Saturday, 28 February 2015

Debut Author: Ten Questions You Will Get Asked - Clementine Beauvais

(Confession: this is an adaptation of an old blog post on my own blog, but I'm v v v busy this month sorry so I prefered to do this rather than dash off a sloppy new post (and also, almost no one read it the first time around anyway). )

Hello, debut author! Congratulations on the book deal! While you’re busy getting Vistaprint to produce acceptable promotional bookmarks, finding ways of getting better known on the Internet (don’t worry, no one actually has any idea how to), practicing answering ‘so what do you do?’ with ‘well, I’m a writer’, and fervently noting down what every single author, agent and editor blog says about what you should be doing or else, here’s my little contribution to your constant migraine: the 10 questions you will get asked by everyone, from complete randomers to your grandmother, within your first year of publication.
Oh you will have fun. Here we go.

10. ‘But like, how many, I mean like not exactly, but more or less, how many books have you sold, like, approximately?’

This question can occur at any time, including the day after publication. And you cannot be vague: even if the questioner is otherwise incapable of adding three and four without frantically reaching for a calculator, s/he wants numbers. Not sure why; but it is absolutely vital. Saying ‘Oh, it’s going well, I think’ will only drag you into a labyrinth of subdefinitions of the adverb ‘well’ associated to specific numerical values.
The assumption, you see, is that part of the induction ceremony into the Great Publishing Sect consists of implanting a magical chip in your brain which permanently connects you to every single online and brick-and-mortar bookshop in the whole world. Every time they sell one of your books, a little ringtone goes off in your skull. You can personalise this ringtone (I have the first few chords of Supermassive Black Hole). The latest version synchronises with your iPhone and compiles the data into easily understandable statistics.
How to get out of this tricky situation without having to reveal (that you have no idea about) the latest figures? The only solution is to say, with an expression of disdainful detachment which you shall practice in front of your mirror, ‘Not enough to pay for your Frappucino, you cheapskate.’

9. ‘Why aren’t you on an intergalactic promotional book tour?’

O friend, I share your perplexity. I too wish I were wanted from Johannesburg to Santa Monica by armies of fans with bellies and chests tattoed with my (probably misspelt) name. Unfortunately, this isn’t normally what happens to the debut author. Unless you are Pippa Middleton (in which case, please leave a comment explaining why Pilates doesn’t do to my body what it does to yours), you are relatively low on the list of people whom your otherwise lovely publisher would like to send on a first-class trip around the world. You might be invited to a few book fairs, bookshops and schools, but it will probably be Melbourne, East Anglia rather than its more glamorous Australian equivalent (unless you are from the suburbs of the latter).
The relentless questioner will not take this for an answer. Instead, offer the following explanation: ‘Because I would have missed the chance to be with you today.’ Then bat your eyelids.

8. ‘When will you be on the Oprah Winfrey show?’

(I don’t know if that thing still exists, by the way.) Your persecutor is here hunting for a Claim to Fame to disclose at the watercooler on Monday when Amanda of the green miniskirt is passing by. ‘I know a girl who knows *person on TV*’ is indeed guaranteed to saturate the ambient air with pheromones. They will not be happy to hear that you have given an interview to the work experience boy at the local newspaper. It will not satisfy them to know that people have blogged about your book. They want names. And yet, blogs are the best way for books to get known and promoted, as they are more influential than magazines and papers. But your questioner will not believe this.
Your best bet is to mention offhandedly that ‘Richard and Judy’ liked the book a lot, and you’re hoping she’ll do something with it. No one needs to know that Judy is your aunt’s dog-walker, and Richard the dog.

7. ‘So I went to Waterstones the other day and your book wasn’t there. That means it’s out of print or what?’

