Reflections on my first Local Authors Showcase

Great Writers Right Here.Last weekend I was in charge of the Local Authors Showcase at the library. While I was the back-up for last year’s showcase, most of my job involved publicizing the event — creating a flyer and Facebook event, writing a press release, and blogging and tweeting about the showcase. The plan was for me to take over the program this year, with the previous organizer there to answer any questions I had. My predecessor was a self-starter who rarely asked for my help, which worked fine for both of us until she unfortunately passed away. When I inherited the program, I didn’t even have contact information for all of last year’s participants. Cue minor panic. Fortunately, one of the participating authors (the man who’d approached the library about hosting a local authors fair eight years ago, and had worked with my colleague to organize past fairs) helped me get in touch with most of those folks. Here’s how I made the program my own, challenges I encountered, and ideas for next year’s showcase.

Organization

The firs thing I knew I wanted to do for this year’s showcase was get all the participants’ information in one place. I asked local authors to officially apply for a spot in the showcase via a Google form I created. This gave me a spreadsheet with everyone’s contact information, brief bio, social media links, and book titles. Last year we had people dropping out and signing up through the week leading up to the showcase, and I wanted this year to be more organized, particularly for publicity. While the application did allow me to publicize the event more heavily (see the next section of this post), I still had authors asking to participate after the application deadline, three last-minute cancellations, and two last-minute additions (one the morning of the showcase). I wasn’t 100% comfortable adding people at the last minute, because I don’t want to set a precedent; however, I want the library to do as much as possible to support local authors. Writers and libraries make great partners. And I have contact information for all the late additions now, so hopefully we’ll avoid those complications next year.

Publicity

One of the first things I did when I took over was re-brand this event, changing it from the “Eight Annual Local Authors Fair” to “Great Writers Right Here: Local Authors Showcase.” I took this idea from a Library Journal webinar — the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library uses the same name for their local authors fair. I created a logo for the showcase and made sure it appeared in all of my publicity. In the three weeks leading up to the showcase, I ran a series of blog posts introducing all the authors and highlighting one of their books (minus the last-minute additions). I also created a Facebook event, tweeted about the showcase, and put up flyers around the library. (These flyers were the bane of my existence last year and this year. Every time someone cancelled or registered for the showcase, I had to reprint and replace the old flyers. Next year, I’m leaving participants’ names off the flyers.) Finally, I held an evening meet-and-greet for the authors and a reporter from the local paper, who wrote a feature about the showcase two days before the event. (I can’t take credit for this idea. My predecessor arranged this for past showcases, but neither my manager nor I was aware of this until one of the participating authors mentioned it.) Next year, I’d like to take flyers to local coffee shops and cafes, too. I did this last year, but the last-minute changes to the list of participants made me reluctant to flyer this year. As I said, next year I’ll leave names off the flyers. I may also forgo some of the blog posts, since they were really time-consuming and didn’t get a lot of readers.

The Showcase

In the end, we had 19 authors at this year’s showcase, which ran from noon to 4:30. The time and date corresponded with our monthly Friends of the Library Sale — something that has been done in previous years because of the increased traffic on the third floor (the only place we can hold a showcase like this with our current layout), but which I’ll probably avoid next year because the authors had to compete with the much cheaper books at the Friends sale. As in past years, every author was given half a table to display their books and sell and sign copies (for legal reasons, the library could not be responsible for any sales). I put co-authors and writers who knew each other together, and assigned other pairs based on the authors requests and what genres they wrote. I decided to have a table for a library representative this year, too, so I could highlight our writing and publishing resources. I also had a sign-up sheet for attendees interested in future showcases or other writing programs. Finally, I passed out evaluation sheets to all participating authors. This may have been my best idea for the showcase, as I got a lot of great feedback that will help shape future events.

Looking Forward

While the showcase ran smoothly (albeit with lower attendance than I would have liked), there are a few things I’d like to change for next year. I’d like to be firmer on the registration deadline this time around, and I’m going to add a place on the application for authors to indicate whether they’ll need electricity. (Only one author did this year, but of course he was nowhere near an outlet, so I had to scramble to find an extension cord for him.) I’d like to move the showcase to a day that doesn’t coincide with the Friends sale; hopefully attendance won’t drop because of this, but even if it does, I think the authors will be happier overall that they won’t have to compete with the Friends. Several authors also suggested combining the showcase with a larger holiday craft/artisan fair. I’d been toying with the idea of something like this for a while, so I’m going to take it to our Programming Team and see how other library staff feel about it. I think it would be a popular program, but would be much harder to organize and find vendors.

One author mentioned an idea for a raffle that another library held during their local authors fair that I’d really like to try next year. At that fair, each author donated a book for a display, all of which were raffled off during the last hour of the event. Attendees could get tickets at the front, which they had to get stamped by every author. I love this idea, because it encourages everyone to interact with every author. Hopefully it will draw more attendees, too. Everyone likes prizes, right?

So, that was my first local authors showcase. Have you participated in events like this, either as an organizer or as an author? What has your experience been?

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