Saturday, August 7, 2010

A beautiful relationship takes work

Back in the halcyon days when we had more money for programming, my library system had a wonderful project called "Meet the Author." Our Children's Services department put a list together of local children's authors and illustrators who would present a program in our branches, and funds were provided for each of our branches to host at least one author a year - or more, if they chose to use regular programming funds as well.

Since then, our programming funds have dwindled dramatically. Our Meet the Author list still exists and children's librarians can still choose to use programming funds for these author programs. The problem? Branches only get 2 or 3 paid programs a year, and authors don't draw nearly the audience that, say, a magician, a professional puppeteer, a live animal show, or a musician does. The competition is fierce, and our author list languishes.

The obvious solution for a children's book writer or illustrator who wants to connect with library audiences is to offer free appearances at libraries. Don't do it for the money (which is insignificant anyway unless you're Cornelia Funke or Mo Willems) - rather, do it for the chance to share your book directly with kids and parents.

Even free programs can be difficult to arrange, however. Librarians are more overworked than ever these days, and it takes time and effort to plan and promote a program, even if it's a free one. And getting an audience for an author program (again, unless you're Cornelia or Mo) can be really, really tough. Sometimes librarians just don't want to make the commitment.

It's time for writers, illustrators, and librarians to get creative! Here are my suggestions:
  • Authors and illustrators should expect to do more than just do a reading, explain the process of book creating, and then sign a few books. In fact, you probably won't be signing any books at libraries, because only for very big author events do we sell them.
  • Prepare a 30-45 minute polished, age-appropriate, fun presentation prepared. If you're a picture book author, build a whole storytime around your book's theme, with other books, songs, creative dramatics, a craft.
  • If you're a nonfiction writer, make the presentation about the cool subjects of your books, and bring along a slide show, objects, and activities.
  • Illustrators have it made in the shade - they can draw for kids, teach kids to draw, illustrate a story that kids write together, and more.
  • Middle-grade and teen authors face a slightly bigger obstacle, because library audiences will not necessarily have read their books or even heard of them. So here's your chance to win a bunch of new readers! Ask your librarians if you can talk to a kids' book discussion group or teen council, and use the opportunity to hone your book-talking skills. You could also talk to the kids about what they like to read and why, and get a whole discussion going. If you're really motivated, you could do a mini writing program.
  • Consider getting together with several other children's and teen writers in the community and offer yourselves as a panel to libraries. Librarians who are dubious about having just one not-very-well-known author will be quite pleased at having four, because the chance of getting a good audience just doubled (if not quadrupled).
  • Consider aiming your panel presentation at adults - teachers, parents, librarians, fellow writers, general children's and teen lit fans.
  • In general, you'll want to organize with other authors - there is strength in numbers. Thanks to the Los Angeles Young Adult Authors (the LAYAs), we're going to have middle-grade and teen authors making appearances at branches all over LA during Teen Read Week. These authors are doing this for free, and in return they'll get to meet librarians and kids, get a few of their books into the hands of kids (we'll be buying copies of their books for the branches they visit), and get publicity as we promote the program citywide. Plus they'll have my personal, undying gratitude.
  • Build up your own network of fans and followers, and invite them to your library presentations.
  • Consider making yourself available to libraries via Skype (try Skype an Author Network), chatting, or online conferences. How cool is it to talk with young fans while wearing your jammie bottoms?!
Most of all, don't give up on libraries just because you can't get your librarian motivated at first or because you gave a presentation that only drew one kid, one parent, and three library staff members. Librarians love authors and illustrators and we want to work with you. It just might take some creativity, teamwork, and patience to form what turns out to be a beautiful relationship.

P.S. If you are a Southern CA children's or teen author or illustrator whose books are already published or about to be published by an established publishing house - AND you are interested in making presentations for kids at libraries and/or our librarians at meetings - please email me at evasbookaddiction at!


  1. Dear Eva,
    According to Skype An Author, the author needs an introduction. I'd love to take part in this. Can you intro me? (author of recenct MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS (and I don't) NY Times Bestseller, BOOTSIE BARKER BITES, WALLACE'S LISTS (with Gerald Kruglik)and author/illustrator of over 35 other books. Love to have hte info for my brilliant students as well. many thanks.

  2. Barbara, you should need no introduction. Let me just say that Bootsie Barker Bites was a huge favorite of my now almost 16-year-old daughter, and that I recently gave a hearty recommendation of Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don't) to all LA Public Library children's librarians. (yes, this is a bit of a fangirl "squee!") So, heck yes, I'll introduce you!