Yep, it’s only been a year but people hated it so forcefully that the publisher discontinued it, burnt all the stock and issued a public apology.
Your questioner is here betraying their vision of bookshops as a land of magic with unlimited storage space, very much like Mary Poppins’s bag. It would be very cruel to shatter their lovely dream with dull considerations of the fact that the number of books currently in print divided by the available squared metres in your average bookshop results in an imaginary number which spontaneously creates dangerous amounts of antimatter if it is written down or spoken.
What you want the person to do here is to order the book: that way, the bookshop will know that it’s wanted (and order more) and you will have sold another copy. But you don’t want them to know that your book isn’t still the number one favourite darling of said bookshop. So the only way is to say, ‘Oh dear, tell me about it. Every time they restock the shelves, they’re empty again within the next half hour. I would recommend ordering it; only way to make sure you can have it.’ Win.

6. ‘When’s the next one coming out?’

That one’s easy if you’ve got a multiple book deal, because it’s written in your contract. If not, it is a very stressful question, because of the existential vertigo it triggers in your insecure psyche. You are not allowed to take this as an opportunity to confess that you are terrified that your editor might not like the next one and stop loving you and that as a result your agent will slap you in the face and worst of all that the people who once ‘Liked’ your Facebook page will ‘Unlike’ it. This is not an acceptable response. You are not on a psychoanalyst’s sofa. This is war.
The perfect answer is a lie: ‘November 7th, 2016′. Repeat this to everyone who asks. Tell everyone who doesn’t ask. Write it on your blog. That way, there’ll be so much pressure to do it that you’ll actually write that second book. No choice.

5. ‘Do you Google your name everyday to see what people are saying about you?’

No need. I’ve installed a piece of software on my iPhone connected to the aforementioned chip in my brain and whenever my name appears in any corner of the world wide web another special ringtone reverberates through my skull (Lensky’s aria in Eugene Onegin).
People seem to assume that finding reviews of your books is always the most wonderful experience. And of course it is when they’re good, and of course there are (many) writers who get completely obsessive-compulsive with looking up reviews. But not me. If you do start looking for them, there’s always that horribly stressful feeling that you just don’t know what you’re going to end up finding.
It’s as if you could google your kid’s name and find reviews of the dear child. Of course, a lot of the time it’s all going to be ‘Sharon’s adorable little boy is a charming example of toddlerhood with perfectly rosy cheeks under an avalanche of cherubic curls’. But once in a while you’ll get the occasional ‘Scrawny-looking and relatively indistinguishable from a tiny piglet, Billy suffers from a worrying lack of vocabulary for an eighteen-month-old’. Maybe that would make you think twice before asking the world what it thinks of your progeny.
Your questioner will not agree with that, of course, so just evasively mention that you don’t need to because your mum and dad do it for you and select which ones they tell you about, haha! (and tragically it’s probably true, too.)

4. ‘Why don’t you translate your own books into French/ Chinese/ Martian to sell them abroad?’

(This isn’t a question asked to the chronically monolingual: lucky, lazy you!). This one primarily betrays a forgivable lack of knowledge of how the publishing industry works on an international level (clue: not like that).
But the more worrying (and frankly annoying) assumption is that any bilingual person can translate anything, including their own prose. What is the point, quel est le point, I ask you, of studying translation? Absolutely none. Bilingual people are naturally endowed with the gift of translation; fact. Any Jean-Pierre Dawson born of an English dad and a French mum can write with equal velocity and Booker/Goncourt-winning quality in both languages.Therefore, they can translate their own work, of course, since they wrote it to start with. The assumption is strengthened, of course, when you do write in both languages.
The only appeasing answer you can bring to this question is, ‘If I’m asked to, I might.’ But you might not. Because nothing, of course, guarantees that you are the best translator of your own words.

3. ‘Did you choose the illustrator/ the title/ the layout/ the cover/ the chapter headings font/ the ISBN/ etc?’

