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Key insights into live literature events in Australia

How are live literature events run in Australia? What are the considerations and barriers for event organisers? And how can we do more events, more successfully as an industry?

Live literature is a vital and engaging way of connecting communities with authors, illustrators, and the joys of reading. It’s about that inspiring experience of meeting an author through talks, interviews, workshops, readings and performances in bookshops, libraries, schools, and online.

While Australia has a vibrant and robust live literature scene, to date there has been little empirical research on how these events are run in community settings.

A new research report by the University of Melbourne and Australia Reads seeks to deepen the industry’s knowledge by surveying and interviewing event organisers from libraries, bookstores, and schools across Australia to better understand their considerations and barriers to hosting events with authors and illustrators.

The Live Literature in Australia report is based on data collected from surveys circulated in June 2023, as well as a series of in-depth interviews. In total, 131 event hosts responded to the surveys including 28 people working in bookstores, 57 working in public libraries, and 46 working in school libraries.

The full report has now been published and can be read here. Of particular interest to the Australia Reads community are the following considerations:

 

Our industry values live literature events

What is clear from the research is that event organisers from schools, libraries, and bookstores across the country see live literature events as a “major factor in supporting Australia’s reading culture”. 

Author and illustrator events “contribute to the marketing and publicity of books, local literary communities, and the broader national reading culture” and also have “important educative functions”.

98% of the public librarians who responded to the survey cited ‘fostering a reading culture in their local area’ as a benefit for hosting author and illustrator events in their libraries – a view that was shared by all the school librarians surveyed. 

Booksellers similarly saw events as a vital way of connecting with their community, through “making authors available to readers but also making engagement with literary culture less intimidating”. 

 

Author visits are a valuable way of engaging young people in reading

Every school librarian who’d hosted live literature events in the past reported that events with authors and illustrators were “beneficial in fostering a reading culture among students at their schools”.

One interviewed librarian observed the positive impact that seeing authors in real life has on students:

“Showing them that you can actually do this as a career is really important. So seeing real life authors, in front of them speaking about what motivates and interests them does actually give that little spark of, ‘Oh, I could do this myself.’” 

Also, of significant note, was that author and illustrator events were observed as leading to an upturn in borrowing of a visiting author’s book:

“after author [or] illustrator visits, we see… an upturn in borrowing statistics for that given author or the genre…that they read or write to, and it does actually feed back into the classroom as well.”

The research also highlighted the positive impact that supportive school principals have in fostering a stronger reading culture in schools. These findings tie in with broader Australian research conducted by Scholastic which showed that “children whose principal encourages reading books for fun are more likely than those without encouragement from their principal to read frequently, to think reading is important, and to love reading books for fun.”

 

Image credit: Yarra Libraries

More resources are needed by event organisers

Event organisers surveyed for the report were unanimous in wanting more resources and easily accessible information to help them plan and run live literature events.

In seeking to book an author or illustrator, event organisers wanted to be able to easily access basic information such as location, bio, and headshot, but also – significantly – information about what kinds of events authors and illustrators are able to do. For instance: What age group can they cater to? What kind of events or workshops can they run? Do they have a video of past events for reference? Do they have a preference or idea for emcees?

Clear contact channels for authors and illustrators – such as a professional website, social media presence, or listing with a speakers’ agency – were also important for making outreach easy for event organisers.

Explore our Event Planning Guide and Event Planning Checklist for event organisers in community settings.

 

Direct and regular communication is key 

Of note from the report were the findings around the ways in which bookstores, libraries, and schools program visiting authors and illustrators. 

96% of bookseller survey respondents and 83% of public librarian respondents said that they host events with authors and illustrators they have worked with in the past. Additionally, more than 77% of booksellers surveyed reported that being directly approached by the author/illustrator influenced decision-making when arranging author events. 

These findings are positive in showing the strong relationships that are being built between authors and event hosts in our communities – however they also pose challenges for new authors trying to break in.

Authors and illustrators looking to secure more event bookings, should work with their publishers or agents to foster these strong local relationships. 

 

Financial considerations remain a barrier

Authors and illustrators deserve to be paid for the skill and experience they bring to planning and presenting live literature events.

However, despite the best intentions of community event organisers, there remains confusion around appropriate remuneration for authors and illustrators, as well as significant financial barriers to programming regular live literature events.

The report found that the financial reality of organising author and illustrator events was the most pronounced difficulty faced by school (89%) and public librarian (79%) survey respondents – with costs around speaker fees, venue hire, travel, and staff overtime all ‘adding up’. Furthermore, for “the schools and public libraries that do not currently host author and illustrator events, the primary reason is the cost associated with programming events.”

What’s also clear is that there are currently a number of payment models when it comes to live literature events. For example, bookstores may sell an author’s book in lieu of payment for an event, and publishers are likely to expect an author to do a range of unpaid events as part of their book’s publicity circuit. Event organisers ought to be transparent with authors and illustrators about their budget from the outset. For event organisers looking for guidance around payment, the Australian Society of Authors has recommendations for both public and school appearances.

Regional Australia is missing out

A key finding of the report was the significant barriers that regional and remote areas face in programming live literature events.

Unlike the ‘publishing hubs’ of Sydney and Melbourne, regional and remote areas had fewer authors available locally to program for events, and faced significant financial barriers in attracting talent – such as travel and accommodation. 

The report recommended that event organisers from regional and remote areas collaborate and pool resources to attract talent – and that governments should invest in regional Australia to provide more access to live literature events, and strengthen our national reading culture.

 

Diversity needs to be an explicit and sustained focus

When programming live literature events, cultural and linguistic diversity was an important consideration for event organisers surveyed across bookstores, libraries, and schools.

However, while some organisers had clear guidelines and strategies in place to ensure equal representation in their programming, others relied on more informal approaches. Feedback from organisers indicated resourcing limitations impacted the diversity of their programming.

According to the report, both scholarly and industry research indicates that “without explicit and sustained efforts to include more authors of colour in programs,” diversity will remain a challenge for the sector. 

Event organisers and their employers are encouraged to more actively – and formally – implement diversity and inclusion targets across their programming to ensure that their live literature events are reflective of the broad spectrum of talent, stories, and perspectives across Australia. 

 

There’s still more to learn

The results from the Live Literature Research Project also demonstrated that additional research into the positive impact meeting an author has on a person’s life and desire to read – as well as on author’s sales and income – would be beneficial in order to campaign for support of these events. It would also be helpful to understand the number of live literature events held annually across Australia, aside from the vibrant literary festival scene.

 

Read more

Read the full Live Literature Research Report here, and stay tuned over the coming weeks for practical resources created by Australia Reads to support event organisers and authors.

Australia Reads is grateful to University of Melbourne researchers Dr Alexandra Dane and Claire Parnell for their work and insights compiling this report, and to all those who provided their time and expertise in being interviewed. 

For any enquiries or feedback, please contact us at hello@australiareads.org.au

 

Additional Resources

Download Australia Read’s Event Planning Guide and Event Planning Checklist

Listen to the two-part feature on bookstore events via The Bookseller’s Podcast

Explore the Primary English Teaching Association Australia’s Authors in Schools guide

Read Tips from Authors on Running School Workshops via ArtsHub 

See suggested rates of pay for public and school appearances via the Australian Society of Authors

Explore tips on setting diversity targets via Diversity Arts Australia’s Creative Equity Toolkit