SPECIAL FEATURE Chairing is Caring



When Sarah Broadley was asked to chair children's book events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, she jumped at the chance!

In August 2017, I chaired my very first event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I was one of the co-ordinators for SCBWI Scotland at the time and we had been approached to put together a panel event on Gender in Publishing. With none other than SCBWI BI's own Kathy Evans, alongside David Levithan and Jonathan Stroud confirmed to attend, my colleague Anita and I eventually stopped screaming with delight and got down to work.

Fast forward two years and I was asked back again to chair seven events – from picture books to a stage adaptation. In-between work, school holiday childcare and editing my own story, this should be an interesting few weeks, I thought to myself.

Once I received the list of events under my care, I asked for contact details for all the authors and illustrators involved and then asked myself the 'what if' questions that keep some of us awake into the wee small hours.

What would I like to happen – smooth event, running on time, sold out? What's the worst thing that can happen – no-one shows up, PowerPoint doesn't work, creative gets sick and event cancelled? Or even: What if an elephant escapes from Edinburgh Zoo and tramples all the tents and it's raining so heavily the whole festival is cancelled? You now get the picture of what goes on in my head the night before. And breathe.
Sarah with SCBWI Candy Gourlay

Chairing an event is a personal experience for everyone involved. All those years/months/hours spent drawing illustrations and writing words for your book for it now to be out in the world is a massive feat. I like to think of each event I chair as a celebration of that fact. You made it, your hard work paid off and your book is now on sale at one of the biggest book festivals in the world. I am so excited for you and your book, and I want you to walk away from the event thinking that it couldn't have gone any better, that you were sad when I announced 'that's all we have time for, please come and say hello in the signing tent'.

A moment of calm in the authors' yurt with David Solomons


I check out your website/blog/twitter and use this info to direct the questions. Sometimes the authors don't require me to ask questions, they already have the event down and know exactly what they want to do. I know then that my role is to get them there, time keep and make sure they leave with everything they came with and a smiley photo from the signing queue. It seems to have gone that way so far!

Larking around with Darren Shan

Thinking of chairing an event? Here are my top tips:

1. Try to get the chance to introduce yourself to the author/illustrator in advance of the event – keep any communication short but just enough to let them know who you are and that you are aware of the fact that they do indeed have an event coming up and it's going to be great. Perhaps a date you'll be back in touch nearer the time too, but people are very busy and emails can be a pest and left unread.

2. Find out what format they want for the event - panel event with questions or just a introduction and help with the Q & A? I have been in touch with some agents about this and they are usually quite pleased you're taking an interest if the author is too busy to confirm.

3. Read the book. It might sound silly to say this, but it really helps and doesn't make you look like an incompetent nitwit if you don't have any questions stored in your head should the Q & A run dry. I can tell immediately if the chair hasn't read the book, it's embarrassing for everyone and totally unnecessary. I shall climb off my high horse on this now.

4. Promote their event on social media (with their go-ahead) at least the night before, the morning of the event and a thank you after it's all over. Manners don't cost the earth and they will appreciate the nod.

5. If you find that you do not have the time to put in the effort needed to chair then be honest and say 'actually, I'm really sorry but I am no longer able to...' - and do that as soon as you feel it's not going to work. People are putting themselves out there, and they need a chair to lean on, in more ways than one.

6. If you're chairing at a festival and you have a full diary, remember to eat and drink. I had three events in a row one afternoon this year and I Scooby (SCBWI?) snacked my way through the hours so that I didn't get too tired or thirsty. There's a lot going on so it's easy to forget. You are not a robot, you need to look after yourself too.

7. They might be multi-award-winning novelists, or Kate Greenaway medal-winning illustrators, but they're also human beings who can get nervous before events, so ask them if they're OK and if they need anything. Sometimes a friendly gesture is all they're looking for to get through it - not of all of them are born performers.

My final thought on all of this is to take pride in what you do, be yourself and treat everyone with the same respect as you ask of them. You will make new friends and learn so much about yourself along the way if you say 'yes' should anyone ask you to help them out.

All pictures by courtesy of Sarah Broadley.


Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family and two cats. She is a member of SCBWI SE Scotland and is represented by Alice Sutherland-Hawes from the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter.

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