Saturday, February 12, 2011

Author Event "Survey" Results

Last Friday here at type M, I (Donis) asked what you Dear Readers like or dislike about the performance when an author talks to an audience - what annoys you, or what makes you eager to read the author's book? I repeated the question on Facebook and on the DorothyL reader's forum, and over the past week I've received dozens of interesting answers to my informal survey.

Today I'm summarizing the top tips and complaints. My thanks to all the readers and authors who commented. Your suggestions will doubtless be taken to heart by all of us who want to connect with those who take the trouble to come and see us in person.

The top Dislike, mentioned by 25% of responders, is arrogance/pomposity in the speaker, or as K.B. put it, "if the writer comes across as one who is doing us all a favor by being there, but isn't really 'into' it."

Coming in at at a close second is panel-hogging. It annoys some folks no end when one panel member seems to become enamored of his own voice and won't let the others speak. (speaking on behalf of authors, here, I think most of us would second that.)

Other pet peeves mentioned, in no order, were:

Being unable to hear the speaker, or unable to hear questions directed to the speaker.

Reading from the work and not interacting with the crowd.

Salesmanship (I take this to mean hawking like a carnival barker.) P.B. says, "I don't want to be sold; I want to be befriended."

An author not making eye-contact/being distant with someone who brings her copy of the author's book to be signed.

The number one Like, mentioned by almost half the respondents, is warmth and humor (though M. did say humor is fine but she doesn't come to hear a comedy routine)

Also mentioned several times:

Attendees like to hear about the writing process,

the writer's life,

where the ideas for the story/characters came from,

the author's research experiences.

There were a couple of contradictory comments. D.G.S. said she likes it when the talk includes a short audience participation writing exercise. L.H., however, said, "I can honestly say there is nothing I hate more, in any type of program or meeting, than audience participation."

I also got some one-off comments that were worth attention. J.B. wrote that as an audience member or as a panelist, she hates "those weirdly dim and terribly unpleasant fluorescent lights in hotels. They give me headache every time."

L.J.R. suggests that authors try not to tell the same stories over and over again from book tour to book tour. Try to keep it fresh. (She admits it must be hard to do event after event after event. Speaking for myself, it depends on whether I think the audience is mostly made up of people who have seen me recently or several times before. Otherwise, I think a good story deserves at least a dozen tellings.)

You can read the comments on my original Type M post on this topic here. Just click on the word "Comments" at the bottom of the post. And be sure to leave a comment on this entry, if you have an insight to add. We who are about to appear before an audience appreciate it.


Vicki Delany said...

As it happens, I'm doing an event at Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor this afternoon, and I'll bear in mind all your suggestsions. (Note to self: be friendly)

Donis Casey said...

Let us know how it goes.

Geraldine Evans said...

Oh dear! I'm guilty of one of the big no nos - reading from a text. My excuse is that my short-term memory is very poor and I'm hopeless at just talking off the cuff. I have tried to memorize what I want to say but without success.

Donis Casey said...

Oh, depending on the venue, I use notes myself. Otherwise I can get off on some tangent and talk for an hour without touching on the topic. I think the respondents meant reading out of your book rather than talking to the audience about yourself and the book.

jenny milchman said...

I found your forays into this fascinating, Donis, and have filed them all away to (hopefully) use at a later date!! Thanks for investigating.

June Shaw said...

Great ideas! I am so happy to have them shared with us.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Ah, thank you. I have a book signing at MURDER BY THE BOOK in Portland OR this Saturday and it's good to have the reminders.
I do wonder about the "reading from a text" comment, though, because sometimes we are asked to read from our books. i recently heard peter Robinson and Louise Penny read and they were wonderful

Anonymous said...

Like L.H., I cannot stand the idea of "audience participation" and if there is to be that it would require FOREWARNING for me to be happy about it or able to bear it at all. By that, I don't mean I mind questions from others in the audience, but when you use the term I envision out of tune sing-a-longs, etc., something similarly horrible. There may be some fun exceptions to this that I haven't envisioned. I am sure that tea parties would be fun and interacting with the author(s) that way and some chatting with them would be fun. The turn of phrase "audience participation" absolutely frightens me, however.

I like the opportunity to hear authors read from their work and if they use notes for their talks that is fine. I wonder if those who express negativity toward that might need more specifics like the length of time a talk will be -- maybe they are envisioning having to be there for huge amounts of time or things running on for hours. I have (when possible) avoided readings from the UN-published simply because one had no idea how long it would go on and how bad it would be.

The only arrogant author I have seen was a local-type "celebrity" restaurant owner who was faux friendly, seemed fine, but he then complained to a bookstore owner friend of mine about one of the people at the signing having the temerity to share with him that his recipe reminded her of her great aunt's. (The patron who did that was me so I didn't buy his next book. Or the one after.) I thought he liked recipes since he peddled them and didn't realize that my admiring that recipe of his was impinging on his time. That was the only arrogant "author" I have run into and if he had kept his mouth shut long enough that I didn't get wind of what he had said I wouldn't have labeled even him arrogant.

Interesting discussion.

--a mystery reader