When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? A Day for Children’s Writers and Illustrators

Sarah Webb, Writer in Residence, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown in association with Children’s Books Ireland and supported by Words Ireland

Publishers Panel

Publishers Panel

This is a short overview of the day with facts, figures and highlights. A podcast of the day will be available within the next few weeks – stay tuned to this blog, the Children’s Books Ireland website and social media, and my own social media for further details.

Children’s Books Ireland are looking at having similar days soon – more about that when they are announced. With over 70 on the waiting list for this event, there is certainly a demand for such days. It’s great to see such a keen interest in writing for children.

On Saturday 4th February the Lexicon Studio Theatre was packed with writers, illustrators, publishers, agents and children’s writers in various stages of their careers. There was a focus on telling our ‘truths’ and being honest and open about writing and publishing. Grainne Clear gave some really useful info about advances and royalties. She explained that the average writer’s advance in Ireland is e1,000. In the UK for smaller publishers like Little Island (not for the larger houses) it is roughly between £1k to £5k. Surely that’s wrong, one man tweeted using our hashtag for the day #properbook asking about Irish advances. But Grainne had done her homework – asking publishers, writers and agents for their input. And e1k it stands.

Sheena Wilkinson told us about her healthy regard for being solvent and confirmed that she had received e5,875 in advances for her 7 books, backing up Grainne’s figures. Alan Nolan gave his advice, have another income stream and marry up! Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us about her SFDs – shitty first drafts and David O’Callaghan explained that he just couldn’t sell PAF books in Eason – Posh As F*** (hardback picture books) and boy had he tried. He said his customers panic and grab the nearest Julia Donaldson.

It was a most thought-provoking and stimulating day. More details below.

The 1st panel which I chaired  – Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland, Colleen Jones from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Valerie Bistany from the Irish Writers Centre talked about their organisations and how they helped writers.

Aoife explained how important events are to a children’s writer and said that Dave Rudden had done 52 events in October 2016, quite an achievement! She explained how they try to lobby for children’s writers and illustrators and be a voice for children’s books in the media. And a great job they do too.

Colleen explained how SCBWI could help self-published writers and told us about their award for self-published books, the Spark Award, won recently by Irish woman, Denise Deegan.

Valerie talked about the Irish Writers Centre classes and workshops, residencies. I teach at the Irish Writers Centre and also work as a mentor for new writers through the centre.

The 2nd panel talked about money – earning a living as a writer. The chair, Elaina Ryan from CBI asked writer, Alan Nolan should writers be expected to do events for free. He said no. He quoted Celine Kiernan: ‘If I wanted exposure, I’d run naked down O’Connell Street.’

Grainne Clear from Little Island explained that smaller publishers focus on festivals rather than author tours. She said that an author may need to arrange a tour or a launch themselves.

Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly

Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly

Grainne said that for big UK publishers that doing events and having a profile could be a deal breaker for a publisher (when looking to take a writer on). She noted that it wasn’t the case for Little Island who are all about strong writing.

Librarian, Maeve Rogan McGann said she was very open to good pitches from writers and quoted ER Murray and Alan Early as an example – they had approached her directly and did several events together and workshops for her.

Sinead Connelly from the International Literature Festival, Dublin said she was interested in pitches for events from writers but she wanted something really interesting, something that told her about the writer and who they were as a person. She gave the example of the Friendship event that I did at the festival with my writer friend, Judi Curtin as an event that gave insight into writers’ lives and was something a bit different. Thank you, Sinead!

Alan explained that 60% of his income came from design work, 40% from his books and his events and school visits. He gets paid e150 for a 1 hour school or library event. The Writer in Schools fee of e200 for a 2.5 hour school visit (+ travel) was also quoted by Elaina. For details of recommended fees for writers see this excellent post here from the Words Ireland website.

Maeve said she pays e100 per 45 minute event or short workshop, or e300 for three events. Sinead pays her festival writers e300 per event for a standard event.

All agreed that you should say no if asked to do an event for free. Elaina quoted Jane O’Hanlon from Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools scheme who explained that writers who work for free undercut their colleagues.

