This year was my first year of chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival.
If you’re an author who’s appeared in the book festival but you’ve been too shy to tick the box that says ‘would you be interested in chairing?’ – well I would very much recommend you consider ticking it.
I was shy for three years and I finally discovered this year, I totally love chairing. I much prefer it to doing my own author events but they help. If you’ve been there as an author you’ll know what it’s like to feel really nervous because you’re about to bring a new book to the world and you’ll know how to make it more enjoyable for someone in that position. Also if you work regularly with schools, you’ll know how to interact with an audience so this might be the thing for you!
The chair makes sure everything goes smoothly for the author before, during and after their event. The role includes:
- Meeting and greeting the author before the event in the authors yurt
- Taking the author to their event venue
- Introducing the author on stage with enthusiasm and knowledge (to get the audience excited about the event)
- Fielding questions and answers with the author and the audience if required
- Finishing up the author event on stage and reminding the audience they can buy books and get them signed straight after the event
- Taking the author to the signing tent and shielding them from any over enthusiastic audience members on the way (they can get books signed and ask more questions AT the signing tent – not before!)
- And finally you escort the author back to the yurt after the signing
But it’s more than these practical things. It’s about making people feel welcome, valued and important at the festival. It’s about helping them to relax and focus on their event because you’ll take care of extra things like orientation.
So here are my top tips for chairing.
1) Introduce yourself and explain your role
You’ll be meeting your author 45 minutes before the event for a public event or 30 minutes before for a schools event so don’t overload them with information. You’ve got a while so mix what you need to get across with being interested and listening to them – put them at ease. After an enthusiastic introduction and chat you could introduce your role like this:
I’m going to introduce you on stage but I’ll also take you to the venue and take you to the signing tent after and we’ll come back here once everything is finished. So if you’ve got questions, I’ll find out the answer for you or if you need anything I can make sure it happens, I’ll probably send someone else to get it for you because my role is to stay with you the whole time so you’ll always have someone from the book festival with you if you need anything.
2) Be enthusiastic
Tell them what you love about their work and be specific – which book, something you particularly loved. READ THE BOOK THE EVENT IS ABOUT. This may seem really obvious but I was once chaired by someone who told me they hadn’t read the book when they met me – that’s just going to be discouraging and it’s not good enough.
Don’t gush or fan girl / fan boy them. Just one sentence is fine and if they seem to enjoy it say more but they might really want to sit quietly with a coffee before the event so you don’t want to be like Donkey in Shrek with way too much chat. If you’re not sure you could ask “How do you like to prepare for events, do you enjoy chatting or prefer quiet?”
3) Be kind
Ask helpful questions like:
Can I make you a tea or a coffee?
How are you feeling about the event?
Is there anything I can do for you to help during the event?
Listen if they start to tell you about something, don’t be all about your agenda and miss being present and responding to the person. They are the most important person there. If you’re dying to ask them about their process or why a plot twists happened in book 5 of a trilogy, maybe wait until after the event.
4) Cover everything required
There are chairing notes that get sent to you from the Edinburgh International Book Festival so read them and don’t miss anything. I made a wee check list on a postcard and at some point I said something like “there’s a few things I need to check with you” and I got my list out. I’d already covered most of it but I did things like check the facts I’d researched about them and explained I’d use them as part of their intro on stage. You need to ask if they would like you to field questions and answers at the end of the event or if they would prefer to do it themselves.
It’s really important the event keeps events to time because there’s likely to be another event straight after so you need to mention it. I said something like:
“I have to make sure we keep to time, there’ll be a clock in the venue but it’s quite strict so would you like a five minute or one minute warning before we need to end the event? I’ll come on at around five minuets before the hour to finish up and remind people to buy books and to get everyone to give you a big thank you”
5) Create a buzz about the author and the book
The chairing info suggests looking up some interesting facts about your author. Google them! When I chaired Horrible Science author and illustrator Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles I introduced their books, got very excited about science and then I shared some facts I thought would be relevant to the audience:
Nick Arnold once broke his arm during a Horrible Science author event like this one…. and after the event he signed 75 books and then was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. So boys and girls, whatever happens today… you’ll get your books signed!
Tony used to get told off for doodling in school but now he gets paid to do it and he’s famous for it so if there’s something you love doing now, you never know, even if your teachers tell you off for it… it could end up being your job in the future!
When I was chairing Tim Warnes it was for a younger audience so I wanted to say less and be more visual. I still shared a fact (that Tim and his wife have illustrated over 200 books between them – wow amazing!) but then I used something from the story.
In Tim’s books ‘Dangerous!’ and ‘Warning! This Book May Contain Rabbits’ there is a character called mole who loves labeling things. So I made some giant labels with what I thought about the books. There was ‘Brilliant!’ and ‘Fun’ and I stuck them up and held up the books and said what a treat we were all in for and finally I said we had one label left, it was ‘Tim Warnes’, but where was he? And that’s how we brought him up onto the stage.
6) Sell books
Before and after each event I told the children that they could get a signed copy of the book at Edinburgh International Book Festival after the event. I held up the books and talked about how great they were.
With the schools event I told the children at the end of the event that they all had £3 vouchers so they could get £3 off the book and I explained that even if they couldn’t get the book today, they could come back with their Mum or Dad or Grandad or Grandma or Aunties and Uncles and use their voucher to get this brilliant book because it would still be in the shop!
If you don’t explain this the children will go into the brilliant shop with a voucher and millions of books to choose from and they might choose one they’ve not read or one that’s for older children or one that’s got a game with it. But if they get a book signed by the author they’ve just seen they’ll remember that forever! So it’s okay to make a big deal about the fact that there’s a chance to meet the author and buy a book and get it signed. That’s what book festivals are all about. I did this at both events and everyone bought lots of books and the publicists were very pleased and thanked me for it!
7) Be yourself!
You being genuinely you will put them at ease. It’s a chance for you to meet an awesome creative human being.
So that’s my top tips for chairing. If you’re a seasoned chair I’d love to hear you tips too! And if you haven’t chaired before, I hope this will encourage you to do it!
I’ll leave you with the lovely books the authors signed for me, after their events: