Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Cindy Crushes Programming: Virtual Author Visits, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

We, at the White Oak Library, have had two virtual author visits, one by local author, Diana Estell, and Alex Sanchez last Saturday. Having author visits virtually is a lot of fun and something we look forward to doing again. Faith Healy, our Crest Hill Branch Teen Librarian, hosted them. I invited her to give us some tips.

  1. How do you set up author visits?

Well, each author visit was a bit different. The first one was a local author, Diana Estell, who reached out to me and I thought it would be a good virtual program to offer our teens to see how someone from our area can be an author. The local author was happy to do the event for free, so I definitely recommend that if you know of local authors, reach out  to them.  The other, Alex Sanchez, I reached out to. A co-worker had told me he did a few virtual visits for libraries and I should reach out. I was excited especially when I realized he had written one of my favorite GN that I have read in 2020. You Brought Me the Ocean.  From there, I emailed him not thinking I would hear back at all, but got an email the next day. We worked out dates, prices, times. I tried to make it as easy for him as for me. He was great to work with and always got back within 24 hours.

  1. We use Zoom, What setting do we use to help keep the authors safe from Zoom bombing?

For Zoom we used the webinar setting, not my favorite setting, but authors tend to prefer it. It allows for them to be the viewpoint without a bunch of cameras distracting the audience. My issue with it is that it fails to notify you when the audience enters. When we first did it, we were casually talking until someone typed in chat that they could see us. I always do Zoom events with at least one other co-worker. One person focuses on talking to the author, the other can look over chat and kick out anyone who is being negative.  Make sure when in the webinar you make the second person your co-host so they have that power.

  1. What types of questions do you like to ask? Do you go over them with the author beforehand? 

Coming up with questions is the worst part about doing author visits, at least for me. You want to do interesting questions, but keep them relevant to the author, but have them be interesting to the audience. You don’t want to be intrusive at the same time. You are trying to get them to open up.  A lot of authors do so many of these events that you want some questions about the writing process, but you don’t want every question to be one they have heard before. I saw so many articles and websites about what questions to not ask authors and what are interesting author questions.

One thing that helps me is finding articles/interviews that the author did and seeing what questions they gave really in depth answers, one or more that is vague and use that as a starting point to build off of. You want questions about the writing process, but also questions that help the audience know that person. Even something silly like their favorite beverage is a good ice breaker. I also always send off the list of questions to the authors so they have a chance to come up with answers or have an idea about what to talk about as well as let me know if they are uncomfortable with answering any questions. I always put the author’s comfort level first. Don’t forget you always have audience questions. If you feel like a topic was so heavy and want to lighten it up, go to the audience for any questions. This is where having 3 people is useful if you don’t have a responsive audience, that third co-worker can help by typing in a question.

  1. What is the most rewarding part of having an author visit virtual?

The audience response. For each author visit we always had one or more teens that this really left a definite impact on. For our local author, we had a teen interested in writing their own book in the future and it opened up the possibility for them, they asked so many questions. For Alex Sanchez, we had a fan who was grateful to get the opportunity to thank Alex for his books that help them. Small or large audience, if it made an impact on just one person it is worth it.

  1. Did you have any tech mishaps?

Our local author was my first time doing the webinar format and I had no idea what I was doing or why. At one point there were three people named Faith Healy in the event to my utter confusion. Plus as mentioned before we had no idea that there was no wait room like when doing a webinar. Before your webinar you can practice, which I think is a must for you so you know where everything is plus you can test your internet connection. We almost lost our author for a few seconds,  it was just a weak connection thankfully.

  1. What are your big tips for having virtual author visits?

Reach out to those super cool authors that you think you could never get. With virtual visits it makes the cost so much less, plus authors love libraries and are always willing to do it at a lower rate if possible. Instead of an hour, then you ask if they can do 45 minutes for less. For our program with Alex we offered a free copy of You Brought Me the Ocean as a raffle prize and incentive, I did ask Alex if he would mind sending a signed note or something simple. He sent an awesome bookplate with his signature and the illustrator’s too. I was so thrilled and happy to show it off at the program. Don’t expect freebies from the author though. I made sure Alex knew that he could say no and I would not be insulted. If you are not comfortable asking an author for more than the visit don’t. Be at your comfort level.

Also I would script out an introduction. Let the audience know who the author is, why they are important and show off some of their books, especially ones in the collection. I made a powerpoint slide to show those off since I am a more visual person and to let Alex know we love his books! I only showed it as an introduction  and then took it down so we can focus on Alex. Instead of lecture format, I would do a more Q&A type of deal. Our audience enjoyed it when it flowed like a conversation rather than a lecture plus it was easier for us to input audience questions when it flowed that way. Some authors might be more comfortable with a lecture format though it all depends. I hope this helps, I think virtual visits are one of the few good things to emerge from the pandemic.

Thank you Faith for your time! I LOVED WORKING WITH YOU ON OUR AUTHOR VISITS. It was so much fun!

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

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