And then to the topic of royalties. I’d already shared some of my own ‘truths’ about royalties. That I’d been paid from no advance (for my very first book, Kids Can Cook) to e1,500 and e2,000 advances from various Irish publishers. All have earned out (earned more that the advance paid), some have been translated and I regularly receive good royalties from all these Irish published books. I enjoy working with Irish publishers very much and have a new book out with O’Brien Press in the autumn. That yes, like a handful of Irish writers, I’ve been lucky enough to receive some of the mythical ‘five and six figure’ book deals for my children’s books for UK and World rights (and hopefully will continue to in the future if I work hard enough and come up with strong, original ideas) but that is the exception, not the rule. The large advances are in the news because they are just that – unusual and news worthy! Shane Hegarty, Dave Rudden, Cecelia Ahern – all exceptional writers with original, commercial ideas and great agents and publishers.

Since first writing this blog, figures have been coming in from other writers published in the UK and internationally – and thank you to the writers for sharing their experiences. I’ll be updating this blog as often as I can so please do send me further information.  According to one experienced writer, average UK advances from larger publishing houses range from £5 to 10k for a novel and £6 to 15k for a picture book (1/3 to writer, 2/3 to illustrator).  Writers deserve to be well paid for all their hard work and  creativity!

Grainne explained that advances are paid to a writer based on how many books the publisher thinks they can sell and the price of the book. Hence a larger country like the US (or the UK) with a bigger market can pay larger advances.

Little Island pay a standard advance to all writers, both new and established – this was something I hadn’t realised and useful to know. Authors usually get 7.5% royalty of the recommended retail price of the book. Average advance for a 1st book is 1k and average yearly income for a writer is e10k to 12k. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies she said.

Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann

Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann

Alan’s advice was to marry up – he was only joking! He explained how important it is to have a second income stream.

Maeve gave some great advice – clear some time in March and October for school and library visits, she said. Keep some days free as these are the times we are most looking for writers.

We broke for lunch here – I think the audience needed to mull over the facts and figures. The people I spoke to were surprisingly chipper about the lack of money in children’s books. ‘Just as well I love writing if I’m not going to be a millionaire,’ one woman told me with a smile. With that attitude she will go far!

After lunch Sheena Wilkinson hit us with what Alan Nolan described as ‘Wisdom Bombs’. She said that only 10% of her income comes from book sales. She has never been in the news for her big advances, but she has been in the news for winning a lot of book awards.

She has received e5,875 in advances for 7 books. She said writers can’t create if they are anxious about having a roof over their heads.

In 2016 she did 26 school visits, 18 library visits and spent 143 days doing events and teaching.

She said to ‘Seek out the rest of your tribe’ – the children’s book tribe. She admitted that a year ago she feared that her career was over. She had no new contract and she was genuinely worried. But a few months later things had changed and she’s been publishing steadily ever since.

Sheena was open and honest and many people’s highlight of the day, mine included. Sheena is a strong, intelligent woman who is not afraid of letting people see her vulnerabilities, which made this a really special talk indeed.

Next up David O’Callaghan from Eason, Oisin McGann and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us some of their truths.

David O'Callaghan

David O’Callaghan

David explained how important a good cover is to make a book stand out. He said what makes him buy a book for his stores is:

Word of mouth – the buzz around a book and early reviews and info from people he trusts

Originality – something different

He said if you want to know what trend to follow (when it comes to writing), you’re already too late. He will always push something original that may catch readers’ imaginations. But he can’t seem to sell PAF books – Posh As F*** hardback picture books.

Oisin Mc Gann said ‘You’re not going to make much money writing for children so you may as well have a good time doing it.’ He explained that modern children’s (and adults’) reading stamina is reduced and all writers need to think about this. He described reading stamina as ‘the time bomb in children’s books.’

David O’Callaghan gave great advice for writers:

For age 0 to 4 pitch (your marketing and publicity) at the parents and the bookselling community

Age 5 to 12 – work hard

Do school events

Your audience is kids and their parents

YA – get on social media and use it

Tumblr, Snapchat, blogging

Put in the work. He name checked Louise O’Neill and Deirdre Sullivan as writers who do this well.

Finally he said ‘Writing a book sounds like too much work to me. I’ll stick to selling them!’ And we’re lucky he’s such a passionate and devoted bookseller!