Niet. Nein. No. Non. … [I've run out of other languages]
This will not satisfy your well-intentioned questioner. ‘What!?! but it’s YOUR book!?! How come?!?’. They will think your editor is Really Mean. Then they will think you’re a Loser who only had Bad Ideas. Then they will laugh at you in secret. It will be the beginning of the end of your social respectability.
The problem here is that once again the writer is envisaged as a prodigy multitasker who must by definition know everything about what a book is. ‘Of course I chose the exact paper texture I wanted, 68.9g/mm and ivory-off-white with a tinge of cerulean’. The editor is just the person who makes the money. S/he has no experience and no right to interfere in the great creator’s vision of the work.
The truth is that making a book, for the editor, is about n-ego-tiating the author’s ego with the actual reality of the fact that the book has to sell and that their vision of a full-colour picture of a Murakami sculpture with the elliptic title ‘Albeit Capricious’ will not be the most efficient way of reaching out to the average Waterstones customer. And they will very probably be right.
You don’t want your questioner to ruin your professional life and career by spreading rumours about how powerless you are, of course, so the only acceptable answer is, ‘Oh of course I had a say’. And to be fair, you probably did.

2. ‘Which authors are you friends with now?’

This assumes that other authors are by necessity your best friends forever, just like all accountants flock together and all academics only have friends who are academics.
Ok, that last one may actually be true.
The fact is of course that there are many authors you are now friends with because they’re actually nice and others that you can’t stand because they’re terrible people, just like any other group. You are not automatically on the same wavelength as someone who writes in the same genre. It is also possible that you are not the kind of person who can bear the disproportionately huge ego of other writers on top of your own equally impressive self-confidence, especially as everyone is tragically plagued with crushing moments of doubt.
But the myth about birds of a feather must be maintained, so name all the writers that you’ve met, from the loveliest to the most unpleasant, and with a generous smile, tell your questioner that ‘They’re all amazing, what can I say? We’re like a big family.’
NB: Some people will also labour under the opposite delusion: that you are by necessity extremely jealous of all the other authors. This is a probable sign that they are themselves dangerous, envious, frustrated psychopaths will little experience of peaceful relationships. Cut all friendship ties immediately.

1. ‘Yeah ok so you write children’s books, right, but when are you going to write, like, real literature?’
When the rest of the world starts to understand that children’s literature is real literature.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Secret Trysts

It's a balmy spring morning, and my old dog is happily trotting in and out of the garden in the sunshine as I write, but despite the sunshine I am feeling a bit feeble. The doctor said 'walking pneumonia;' I feel a bit more 'Walking Dead.' Working from home, there are no 'sick days' (cue maudlin violin music) so I am still at my desk, but can I let you into a secret? I am glad to be here. Don't tell my husband - he may stop providing the tea-on-tap that my enfeeblement has provoked.

I have annoying things, like proofs to go through today, and queries to answer for two different projects (again, don't let on to the editors - they need to know these projects only give me unbridled joy) - but I am happy to be here for a different reason. I am cheating on those projects with another love - a new story idea! As with any new romance, I can't stop thinking about my beloved. I fall asleep with a notebook by the bed and disturb my long-suffering hubby by suddenly erupting from the covers to scribble furiously when an idea strikes. The hypnagogic state as I slide into sleep helps me to solve plot problems, and I long ago abandoned the cosy-snuggle-down thought that 'I'll remember that in the morning' - bitter experience has shown that I won't!

I daydream of the story chopping onions for dinner; I woolgather around scenarios as I drive. I ponder WWPD (what would protagonist do) as I go about my daily business. I slip away from my commissioned work down dark corridors of the internet to meet my beloved for secret 'research' trysts and immerse myself in the guilty pleasure.

The thing is, I should probably wait until I have finished the other projects before starting this story, but it is too insistent; it pursues me seductively, wherever I go. So I shall continue to meet my beloved in secret until the time comes when we can declare our relationship to the world. Until then, my secret is safe with you, isn't it?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reading Recovery by Cavan Scott

Who doesn't like having stories read to them?

Erica Rooney and the Reading Recovery celebration
at Air Balloon Hill Primary School
Before half term, I had a special treat as I popped into Air Balloon Hill Primary School in Bristol, where I am Patron of Reading. 

To celebrate their Reading Recovery programme, pupils who took part in the scheme read aloud to visitors and each other. If you're not aware of Reading Recovery, it's a special programme where five to six years olds who really struggle with reading receive 30 minutes one-on-one time with a specially trained teacher each and every school day. 

The results at Air Balloon spoke for themselves.

