My simple guide
1. Pay us. Please. We don't have salaries or wages; we've taken a lot of time to prepare, to travel, to wait for the event; we are also experts in our field. Whether this is the first time we've done a talk or the five hundredth, we are an expert about the book or topic you've asked us to talk about. We are also adults; we pay taxes and bills. And most authors are not at all well paid. Occasionally, for reasons of our own, we might do something for nothing: but you must NEVER expect it, and never ever ever cover up your inability to pay with phrases such as: "Our budgets have been cut," "Other authors are doing it for nothing," "It's a good cause," or - the worst - "It will be great for your profile."
2. Make space for us. There should be a room where authors/speakers can go before and after the talk, a place where we can leave our coats, go to the bathroom, and escape from the audience afterwards. (I recently spent two hours between events dodging desperate questions from aspiring writers from my first talk of the day, who simply wouldn't let me sit, eat, drink or breathe. Some were delightful and apologetic; I wanted to help them all; I couldn't - my blood sugar was plummeting and no one noticed.)
3. Feed and water us. No, we don't need champagne and smoked salmon - though obviously I wouldn't spit it out. Just offer us something, anything. Please.
4. Plan the time-table properly. With gaps.
5. Give us a few moments peace before we do our talk. However relaxed we might be or seem, we still need those moments to clear our heads, breathe a few times, and remember what we are going to say. Do not bring a local dignitary to meet us at that point. Or a photographer.
6. INTRODUCE US. It's hard to explain the difference between having someone say a few glowing words that we couldn't say about ourselves, and having to introduce ourselves to a bemused audience. Recently, I was introduced as, among other things, "She's been shortlisted for a few things." Well, actually, I've won a few things but I couldn't say so, could I? It means that the audience ends up never knowing - except that on this occasion, a fellow-author who was speaking after me was generous enough to put the record straight.
7. At the end, wind up the questions and thank us, saying something nice if you can possibly bring yourself to do so. Not long ago, an organiser had told me she didn't have any spare staff to do intros or thanks. As it turned out, she was actually IN my audience, but still didn't find it in herself to say anything at all to me, either privately or publicly. Now, I happen to know that the event had been a good one, because many in the audience contacted me afterwards, and because you can tell from people's faces, but that young woman sat there and said nothing. Nor did she mention either thanks or praise in any of the emails I had to deal with from her afterwards, which were mostly about invoices and expenses.
8. Do not deduct tax from our invoice. If you do that to me (and I specifically state on my invoice that I am registered self-employed) I will a) charge you a £75 admin fee and b) send a swarm of especially nippy wasps to your garden and ask them to stay there until the tax has been refunded.
9. Be prepared. The better prepared you are, the better the event will be. This is not just about the author but about the whole audience. So, think ahead and discuss with the author in advance - but try to avoid reams of disjointed email correspondence. A simple question, "What do you need?" goes a long way. Trust me: the answer will be reasonable. Very few of us are actually prima donnas; we are simply trying to create the conditions that will allow us to deliver a brilliant event for you.
10. Be sensitive. All writers are different. Some are nervous and look nervous; others look calm but are churning inside. Err on the side of caution and just be nice to us. You don't have to fuss, you don't have to jump to attention, you don't have to treat us with kid gloves. Just try to imagine that you are doing what we're doing: about to face a strange audience for an hour, for an event which is really important to our careers. We're on our own, we're vulnerable, we are the ones who will suffer if it all goes horribly wrong.
11. If in doubt just ask. Honestly, most of us are lovely. Despite my crabbitness above, I think I'm as lovely as possible, too. I only get crabbit when people get so much wrong and make all my hard work a) harder and b) unappreciated.
- Photos - if you are having a photographer, schedule this so it's not immediately before the event. Or during, as has happened to me on several occasions in school events - by which I mean that the photographer arrived mid-event and I had to stop in the middle of my favourite story about surgery without anaesthetic...
- Recording - do not do this without asking and do not spring it on us at the last minute. Discuss in advance. I will not let a full event be recorded but I don't mind extracts, as long as I see them first.
- Book-selling - never expect the author to do this herself. This has happened to me before, once at a well-known book festival to which I will never go again. (That isn't the only reason.)
Yesterday, Danuta Kean blogged about this very effectively. A load of us have been discussing the whole issue and we want to set the record straight. If you know anyone organising any kind of author event, do send them our way.
Thank you. You've been a lovely audience.