The final panel was called ‘Is It Me You’re Looking For?’ and featured Conor Hackett, Publisher’s Agent with Little Island, Walker Books and other publishers, Ivan O’Brien from O’Brien Press, Nicki Howard from Gill Books and UK agent, Penny Holroyde.

Penny said that picture books are the hardest place for a new writer to start. Many of the submissions she receives have no beginning, middle or end, are too long and are patronising.

She said it’s best not to try and write a rhyming picture book and noted the luxury non-fiction as a nice trend, books like Gill Books’ Irelandopedia with well curated content.

Nicki Howard admitted that she was surprised by the success of Irelandopedia. She explained how the idea came from Gill Books and how they commissioned Fatti Burke to illustrate it, after seeing her work in Cara magazine. Fatti brought her father, John on board as the writer, which Nicki explained was a great backstory for promotion.

Word Count

Penny said the ideal word count for a picture book is 500 to 800 words.

Think of the book as 12 double page spreads, she said.

Conor said that Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton is only 90 words.

Early Readers – 2 to 3k words. Penny explained that publishers tended to have armies of set writers for this age group and rights were hard to sell.

Middle Grade – age 9 to 12

Publishers Panel

Publishers Panel

Are you the type of author who will put in the time and work to be successful? Penny asked. A successful author (for this age) is a hard working one all agreed.

Ivan said that he looks for how hard a writer will work on events and promotions when considering taking on a new writer.

New writers – need to blog, be on social media and also be part of the children’s book ‘tribe’.

Ivan said – we are not interested in doing 1 book with a writer, we’re looking to build up backlist.

Nicki is interested in writers who are enthusiastic about what they are doing.

Conor is looking for books that really deliver.

Penny joked that her ideal writer was a bestseller. When working at another agency her boss told her: ‘Normal people don’t write books’.

American YA has an ambition that UK YA doesn’t, Penny said.

Ivan said that O’Brien Press is not actively looking for picture books. They are looking for good fiction for age 10+. Great novels.

He said to make the first book as good as it can be and maybe think of a sequel (or a series) after that. Alice Next Door by Judi Curtin came in as a stand-alone book he said. Word count – he suggested not more than 50K but make every word count.

Nicki Howard is looking for Irish focused books and illustrators.

Penny is looking for great age 10+ books like Beetle Boy of 40k words and is always interested in looking at illustrators.

Conor gave writers this advice:

Go to book launches

Engage with the industry

Meet people

The opportunities are there, he said. Take them!

A great way to end the day. Afterwards we launched the World of Colour Exhibition which is in the Lexicon from now until the end of March and features the work of Beatrice Alemanga and Chris Haughton.

Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour

Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour

Thanks to everyone at Children’s Books Ireland – Elaina, Jenny, Ciara and especially Aoife who helped with programming advice and support, Marian Keyes, Susan Lynch and all at the Lexicon Library for their help and Words Ireland for their support.

me - exhit

Lexicon Reader and Writers’ Day – Saturday 5th November 

After the success of last year’s event, we are back with another packed day of readings, interviews and chat. Hear thriller writers, Liz Nugent and Sam Blake discuss dark psychology with journalist and writer, Dave Kenny; bestselling UK writer, Lucy Diamond and historical novelist, Hazel Gaynor will talk to broadcaster and writer, Sinead Crowley about their paths to publication; and find out how the book industry works and what agents and publishers are looking for in 2017. Plus enjoy lots of book chat with fellow readers over coffee and lunch. Bring your book club or come and make new friends – see you there! Bookshop on site with thanks to Dubray Books, Dun Laoghairereader and writers day poster

Booking: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/lexicon-reader-and-writers-day-tickets-28356676583

Cost: e20 (includes coffee and light lunch)

Venue: Lexicon Studio, Dun Laoghaire   Registration from 9.30am


10.00am Welcome by Sarah Webb, dlr Writer in Residence

10.10am to 11.00am Dark Psychology: Research and the Writers’ Psyche

Bestselling authors, Sam Blake (Vanessa O’Loughlin) and Liz Nugent talk to writer and journalist, Dave Kenny about the research behind their crime and thriller novels.