Gathered in the school library, I listened to children who'd hardly been able to read a word when starting school. Now, they were happily picking up books and reading page after page out loud. I started the session sitting with Ned, who enthusiastically read me the first five pages of The Hobbit and chatted about Bilbo Baggin's little hole in the ground.

At the end of the end of the session, I talked with Erica Rooney, Air Balloon's Reading Recovery teacher. She was obviously very moved by the progress of the pupils who'd worked through the programme, and rightly so. What an amazing achievement! 

Listening to Ned, I knew exactly what I wanted to say in this month's post - a big thank you to all the teachers, teachers' assistants, librarians and parent volunteers who go into school week after week and listen to children read. You are our unsung heroes and deserve all the credit you can get!

Now, if you excuse me, I need to pick up where Ned left off. Where's my copy of The Hobbit?


Cavan Scott is the author of over 70 books and audio dramas including the Sunday Times Bestseller, Who-ology: The Official Doctor Who Miscellany, co-written with Mark Wright.

He's written for Doctor WhoSkylandersAdventure Time, Angry Birds, Penguins of Madagascar and Warhammer 40,000 among others. He also writes Roger the Dodger and Bananaman for The Beano as well as books for reluctant readers of all ages.

Cavan's website
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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Authors Who Launch - Tamsyn Murray

You know how it is when you’re months away from publication – a launch party seems like a must-have accessory for your forthcoming book. Good friends and acquaintances, glasses pleasingly filled with Prosecco, gathered around welcoming your book to the world. Depending on the kind of author you are, there could be laughter or there could be a lot of intense discussion around the existential themes of your work. I suppose there could be both. Your editor talks at length about your brilliance without so much as a hint of irony or gritted teeth. In an ideal world, a semi-clothed Ryan Gosling would burst from a cake and serenade you (but that might just be me). And everyone will buy a book, which you’ll sign with a carefree flourish and not a trace of cramp.

Time passes and suddenly it’s the week before your book comes out. You’re in a tailspin trying to get everything done and belatedly, it occurs to you that you need to book a party venue and possibly order some drinks. An avalanche of anxiety tumbles down from Mount Paranoia – how much wine do you need? Is twelve bottles enough? What if no-one comes? And does it matter if they do? What do launch parties actually do? WHY ARE YOU EVEN BOTHERING?

Tomorrow is the day of my launch party for Completely Cassidy: Accidental Genius. It’s a book that has taken a long time to arrive, for one reason or another, so I wanted to celebrate the fact that it had made it into being – an actual book that I can hold in my hands and stroke. Hence the party. To be honest, I don’t think there was any chance that I wouldn’t have a party. I don’t expect it to sell oodles of books (although a few would be nice). I don’t expect it to make the society pages (or any pages, really, unless someone kindly blogs about it). What I do expect is to laugh and catch up with people I don’t see very often and wear an Elvis wig while drinking a sherbert cocktail. I want to take a few hours to contemplate the fact that my publisher and my agent and I did a good thing – we made a book that readers will enjoy.

There are arguments for and against launch parties but I think if you decide to have one, then do it for the right reasons – to celebrate getting your book out there. Then if anything else comes out of it, it'll be the icing on the Ryan Gosling cake.

NB To anyone coming to my launch party, I have booked a venue and there will be drink. Honestly.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

In Which I Totally Indulge Myself, My Publisher, My Favourite Mermaid and a Ghost Ship - Liz Kessler

Anyone who knows me (and a fair few who don't as well) will know that my first YA novel Read Me Like A Book comes out this year. I've been shouting about this for a little while now, and have been super-excited about it for lots of reasons, one of them being the fact that I originally wrote this book fifteen years ago, so it's been a long time in the making.

But the same people might not know about the other book that's coming out this year and which in many ways I am JUST as excited about. This book, Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls, is the latest in my series about a girl who accidentally found out in a school swimming lesson that when she goes in water, she becomes a mermaid.

Emily and I have had lots of adventures together. She has a tendency to get herself into scary, exciting  adventures. [WARNING: Spoilers coming...] Emily has rescued her father from a prison out at sea; she's been nearly squeezed to death by a giant Kraken; she's explored mysterious castles, discovered banished sirens in underwater caves and very nearly been turned to ice by an evil man with too much magic at his disposal.

