Last weekend's bookfair went great and I'm gearing up for another this Saturday. I'll be riding there with AR Miller, and we'll likely do too much gabbing and laughing along...
I gave a presentation to the Two Rivers Romance Authors group on Saturday and it went really great. They’d contacted me months ago to set up the visit and told me I could talk about anything I wanted. Any. Thing.
This obviously opened up a staggering amount of possibilities and I’ve given talks on lots of writerly subjects, usually to newbies. These women, though, are published or damn near it and I decided they’d probably heard all about creating characters and story structure and pacing and revising and all the nuts-and-bolts writing topics that so often get presented. I didn’t want to be repetitive or boring.
So, what to do?!?
I pondered a while (months, actually) and a few days ago it hit me. I could talk about the public nature of being a writer, specifically meeting readers, fans, other writers, etc. I thought it would be a different kind of presentation from the standard ‘this is how you write shit’ kinds of talks, which is good. I prefer to be ‘different’. As I pondered some more, the scope of the talk took place in my head and I decided how to go about making it work.
It did, however take some preparation. At Dunkin’ Donuts, to be precise, across the parking lot from where we were meeting.
I am, by nature, a rather introverted individual and I don’t get out much. I’m usually home and, frankly, unless I feel exceptionally comfortable with a person, I rarely speak at all. Everything’s internalized. I’d much rather type in a chat window than, well, actually talk. I’m better than I used to be, but it’s still an issue for me, especially when I’m in ‘pro author mode’ which is EXHAUSTING.
Anyway. Dunkin Donuts.
I grabbed my fabric tote bag – the one I take to quilt days and classes because it’s really big – out of the back of my car and headed into the bathroom. I stripped from my comfy driving clothes (I drove about 2 hours to get there and I’ll be damned if I’ll wear uncomfy dressy stuff during a long car trip). I completely re-dressed. Twice.
It’ll all make sense soon, I promise.
Off to the meeting.
I went in, as me. Well, the ‘me’ in new situations. Closed up. Hiding. Hair back in a ponytail. My funky reading glasses on. Gray zip-up hoodie, ratty comfy t-shirt, saggy-baggy ‘at home’ pants. Me. I was greeted, and I was meek. I sat huddled in a corner and quietly fiddled with my note cards and watched the strangers and was polite but mostly silent. Everyone was exceptionally nice and friendly and welcoming, by the way, but a few seemed perplexed as to why this pitiful creature was there to talk to them.
Meeting stuff happened and it was time to talk. I introduced myself – very softly – and said I slaughter people on paper for money (my standard line of describing my job, ha ha). I showed all three of my actual books, gave a short description of each and how they did sales and award wise, tossing each aside afterward because, as I told them, I’m not here to sell books. I’m here to talk to you about, well, giving talks.
There was much obvious confusion in the audience.
I explained some of my issues, upbringing, etc, and how one of the toughest hurdles for me, after turning pro, was public events. How I had to learn to take off my outer shell and get out there.
I then unzipped my hoodie, peeled it off, and set it aside. My voice got a teensy bit louder and I lifted my eyes a little more.
They started to pay attention.
I told them I soon found that wasn’t good enough, I had to actually meet and talk to – omg! – strangers and I had to start feeling exposed.
Off with the t-shirt (I’m sitting through all of this, by the way) to show the blouse underneath and the nice necklace.
EVERYONE gasped. My voice got a little stronger. Folks laughed when I mentioned I actually own two blouses. Just two.
I talked about how in book signings I had to cheerfully greet people but it, and panels, meant I could still hide behind the table, behind the table cloth. I talked about how panels were terrifying at first, because I was afraid to speak up, but I soon learned to be assertive (hand motions begin, head up consistently, voice steady) but never aggressive. Everyone wants to talk over you in a panel, most want to scream ‘BUY MY BOOK!’ (My voice got loud and I brandished a book at them) whenever they get a chance, but humor (they’d already laughed a few times at this point) seems to work better for me than being forceful. But be prepared. Men, especially, will want to talk over you. Don’t let them. Be kind, be yourself, but engage the panel and the audience.
By this time, everyone’s nodding and taking notes.
Then, I sighed, you have readings. A lot of writers sit down behind the safety of the table and read and read and read until the time’s done. I did this once. ONCE. Then Gay Haldeman, wife of Joe Haldeman and a really good friend, explained that a good reading is actually performance art. And the first step is to get your ass out of the chair.
I stand up – everyone’s pretty much shocked at this point – and I grab a book, open it, and confidently say, Instead of basically, again, telling everyone to BUY MY BOOK! what you’re really doing is engaging the audience, selling yourself and the story at the same time. So you pick a few short bits, a page or so printed, maybe two pages if you’re reading off manuscript pages. NO MORE. Never more. And you tell a bit about yourself and why you wrote this. You tell about what it shows or does in the scope of the book – character, plot, whatever. Talk a little, read a little, be open to questions. Always friendly and welcoming, never pushy. It’s a conversation. Maybe move away from the podium once in a while. Engage.
But then there’s more than readings. Sometimes you have to present things. Talks like this, classes, that sort of stuff. Sometimes for a few people, sometimes for a lot. Fifty. Five hundred. More. You’re on a stage. And there’s nowhere to hide.
Then I unzip my comfy pants and peel them off. Beneath are nice, fitted capris. The gals in the writing group are astounded and laughing and clapping. I get out of my comfy pants, make a joke about how I love them because I don’t have to take my shoes off to get out of them.
Have you ever seen a TED talk? I ask, walking around. Gesturing. Confident. In control of the room. Do they stand still? Are they stiff? Everyone chimes in ‘No!’ Of course not. And they’re not up there saying ‘buy my book,’, they’re up there saying I know my shit and I’m gonna teach you to know your shit, too. You gotta let your hair down (off with the ponytail and my wacky curly hair does its thing). You have to move around. Back and forth, approaching, welcoming, making eye contact, being open. Because that’s what people respond to. Open and friendly. But you have to look professional (I pull my tidy blue sweater out of the bag and put it on) to be taken seriously.
Everyone laughs again.
And after I was all done, I did a Q & A thing where I remained (mostly) open and moving and engaging, but I’d make a joke about my shyness every time I noticed my hands in my pockets or my back pressed against the wall. Then I made another joke about forgetting my bling as I put on my swanky watch I pretty much never wear. It finally wound down, everyone clapped and exclaimed it was just about the best author talk EVER.
So I put my pony tail back up (because even when I’m in control, damn it, I still want some of my protective crutches) but before I sat I asked them how many wrote down my name to look up later to purchase my books. Five hands of eight members went up. I smiled and said, Exactly. And I never once asked you to.
More clapping, and that was basically it.
Btw, I didn’t use the note cards. They were merely a prop at the beginning because when folks are nervous, they fiddle with their notes. I, however, know my shit and don’t need notes. 🙂