11.00am to 11.20am Coffee and Signing

11.20am to 12.10pm In Another Man’s Shoes: Creating Characters

Award winning writers, Catherine Dunne and Adrian White talk to journalist and writer, Sue Leonard about creating realistic characters.

12.10pm to 1.00pm The Glass Shore: A Celebration of Short Stories from Women Writers from the North of Ireland

Writer and columnist, Martina Devlin and writer, Evelyn Conlon talk to fellow writer, Lia Mills about their stories in The Glass Shore collection, edited by Sinead Gleeson.

1.00pm to 2.00 Lunch and Signing

2.00pm to 3.00pm Paths to Publication  

UK bestseller, Lucy Diamond and historical novelist, Hazel Gaynor talk to broadcaster and writer, Sinead Crowley about their journey to publication, and share some of their writing secrets.

3.00pm to 3.15pm Break and Signing

3.15pm to 4.15pm The Business of Books:  An Insider’s Guide

Martina Devlin hosts our panel of publishing experts: Vanessa O’Loughlin from The Inkwell Group and Writing.ie; Peta Nightingale, UK Agent with Lucas Alexander Whitley (LAW); and Michael McLoughlin, MD at Penguin Random House Ireland and Publisher at Penguin Ireland.

4.30pm Close


Writer in Residence: Events, Book Clubs and Writing Clubs

All events and clubs are in the Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

I’m delighted to be hosting a wide range of events, clubs and workshops for children, teens and adults during my residency. Here are the events from now until the end of the year.

I hope to see you at the dlr Lexicon very soon!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXXsarah reading to a child


13th September (school day)

Roald Dahl Day for Schools – Celebrating 100 Years of a Master Storyteller

Events and workshops inspired by the work of Roald Dahl with Oisin McGann, Alan Nolan, Grainne Clear and Enda Reilly.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie


16th September (evening)


5pm to 7pm Story and art fun for all the family with Sarah Webb and Alan Nolan – no booking required.


Friday 16th September (school day)

Schools Events – Canada Day with Children’s Books Ireland

School events with award winning Canadian writers and illustrators, JonArno Lawson, Sydney Smith and Katherena Vernette. Find out how a book is made with our international guests.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie


Children’s Book Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

1st Wed of every month: 7th Sept, 5th Oct, 9th Nov, 7th Dec

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Do you love reading? Would you like to chat about stories and characters with fellow young book lovers?  Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, or eat up Judi Curtin or David Walliams books, this is the club for you! For our first meeting we’ll be talking about our favourite Roald Dahl book, in honour of his centenary on 13th September.


Children’s Writing Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

Thursday 15th Sept, 29th Sept, 13th Oct, 10th Nov, 24th Nov, 8th Dec (last of the year)

3.15pm to 4.30pm

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Do you love writing stories and poems? Would you like to find out more about creating fantastic characters and gripping plots? Then this is the club for you!


Teen Creatives

Age 12+ (1st year students upwards)

Max – number 15

10am to 12pm       

Venue: Lexicon Lab on Level 3

17th Sept, 1st Oct, 22nd Oct, 12th Nov, 26th Nov, 10th Dec (last of the year)

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

 ‘To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.’ Joseph Chilton Pearce

Teen Creatives is for all teenagers who love to write and draw, and would like to learn how to create video blogs and edit movie clips. We will be talking about how stories work, writing, drawing, cartooning, making short movies and vlogs, and exploring the practical, behind the scenes side of the arts world, from hanging an art exhibition to curating a book festival.

Artists, writers and arts curators will be invited to talk to the group about their work, such as writer and cartoonist, Alan Nolan and award winning writer, Sheena Wilkinson.


Drop in Writing Clinic for Children and Teenagers 

Age: 8 to 18 years

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

3pm to 4pm

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Are you a young writer? Would you like our writer in residence, Sarah Webb to read your work and offer advice? Drop in to her writing clinic. No need to book.

Please bring a copy of your work for Sarah to read. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Drop in Writing Clinic for Adults

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

4pm to 5pm

Are you an adult who is writing for children or teenagers? Would you like some help and advice? Our writer in residence, Sarah Webb is hosting writing clinics for emerging children’s writers. No need to book.

