So you want to host an author!

When Jane Hamilton visited the Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee in 1998, she began a long tradition of author appearances that now number close to 150. Tawni O’Dell went from winning the Friends of the Library creative writing contest to being one of the first authors featured on Oprah’s book club. We marked her third visit here on August 19.

WNPL reader’s advisory librarian Debbie Hoffman has been booking authors ever since: Elizabeth Berg, Lawrence Block, Jeffrey Deaver, Sara Gruen, Matthew Stover, Rhys Bowen, Adriana Trigiani, Lisa See, Lee Child, Erik Larson, Dorothea Benton Frank, James Rollins, Max Allan Collins, Sean Chercover, Steve Berry, Jamie Freveletti, Brad Thor, Kate Jacobs, Russell Banks, Sara Paretsky, Jennifer Chiaverini, Ann Packer, Mary Kay Andrews, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Lutz, Scott W. Berg, Melanie Benjamin, Lisa Gardner, Larry Watson, Rebecca Makkai, Anne Perry, Ridley Pearson, Marilu Henner, Joan Collins, Ellen Hopkins.

How does she do it? Here are Debbie’s tips:

  • Know your audience. What kind of author do your patrons want to see – suspense, thriller, mystery, non-fiction?
  • Reach out to publicists. Find out when authors are touring and contact the author’s publicist or write the author directly. (Go for it!) Author websites usually list tour schedules.
  • Make contacts at conferences like ILA, PLA, ALA, RWA, Bouchercon, Sisters in Crime.
  • Establish a strong partnership with your local bookseller. Lake Forest Book Store brings many authors to libraries around Lake County.
  • Sell your library. What is the size of your community? Are you easy to get to? What authors have you had in the past? How many can your room accommodate?
  • Set your budget. Can you afford an author’s fee? (Touring authors rarely charge a fee, in our experience.) Can you cover transportation costs for a driver? Can you place an ad?

Ok, you got ‘em! Congrats! Now, logistics.

  • How is the author getting to you? Do they have clear directions and a good grasp of how long it will take to reach you in traffic from another event?
  • Does the author prefer to use a microphone, podium, be seated, standing?
  • Can the bookseller sell at the event? Plan a table for them inside the room.
  • Confirm arrangements the day before. Make sure the driver has your address, name and contact number. Check to make sure that the event is listed on the author’s tour schedule.
  • If parking is an issue, consider asking staff to park off site, and tell attendees in advance through social media to plan extra time for parking.
  • Set a format, e.g., author speaking or reading for 30-45 minutes followed by questions for 15-20 minutes and a signing. We generally let the authors decide what they want to talk about. Find out if they need to leave at a certain time.

Author in the house!

  • Plan for them to arrive early for photos. (Pose with the book for a READ poster.) Consider bringing them in through the staff entrance.
  • Offer a library tour. Give them time and space to collect themselves in a green room, if possible; provide restroom, water, coffee, pen or marker. (Good time for a photo with the director.) Offer to lock up their bag.
  • Do your homework. Take the time to write a brief introduction and thank any sponsors (such as Friends of the Library).
  • Watch as the author casts a spell. Keep an eye on the clock and moderate the Q & A. Explain how the signing will take place. Promote the next author appearance.
  • Have a table for signing books. If you have more than one author, set up a table for each. If you expect a long line, hand out sticky notes so each fan can write in advance to whom they want the autograph dedicated.
  • Have a small gift for the author and a check, if needed, for the driver. We give the author a leather portfolio embossed with our name and logo.

Try to get a mailing address from the author or publicist to send a handwritten thank you note and a copy of their READ poster.

Finally, support local writers! Who knows when they might hit the NYT bestseller list and come back to see you? Good luck!

Debbie Hoffman is reader’s advisory librarian at Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee. Debbie served as a judge in the first annual Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author project. Janice Marsh is head of communications at Warren-Newport Public Library.


Editor’s Note:  Soon-To-Be-Famous Illinois Author Project winner Joanne Zienty is available to speak to writer’s groups evenings and weekends.  Contact her through her Linkedin page or by emailing her at

Please help us continue to the Soon-To-Be-Famous Illinois Author Project momentum by purchasing The Things We Save and promoting it to your patrons.

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