In August, Emily has her sixth adventure. I can't tell you too much about it yet, as it's still a closely-guarded secret. But what I can tell you is that, in typical Emily style, what starts off as an innocent Geography field trip turns into an adventure involving life and death decisions, a spooky ship and a trip to possibly the most magical place she's ever visited.

For me, one of the most exciting things about this book is that for the first time ever, it's coming out on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. My UK and US publishers are working together to make this happen, and TODAY, between us, right here, right now, I am very excited to be using the wonderful ABBA blog (thanks ABBA!) to reveal the cover!

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, children and mer-kids, I give you, Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls - the cover. I think it might be my favourite Emily Windsnap cover ever (by the wonderful artist Sarah Gibb). Hope you think it's as beautiful as I do! :) :) :)

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Monday, 23 February 2015

When is it OK to give up? – Jess Vallance

When I first thought about having a go at writing a novel, I spent quite a lot of time reading lists of writing tips on blogs (like this one) and in writing books. If you’ve read even a handful of those kinds of lists you’ll probably have noticed that the one tip that comes up time and time again is:

Never give up.

Persistence, apparently, is everything.

Even before I’d started I knew this bit might be tricky for me because, basically, I’ve always been a massive quitter.

I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on musical instruments I can only play a few notes on. I have a bookshelf full of unread books on computer programming. I once bought a full Taekwondo suit only to walk out halfway through the first class on account of the fact I don’t really like rough games.  And true to form, since I decided to start writing, I’ve given up lots of times, on lots of things.

But something I’ve realised recently is that actually, all this quitting has helped me. Because giving up on stuff has freed me up to start other things, and being a massive starter is actually kind of useful.

I decided I wanted to write a publishable novel at the beginning of 2013 and I signed my deal in the middle of 2014, so it took me 18 months which isn’t too bad when you hear what some people have to go through. But in that time I wrote five different books (which you can read about here if you’re interested). I think if I hadn’t been such a quitter – and such a starter – it would’ve taken me much longer.

Giving up gets a bad press, and mostly with good reason – it represents abandoning your dreams, failing to reach your potential, a disappointing end to a difficult journey – so I do think there is undoubtedly a negative kind of quitting. But I also think there’s a good kind of giving up. Giving up that gives you back the time and energy to start something else. Something better.

So, this is when I think it’s OK to give up on a project:

1)      When you have something on submission.

Whether you’re waiting for a reply from agents or publishers, give up on that book for a while. Assume it’s never going to happen. Start a new project, something you’re really excited about. That way, if the rejections do start to roll in, you’ll be able to think ‘What, THAT old thing? I never liked that one anyway.’ (If you get positive responses you’ll have no trouble rekindling excitement for the project. Good feedback just has that effect.)

After all, even if that book does take off, you’ll need to do another one at some point so you might as well be getting on with it now.

2)      When you have a better idea.

Some people warn against starting something new when you’re in the middle of another story, but I think if a really good ideas hits you, it’s a makes sense run with it and see how far you get. It’s so much easier to be productive when you’re really excited about a project that it seems a shame to put it on hold and risk that spark going out. You can always come back to the first idea later.

3)      When you’re sick of it.

If you don’t even like it yourself any more then probably no one else is going to either. You can hope that someone’s going to spot something that you can’t even see yourself but it’s probably not going to happen. You might have changed a lot since you first started work on it. You’re probably capable of something better now.  Take anything you do like – any bits of plot or setting or character – recycle it, repurpose it, and write something new.  

4)      When you’ve exhausted all avenues.

We’ve all heard about how many times Harry Potter was rejected and how long it took Stephen King to find a publisher, but I suspect that for every story like that, there are a thousand others about people who kept plugging away at the same one novel for years and years and still never got anywhere.

It’s hard to look at something objectively when you’ve put so much of your time and energy into it, and people will think they’re being kind by telling you to stick with it, but sometimes it’s less painful and more productive to just move on. Still work on getting a novel published, just maybe not that one.

