Posted On March 21, 2011 by Print This Post

Author Appearances – Don’t Be Nervous

Worried about those public appearances? Nervous about being the center of attention of too many or too few at your first reader event whether it’s online or in person? You’re not alone and before you put yourself out there, here are a few tips that Heather Long picked up through observation, attendance and coordination of events for readers and authors.

I’ve spent the better part of twenty-five years writing for business and pleasure. In the last decade, I’ve focused on achieving the dream of being published. Only, no one told me back in 2001 when I finished the first full novel draft that would eventually become Prime Evil that being published meant something beyond my book appearing on the shelf in a bookstore. While not absolutely required, every author will eventually find him or herself representing his or her work in public and yes, it can be nerve wracking, but you don’t have to let your nerves get the best of you.

Making an Appearance

The skills necessary to appear in front of a group of readers that you don’t know are vastly different from the skills you need to sit down and write a book. But the task doesn’t have to be as alien or as terrifying as it may sound. For all that I don’t mind talking to people, I hate to be put on the spot about the book I’m writing. Most authors are.

And that’s okay.

The first thing to remind yourself when you are preparing for an author event is that it is okay to not answer some questions. J.R. Ward isn’t going to reveal who all her upcoming couples are and Kresley Cole may not want to rip the band-aid off who a popular character’s potential mate is and Nora Roberts is hardly going to confirm the precise book and time that Eve and Roarke will have a baby.

Why?

Because the readers don’t need to know that and you, the author, don’t have to tell them. So let yourself off the hook for the hard questions. Prepare yourself with an answer for those. When Richelle Mead, the author of the popular young adult series The Vampire Academy, made a stop in the area to sign the sixth and final book, she opened her comments up with three caveats:

  • She wouldn’t talk spoilers about the current book and asked her readers to do the same
  • She asked that questions avoid potential cliffhanger spoilers at the ends of the book
  • And while she knew that the final book would lead to a lot of questions for the readers about certain characters’ fates, she wouldn’t comment on all of them because some, if not all, would be appearing in the new book series

Short. Sweet. To the point. Did it make some of the readers unhappy? Sure. They want to know everything that’s going to happen. They are invested in the work. But that’s a double-edged sword and the new author is going to want to reveal every juicy detail, particularly with an enthusiastic crowd, but remember — you want the readers to still buy the books so if you feed them the whole meal, they might not and particularly if you are still in the middle of writing it — your ending may not be the one you told the readers and that can lead to even more grief.

It’s simpler for you and easier for your readers if you just decide right up front what questions you won’t answer and a polite, easy way of saying no comment to the question. For me, it’s usually a teasing grin and a “you’ll see.” It’s even more fun to grin enigmatically and say, “you’ll see” even when you don’t know the answer.

Preparing For the Event

Okay, you’ve established which questions you’re not going to answer. Now what questions do you answer? What do you say? How do you brace yourself for standing in front of strangers and letting them into the private worlds you write about.

The first thing to remember is that author events, reader events, book clubs, book signings and more are all social events. In most cases, you, the author, are as much a guest as you are a host. You’ll have been invited to be there, a host will act as a liaison for you.

That liaison is a good person to check with in order to take the temperature of the group you will be visiting. Don’t be shy about asking. For example, if you’re visiting a book club at a store and you’ve been invited, doublecheck what this club reads. If they are mystery/thriller fans, they may not be the audience for your paranormal romance and vice-versa.

If the event or host has a website, check it out. Check out what they’ve been reading. Are you familiar with any of the authors? If it’s a multi-author event and you’re being invited, who else is going? Are they in a similar genre? Imagine, if you will, you are a YA author and you’ve been invited to an event where all the other authors in attendance write category romance — you might not share the same audience.

That being said, some of the best events feature an eclectic mix of authors. I’ve found new authors to love and read at events where the guests varied as wide as YA to historical to paranormal to chick lit and straight contemporary suspense. Do your homework and be prepared — it’s fun if you get the chance to go to the same event as an author you happen to like personally.

As an aside, a few months ago, I attended a science fiction convention. I was chatting with Bruce Boxleitner while he was autographing for fans when actress Kate Vernon skipped across from the table where she was signing for her fans to shake his hand, chat with him and share a gleeful greeting with an actor she admired. It was adorable, fun to witness. Events are opportunities for you and for your readers.

Quick Tip:

If it’s your first time, ever, talking to a group of readers as a genuine, professional author, I recommend taking a friend. They can be another author or a personal friend, but it’s the support structure that can help. Multi-author signings offer you the benefit of sitting in good company in an encouraging atmosphere. Friends at a reader event means one friendly face in the crowd and if you’re nervous about talking, you can ask them to stand towards the back and even shift around unobtrusively, allowing you one person you know you can connect to.

Be Optimistic

It’s easy to say don’t be nervous. But the simple truth is, everyone gets nervous. I’d remind you to just go, be positive and be professional. You’re representing your books and it’s okay to laugh with the people who like them, nod to the people who don’t (and yes, people who don’t like what you write are just as likely to make a point of telling you). Don’t take any of it personally, just focus on being positive and upbeat.

The best signings, the best events and the best book clubs are with authors who walk in the door open-minded and outgoing. I’ve watched friends who were intensely private, shy people, turn on the bubble and the smile.

  • One author told me that she just makes herself smile, no matter what and as long as she remembers to flex her face muscles, the rest of it is easy.
  • Another author practices sixty second answers to all the interview questions she gets when she does blog tours as a way of preparing for a signing, reading or event
  • A third walks in the door cold, sits down and says, okay, what do you want to know?

Go to other author and reader events, attend as a reader. Sit in the back and watch. Every author handles it a little bit differently, adding the flavor of his or her personality to the mix. But I’ve learned from every single one of them.

