfect example of just the right ingredients, mixed together perfectly. Here’s the recipe to copy.

  1. One savvy librarian, teacher, media specialist or coordinator. In this case, Miss Julie, the children’s librarian at Hussey-Mayfield Public Library in Zionsville, Ind., is the flour AND the yeast — she holds it all together and makes it rise bigger than the ingredients themselves. Julie plans programs year round, for a variety of ages, and at every event we attend she fills the room with eager young readers and indulgently literate parents… and finds all manner of ways to include younger siblings. Even better, she emails us about events months in advance, and then sends weekly updates with registration numbers, and daily updates the week before the event, so that we always have time to get enough books at the best discount. (And if you’ve ever called around town to other booksellers to find stray volumes… you know exactly how much this information means.)
  2. A funny author with a planned program. I could write all kinds of advice to touring authors here, but I will simply talk about all the things that Dave did in his presentation that provided all the flavor of our evening.  Using a slide program format, he kept ideas and images moving and visual for our young audience, with a clever “top 10” format, inviting the crowd to announce each point with a loud “10!”, “9!” “8!”.  Kids who have not seen an author speak may not be sure what they are in for…. and keeping some predictability to pace and length is a kind way to let them know just how long the program will last. A mix of popular culture references and hand-illustrated images let the audience identify with the content even if they hadn’t read any of his books, which he quickly book-talked as he made his way through the program. By the end of his talk, kids who had been just looking at the book table were grabbing three and four titles… 
  3. A little sweetener — chocolate, in this case. Miss Julie knows her snacks, and taking her cue from this paragraph on the author’s website: John David Anderson is the author of several critically acclaimed novels for young people. He lives with his patient wife and brilliant twins in Indianapolis, Indiana, right next to a state park and a Walmart. He does not wear ties. He enjoys hiking, reading, chocolate, spending time with his family, playing the piano, chocolate, putting off the dishes, watching movies, and chocolate. Those aren’t his real teeth. Not all of them, anyway.  
    Julie understands a chocolate addiction when she sees one…. so that became her theme:

    See all the chocolate? And that’s fellow middle grade author Laura Martin (HOAX FOR HIRE, FLOAT, EDGE OF EXTINCTION) in orange, supporting a literary colleague.

    Mixing all these ingredients together in just the right bowl is key, and in the library’s case, a room that held 40-50 kids and parents in real chairs made all the difference. Sitting on the floor is always an option for large groups, but there is something so much more respectful about covered tables, big people chairs, and great lighting that communicates to young readers that their time and attention is important and valuable. 
  4. Nothing that tastes good needs to cook for too long… and so the formal part of the program was exactly 45 minutes. There was the obligatory 15 minutes of questions (“where do you get our ideas? “do you have any pets?” “how old are you?” “how much money do you make?” “where do you get your ideas?”) but these were seasoned by additional chocolate, an author who was comfortable mixing up the answers just for fun, and a clear eye on the clock.
  5. Finally, it was time for things to cool off … and books to be tasted. Here’s the real key to a great author event — the signing time needs to be personal yet expedient. Kids need to approach an author as they feel comfortable, and the experience can be overwhelming for anyone (lots of adults get a bit tongue-tied in the signing line, too.) Dave is a pro here, too, and took just the few minutes with every reader to chat without asking hard questions.

    The best part of author events is introducing readers to their favorite people.

    In the many author events that we’ve hosted, the ingredients may vary slightly, but the methods used are mostly the same. And whether the events are served hot (bring extra water bottles and bug spray if you’re outside), room temp (that’s my favorite, especially if I control the thermostat) or COLD (I’m looking at you, convention center, where sweaters are NEVER optional), with the right preparation, they are all delicious.
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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

3 thoughts on “A Recipe for a Great Author Event

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Thank you, Donna! (Chocolate.) When can we host you in Indiana? (Chocolate.) Love your work. (Chocolate.)

      1. Donna Gephart

        How does tomorrow work for you?
        Seriously, I’d love to get back to Indiana and have a super fun event with you.
        My new book is out October 8th, and I’m happy to arrange something fun (with or without chocolate).


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