Sarah is happy to read short extracts from manuscripts during the clinic. Please bring a print out of your work.

These notes were prepared for the International Literature Festival Dublin’s Mindshift Event: The Connected Writer – Getting the Gig, Doing It Well in association with the Irish Writers Centre and Words Ireland

The panel for that event were: Sarah Webb, Family and Schools’ Curator, Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival,

 Keith Acheson, Belfast Book Festival and Martin Colthorpe, International Literature Festival, Dublin

All notes by Sarah Webb with thanks to the contributors who provided information and quotes.

Schedule of Programming

Most book festivals start programming six months to a year in advance. For example, the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (I am the Children’s Curator of the festival) takes place in March and programming closes towards the end of the previous year (mid December). Key names would be in place 8 to 10 months in advance for the children’s programme: ie Francesca Simon, David Almond.

Francesca Simon

Francesca Simon

If you are thinking about approaching a festival (and more on how to do this in a moment), make sure you don’t leave it too late. I would suggest at least 4 months in advance. See below for details of when to pitch to other Irish literary festivals.

Martin from ILFD suggests you pitch at least 4/5 months ahead and Keith fro the Belfast Book Festival agrees.

Both say you can pitch directly to them via email with a well written proposal detailing your event idea.

Martin says roughly 20% of his events came from pitches (the others are commissioned or come via publishers). Keith says around 40% of his events come from pitches. For the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival, roughly 20% come from pitches.

They both suggest that writers should say if they are happy to be included on a panel.

We all agree that it’s important for writers to be seen at festivals, supporting festivals as an audience member. I suggest volunteering at a festival to get an idea of how a festival is run and what festivals are looking for from writers.

Anniversaries are very important. All festivals are looking to celebrate anniversaries. 150 years of Alice in Wonderland is a good example.

The average fee for a writer appearing at an Irish book/arts festival is from e150 to e300 depending on the venue. For the Belfast Book Festival it’s £200 to £250.

What I’m Looking For (Children’s Events)

1/ International names who will attract a large audience and fill a theatre (300+ seats) eg Francesca Simon, Derek Landy, Eoin Colfer, Michael Grant, Julia Donaldson, Philip Ardagh (2016).

2/ Strong, award-winning names for individual events and panels – especially writers who have written outstanding books (anything from 120 seats to 300+ seats depending on the artist) eg David Almond, Meg Rosoff, Patrick Ness. This year we had new writers Shane Hegarty and Holly Smale along with Derek Landy in the Pavilion.

3/ Writers who are excellent at performing for school audiences and who have a strong body of work behind them. Experience is key for school events in a theatre (or in any venue). Ex-actors are particularly good. Eg Guy Bass, Steve Cole, Niamh Sharkey, Marita Conlon McKenna, Oisin McGann, Judi Curtin.

4/ Exceptional storytellers and spoken word poets eg Dave Rudden and Grainne Clear.

5/ Exceptional workshop leaders eg Dave Lordan, Celine Kiernan, Niamh Sharkey, Claire Hennessy, Sarah Crossan. The best ones engage 100% with the young writers/illustrators and bring something unique to their workshops.

6/ Exceptional new/newish writers for panel events featuring emerging voices – eg Louise O’Neill, Phil Earle (2016), Dave Rudden (for 2016). I am lucky to be sent early proofs which I read eagerly. If you have written a brilliant, original and exciting book you have a good chance of being invited to a book festival.

7/ Exceptional picture book makers to give talks/workshops to children and also masterclasses to adults eg Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers, Chris Judge, Chris Haughton, Niamh Sharkey, Steve Simpson, Sarah McIntyre.

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve

8/ Unusual and original book related events. Esp non-fiction events in fact – history, natural history, science, maths. Come up with a unique and inspiring event and practice, practice, practice.

9/ Artists who are willing to work hard and go the extra mile. Artists who will muck in. Artists who offer to fill in for other artists when there’s a last minute illness or delay. Artists who are fun to work with and above all, professional.

10/ Strong local talent – writers, poets, storytellers, illustrators, picture book makers and more. Experienced and debut writers alike eg children’s poet, Lucinda Jacob.

