How should authors interact when they are taking part in book events? Should they stay quietly at their tables, behind piles of their recently published novel?
Should they concentrate on a book they’re reading and avoid looking up?
Or should they leap forward whenever anyone comes near and start doing a major sales pitch?
It’s an interesting dilemma and something considered by freelance copy editor, Emma Mitchell, who wrote a blog on her website asking: ‘Do we expect too much of authors?’
Emma recently attended a small book festival and was underwhelmed by the interaction of the authors taking part. The majority were either reading or chatting to the author at the table next to them, she says. ‘Some gave me a little smile, a couple spoke to me about the weather, but that was it really.’
Sounds great fun!
Emma had expected more. But then she considered that not every author is comfortable with public speaking or shouting about their work. Many sit on their own – a lot of the time – writing. They might not know much about marketing and promotion, and they might not have much help and support behind them.
So why should they be expected to ‘perform’?
Adopt a ‘this-is-work’ attitude
As a former newspaper reporter, I had to interview all sorts of people in many different situations, and I adopted a ‘this-is-work’ mentality which forced the shy and insecure me into the background and the inquisitive, interested journalist to the fore.
I’m lucky nowadays that I write fiction with my co-author, Sue Featherstone (below in blue), and I like to think we give each other confidence to perform together at book events.
Even so, I use my old journalistic technique. I wear something that won’t make me disappear into the background (and hope you like the leopard skin look), set out a great display of books, marketing posters, book marks and postcards, take a big breath, stand tall and SMILE around the room. Even if the smile isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, someone will notice and smile back.
People – potential readers, don’t forget – will wander over and I’ll say: ‘Hi… please take a look.’ Some will be interested, asking questions such as: ‘Should I have heard of you?’ (Yes, you authors out there have heard that before.)
Others will ask what the book’s about, which is good as I’ll have prepared a short summary rather than a full, detailed synopsis.
A few will say they’d like to write a book, but haven’t got the time. (And I have, obviously!)
And some will say they don’t have time to read. So why are they at a book event? (Oh, the free canapes.)
Of course, you do get visitors who won’t interact at all. They wander over and, ignoring your welcome, pick up a book, flick through a few pages, put it back down and wander off. If you’re lucky, they might say: ‘Not my cup of tea, love…’ But generally, this type offers no more than a guilty smile and shuffles off.
And other authors? At one event I recognised another writer and went over to her table to say hello and ask how she was doing. She was non-committal. When I saw that her new novel was women’s literary fiction (like Sue’s and mine) and cost the same, I cheekily suggested we should exchange copies of our books. She didn’t think so!
Duly snubbed, I skulked back behind my own table.
Read what Emma has to say on her blog here.