Twitter: @jessvallance1

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Creating the best events - for authors AND organisers! - Nicola Morgan

This isn't a new topic for me but there is something special about this post: I am cross-posting with fabulous school librarian (former School Librarian of the Year, no less!) Duncan Wright, both of us writing from our own point of view but aimed at informing the other. So, I'm writing about what authors (writers or illustrators) would usually like from event organisers and Duncan has written here about what organisers need from authors. Both are in the spirit of positivity and mutual respect. We think it's good when each "side" can see it from the other's pov - though, of course, in almost every way we are both on the same side!

I have a document (on my events page) to send to organisers before my events but that is just my needs. What follows below aims to apply to all or most authors and to act as a general guide.

Your visiting author wants the event to be brilliant and whatever you hoped when you booked that author. We aim to give our best performance every time. That's our job and our desire but there are things you can do that will make that easier - or harder...

All authors are different. Some find events exhausting, because of the energy involved in talking to new audiences all the time; others find them relatively easy. We have different needs, but the following are pretty common.

  1. Choose one you really want, and know why. Explain why when you send the invitation. Read any event details on their website so you know they're right for you.
  2. If you absolutely have to ask for a reduced fee, please do this with a) respect and tact and only if you genuinely have to and b) fully understanding what you're asking: a working person to give up part/all their wages for the day (or more). We have to account for preparation, discussion, admin, travelling, and an event fee is not an hourly fee. Most of us earn very little and then only when someone pays us. There are ways of asking for freebies but if you don't get that quite right it's incredibly undermining. We bruise very easily! (To understand more, see here.)
  3. Be as clear as you can about what you want, though we realise that may not be possible. Ideally, know your budget, so discussions can start from there.
  1. Agree exactly what you're paying for. Agree expenses, too. If an overnight stay is required, most (but not all) authors value the privacy of a hotel or B&B rather than staying with a host. I know many authors who are too embarrassed to say no to accommodation with a lovely librarian in case they seem rude: it's just that privacy is really important to many and affects sleep and energy. 
  2. Agree time-table details. And inform about changes well in advance, as it affects preparation.
  3. Try not to send eleventy million emails. Although getting all the info is crucial (on both sides), try to do it smoothly, so that neither of you spend tooo much time on it and it's easy to find later.
  4. Discuss whether and how bookselling can be part of the event. 
  5. Be really clear about what you need from the day - we want to provide what you want but we're not psychic. 

  1. Ensure pupils know who the author is and what he or she has written. It’s good if they prepare questions – it helps make the event their own. Most authors have websites: get pupils to use them!
  2. Make sure relevant staff know about the visiting author, too. That increases value as staff can follow up.  
  3. Check what tech and other equipment is needed. And make sure it works!
  4. If you've agreed bookselling, do ensure that pupils are told (often!) that they need money. Pupils often discover they want to buy a book but very often don’t bring money. The letter that you carefully wrote may not reach them or they may have forgotten. If bookselling goes wrong, it’s upsetting and embarrassing – and costly when the author paid for the books. (By the way, we don't earn much per book.) Sometimes, you’ll do everything right and the message still won’t get through, of course, so don't worry that we're going to think badly of you. We just need to know you tried your best.
  5. Make sure no one will be filming or recording. Check with the author how they feel about photos. Personally, I’m happy to have photos taken (well, not happy exactly…) after/between events but not during. 
  6. Discuss refreshment needs and make sure there is water and whatever else you feel is going to help the author perform well. 
  7. Tell the author as soon as possible if a pupil might be upset at certain themes because of a recent personal tragedy or difficult situation. (I was once told, while walking towards the hall for a talk about Fleshmarket, that I couldn't talk about the first chapter because a pupil had recently been bereaved. If you know about Fleshmarket, you'll understand my problem...)
  1. Plan your introduction to the audience. A lively introduction makes a huge difference to everyone's mood and excitement – and flattery helps, bringing energy to both the pupils and author! (NB Illustrators are authors, too - never undermine an illustrator's part in an illustrated book by saying anything to suggest that one is more important than the other.) 
  2. Provide water and a table to put things on. (And anything else you've agreed.)
  3. I recommend you give the author a few minutes' headspace before each talk. Don't hassle with chat about the weather at this stage: we may not look nervous but will probably welcome the need mentally to go over what we're about to say. On the other hand, if the author seems very chatty, go with that! I sometimes am and sometimes am not - please don't take it personally.
  4. Bookselling (if you have agreed this): supply a table and chair for the author to sign at. Ensure that pupils don’t crowd round (I’ve been knocked off my chair like that!) You need someone to handle the actual selling while the author signs. Decide what, if anything, can be done to accommodate those who haven't brought money but want a book.
  5. Remind or tell the audience what you've agreed about photographs and that they may not film or record (unless the author has agreed otherwise.) Make sure phones are off and out of sight.
  6. Refreshment and breaks: make sure whatever you've agreed with the author is in place. 
A note about refreshments and breaks
Here's where I start to sound a bit nutty, but I've learnt that without the refreshments and breaks that I need, my brain starts to seize up. Most especially, I need breaks: little pockets of peace between talks. (For clarity, "peace" means not having to chat...) Lots of authors feel the same about the need for peace and may not tell you but I’ve decided it’s so crucial to my wellbeing and performance that I need to make a big point of it! I do like chatting and I am friendly but it's tiring.☺It's not the same as teaching all day - which I've done. And I also now do whole-day INSETS and even a whole-day INSET is not as tiring as doing a day of school events; doing a school event is much more like being on stage as an actor and delivering a one-person performance.