I’m a Self-Published Writer, Can I Apply to Appear at a Festival?

The Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival is a curated festival. This means the curators select the artists. Yes, you can apply to appear, if you think you can offer something original and exceptional (and your book is professionally produced and an excellent read – children deserve the best literature we can give them). But please note that very few artists who apply directly are selected; most artists are invited. This goes for all writers, not just self-published writers.

What I’d Love to See More Of

1/ Non-fiction events – science, natural history, history (think 1916 for next year for eg – not 1 writer has offered me an innovative 1916 event yet). If your book is fiction, you can still offer a festival a non-fiction event. I have put together an event called ‘Talk Like a Dolphin, Sing Like a Whale’ for festivals/schools – based on whale and dolphin communication (my latest series for children is set on a small island).

2/ Innovative workshops – offer me something different and put time and passion into developing your idea. Again, you need experience. Offer to present your workshop at a local school. Ask the students and teachers for feedback.

For eg I have created a Book of Kells workshop for Hay Festival in Kells, with real vellum and swan quills; a Jane Austen workshop for mothers and daughters; and I’m now presenting a ‘Create Your Own Fantasy Island’ workshop for festivals. Be inventive!

3/ Innovative pairings – dancers, musicians, artists, puppeteers, other writers. For eg this year I have teamed up with Judi Curtin and we are talking about our friendship at all the major festivals. It’s our ‘Friendship Tour’. Previously we have toured with Oisin McGann (The Ideas Shop) and Sophia Bennett (Your Wildest Dreams Tour). Team up with someone interesting and put together a cracking event. It’s a lot of fun!

Me and Judi Curtin (by Sarah McIntyre)

Me and Judi Curtin (by Sarah McIntyre)

4/ Events for children with special needs. This year I put together a How to Catch a Star workshop with Deirdre Sullivan for children on the autistic spectrum based on Oliver Jeffers’ book.

How to Apply to a Book Festival

1/ It’s best to apply thorough your publisher. Tell your publisher you are interested in appearing at X festival and ask them for their opinion. They will either a/ say yes, great idea or b/ suggest you might need a little more experience. If their answer is b – go off and get that experience and go back to them.

2/ Be a festival supporter – it’s important to attend and support festivals if you’d like to appear at them. You also learn a lot by watching and listening to other artists doing events. Take a notebook along and jot down things that work and things that don’t work.

3/ Make a demo video of yourself in action and upload it to You Tube. Nothing fancy – you can take it on your phone. Let programmers see you in action.

4/ If you don’t have a publisher or they don’t have the staff to contact festivals on your behalf, you can apply yourself. Email the children’s curator/programmer – outlining your book, the events you’ve done previously and what you can offer them: workshops, events etc.

It is vital to have a professional photo to send festivals for their brochure. It must be high res, clear and should show something of your personality. Ask someone to come along to one of your events and take an in-action photo if possible.

Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers

The blurb for your event and your biog should be short, well written and relevant. I rarely get sent interesting titles for events – be the one who sends me something unusual and clever!

If the programmer says no, do not hound them under any circumstances. That is not going to make them change their mind. They may simply not have a slot for you that year, but do try again the following year.

Tips for Events

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it (free) in creches, schools, libraries. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them. Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them and watch them in action.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect for age 9+. Add 1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 10/15 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books. You are there to entertain and inspire the audience, not to sell your book (although if they like your event, this is often a much appreciated by product!).

Sinead Connolly, from the ILFD puts it beautifully when she says: ‘Festivals, I feel , are not a vehicle to sell books ( though of course that will be and should be facilitated), but rather are an opportunity to engage with an audience/potential or existing readership in a very immediate way.’

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Growth Areas

Events for the under 7s (Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland also sees this as a big growth area for the events she programmes)

Family events that the parents will enjoy as much as the children – eg the CBI Monster Doodles, innovative storytelling, book-related puppet shows

Events that combine yoga/fitness with books; music with books; dance with books (see ILFD notes below for more on this)

Events for children on the autistic spectrum

Drama workshops for children; screen writing workshops for children; animation workshops for children – also the same for teens.