Focus on your readers, listen to their questions and then share your love of the written word with them. The one thing that you may have trouble wrapping your mind around at first is that all those people whether it’s 2 or 200 came to see you. They took time out of their day to come and listen to you because they love words – your words.

So don’t be afraid to talk to them, you might just surprise yourself with how much fun you can have.

***

So, RU Crew what is it about author appearances that worries you? Excites you?

Urban Fantasy author Jaye Wells brings insight and experience to the table as she explores twining existing myths and folktales into your world building.

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Bio:  As a child, Heather Long skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts her grandmother read to her. A grown up romantic, she’s a kid at heart who believes laughter is as important to life as breathing and the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. Heather  writes contemporary romance with a dash of humor and paranormal suspense with a splash of fantasy. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, North Texas Romance Writers, Dallas Area Romance Authors and Romance Writers of America’s Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter.  And lately, she’s been to a lot of book signings, book clubs, author teas and reader/author weekends.

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15 Responses to “Author Appearances – Don’t Be Nervous”

  1. Heather, great post!

    Over the years, my first manuscript has been through a number of changes. I’m terrified that I’ll answer a question with old information. LOL

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | March 21, 2011, 4:17 am
    • Good morning Tracey! Thanks. And here’s the thing, your readers will love stories like that (and I guarantee writers in the audience will too). Nearly every signing or appearance will include questions about your writing and publishing process.

      For example, my first novella actually didn’t end with a happily ever after when it was accepted. We went through a huge chunk of editing before the editor mentioned that we needed to amend that part. It’s fun to see what the audience responds with when you tell them items that way.
      H.

      Posted by Heather Long | March 21, 2011, 4:52 am
      • Thanks, Heather!

        Have you found that authors will bring a 30 minute “speech” before opening it up to questions? That’s been the case with the few signings I’ve attended. But those signings were with big name authors, who had a lot of anecdotes to share.

        Posted by TraceyDevlyn | March 21, 2011, 11:24 am
        • Tracey,

          I’ve seen it both ways and I think it really depends on the authors. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a signing where two authors talked about their books, read excerpts, shared some anecdotes and then took questions. Later that same day, two more authors appeared, but instead of the lead up, they went straight to Q&A because of the larger crowd and the desire to answer as many questions as they could. So I’d be prepared with one, but it’s not set in stone.

          Heather

          Posted by Heather Long | March 21, 2011, 1:02 pm
  2. I wish I had read this article before I did my first TV interview last week!

    Posted by Mark R. Hunter | March 21, 2011, 4:48 am
  3. Good morning, Heather…

    Thanks for another informative and useful post. Although I’ve spent plenty of time in bookstores, I’ve never attended a book signing! (Not even when Tyler Florence came to the local mall to hawk his latest cookbook!)

    I was at B&N a few years ago when they were having a signing. I didn’t know the author, but I did notice a reader trying to draw the author into a sticky debate. I felt bad for the author because the reader got testy and argumentative. The author was gracious but firm, and I had to wonder if the reader showed up just to speak his mind.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 21, 2011, 6:58 am
    • Jennifer,

      That happens and most of the time, those readers are not going to be made happy. Readers tend to have very visceral and definitive ideas of how a story or a character should go and they hate it when an author goes somewhere in the story they don’t like. The best you can do is respect the opinion, be firm, be gracious and move on.

      H.

      Posted by Heather Long | March 21, 2011, 7:24 am
  4. Hi Heather,

    I hate to speak in public, but I gain courage from my kids. They’re fearless. Speeches, plays, public announcements at school, they are all in.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 21, 2011, 8:03 am
    • Mary Jo,

      I know what you mean. My daughter thrills to be the center of attention and she loves to perform. I spent years doing it professionally, but if I don’t have my head in the right space, it’s a little tougher for me to go at it cold. That’s why bringing a friend or family member can help so much.

      Heather

      Posted by Heather Long | March 21, 2011, 1:03 pm
  5. Hey, ladies –

    Momentarily have i’net after a transformer blew one street over yesterday afternoon. Just fyi! So if you emailed me, I will get back to you eventually :).

    Heather – I love the idea of visiting other author events before you do your own. I’ve been a public speaker all my life, so I guess what worries me most is that no one would show up :). I know that’s not completely out of the realm. What’s the funniest or most stressful situation you’ve encountered at an event?

    Thanks!
    Kels

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 21, 2011, 10:23 am
    • Kelsey,

      I think the funniest moment I had was when my daughter raised her hand and asked the author why she used the “F” word so much in her book. To give this fabulous author credit, she didn’t bat an eyelash, she explained the character’s roots, how it provided an exclamation for that character and why it was appropriate for the character.

      I think the second funniest moment was seeing the stars in the eyes of other readers as they saw their favorite author for the very first time. Tongue-tied and bedazzled. They were truly not sure whether they should go up and say something or not.

      And I can understand the fear of having no one else show up. I think that’s why so many of us pack up around our local chapter mates when there is an author signing locally. You see people queuing up and you wander in that direction to see what’s going on. So if you queue it, they will come!

      H.

      Posted by Heather Long | March 21, 2011, 3:38 pm
  6. Morning!

    I’m not a fan of public speaking…lol…which no one believes because I manage a restaurant right? But public speaking is different – when (and if it gets to that point) someone asks me for a bottle of ketchup while I’m signing a book – I’ll be right on it!

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 21, 2011, 10:35 am
    • Carrie,

      Most of the authors I know are not big on public speaking while others are just intensely shy. You just have to create the “persona” of you the author to get up there a few times and then it gets a little easier (even if the nerves never really go away)

      H.

      Posted by Heather Long | March 21, 2011, 3:39 pm

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