So, here's what I tell event organisers. (As I say, not everyone's the same. But you'll find many are.)
"My talks are energy-intense and afterwards my blood sugar will dive. I have very basic requirements but I do need time to myself at some point. I am delighted to be sent out to get a sandwich at lunch, or for you to give me a plate of food in the staff-room and time to gather my thoughts for the next event. Please do not feel that you need to entertain me. I’m an introvert (which does NOT mean I’m shy; far from it – just that conversation and social interaction tax my brain more) and I need recovery time between events. Of course, it’s lovely when other members of staff and management want to meet me and chat – and I can happily chat for Britain – but please make sure I get chill-out time as well, especially immediately before an event, otherwise the talk won’t be as good. In short, my only needs are: a sandwich (eg), something to drink and a bit of time on my own. And the time on my own is the more important bit because I'll have brought my emergency fruit and nut supply anyway. I told you: nutty!
"I have no food allergies or special requirements but was once given a raw onion sandwich at a school event and now feel the bizarre need to request NO raw onion. Thank you!"
  1. Suddenly ask the author to “pop into this class and talk to them” if we haven’t agreed this in advance. 
  2. Feel that you have to entertain us, unless we've specifically asked for a song and dance routine. 
  3. Introduce us with the phrase, "X needs no introduction."
  4. Leave us alone with pupils – this is a condition of our Public Liability insurance and not because we are scared!
  5. Send (or escort) us along convoluted corridors (or even, in my case, one straight corridor) to the toilets and expect us to find our way back. Authors have disappeared like that.
  6. Allow teachers to sit and mark books - please ask them to be involved in the talk; I know they are very busy but everyone will gain much more if they are properly engaged and it's very off-putting when someone is sitting there not listening. (Actually, it doesn't bother me hugely but it bothers some people a LOT. And it's rude.)
  7. Tell us (as you're walking us towards the first talk, especially) how utterly GREAT so-and-so was and how he as the best speaker evah.
  8. Worry about anything. If you’ve done all the above, it’s going to be a great day.
Remember that we want exactly what you want: a great event that people will talk about for all the right reasons. Almost none of us are prima donnas (or whatever the male equivalent of that is) and anything that sounds like a pompous "demand" is really really really only so that we can give you our best event. But most of us are fragile: this whole authory thing is very exposing and our career, reputation and emotional wellbeing are on the line. And so, if you want to earn our undying gratitude, just do one more thing, if you possibly can: say "Well done - that was great." And gosh, I hope it was, because I worked hard to make it so.