How to Approach Other Festivals and What They Are Looking For

Writers’ Week, Listowel


We would love any writers to contact us either through their publisher or directly themselves, but we would like a brief biog about themselves and their writing included.

The events that we are looking for are fun, interactive events, and creative writing workshops.

Aoife Murray, Children’s Books Ireland

How to approach a festival: For me I don’t mind if it’s via agent/publisher or on your own bat as long as the contact is respectful, informative and useful to my purposes eg: I want to know what age you do events for, what type of events you prefer and how much you want to charge. I feel it’s essential to research the festival to see if you suit it, otherwise you are banging on a closed door and it’s important to remember that the programmer has a vision and if you don’t fit it, that’s unfortunately just how it is on this occasion.

Events we’re looking for: Something more than the standard reading and signing, as this doesn’t generally work for younger audiences. In demand at the moment are events for 0-2 and 5-8.

Sinead Connolly, International Literary Festival Dublin

How to approach: Sinead welcomes approaches from authors, but says it can be easier to talk via a publisher initially to sort out the practicalities.

She is looking for:

1. One/two person events with key authors

2. Panels of authors and others on a particular theme

3. Outdoor events that engage families (see their 2015 festival brochure for some excellent outdoor family events)

4. Newly commissioned work that can imaginatively engage with a wider public conceptually

5. Sectorial events aimed at programmers, education, library, publishing etc.

And she notes that strong author photographs are very important for the festival website and brochure.

Vanessa O’Loughlin, Waterford Writers’ Festival

I prefer direct approach (less links in the chain, less likely to go wrong), always looking for original innovative events that are more about entertainment than just about books. With kids events I like to get an element of the educational in there so it’s a learning experience as well, however subliminal.

Eimear O’Herlihy, West Cork Literary Festival

I am very happy to hear directly from authors or from their publishers. An initial pitch by email is best and this can be sent to the WCLF festival office. We’d need a pitch 8 months to a year in advance of the festival – esp for the workshops. Our festival’s in July – our workshop programme goes out in December and the full programme in April.

The more detail that the writer can give me in the pitch email the better. I would like a synopsis of the book, the ideal age range for the book, whether the book is of most interest to boys or girls or of equal interest to both – please be honest about age and gender suitability as we all want the event to be attended by the right audience who will really enjoy it. Details of the type of events that the author has done in the past – or new events that the writer thinks would work – would also be welcome as they know their target audience better than I ever could. I would also like to see a copy of the book and I much prefer a hard copy – I appreciate that this can be expensive but in many instances the publicist should be able to send it on and I will of course look at an electronic copy if necessary.

For WCLF I am looking for a wide variety of events across all age groups and for both boys and girls. I am particularly open to events that are non-gender specific. My budget and number of programming slots are both limited so if I don’t select an event it may simply be because I already have an event for “boys 7-9″ and writers should feel free to re-pitch in subsequent years.

Sian Smyth, Director, Dalkey Book Festival

Sian suggests applying by email to the festival website. She says a press release is ideal as it will outline the book / genre / area of interest . It is also a good idea to offer to post a copy of the book and if this offer is accepted, to send it promptly.

She likes to see a video clip of the writer speaking if possible. The best time to apply for her next festival (June 2016) is December 2015 to February 2016.

Sian likes strong writing. She says ‘We look for new writing as well as well-known, established writers. If a writer is unheard of we often work to put them with someone better known to give them a new audience and of course the audience (hopefully) an unexpected pleasure.’

Bert Wright, Primary Curator, Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival

There are so many Irish literary festivals now that I always feel the need to develop a distinct identity for Mountains to Sea. We’re fortunate in having so many writers living locally and to have the traditions of Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien relevant to the area so that helps. In the past we’ve been fiction-dominant but non-fiction draws in more general readers so we’re planning more biography, memoir, politics and history where possible.

I’m conscious of the trap whereby your festival becomes shaped by touring UK or US authors with new books. These have their place but they can breed complacency and it’s good to generate your own event ideas and then source relevant authors to the theme. We like to add a theatrical or musical dimension to the programme also and these have proved popular. It’s all about good ideas, well executed. We get loads of proposals for events and are always willing to entertain suggestions but you’re looking for things you think will work, things that will appeal to your core audience.