Saturday, October 20, 2012

Talked to Death

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a panel at the annual Western History Association convention. My presentation was about the Harlem Renaissance in Helena, Montana and Laramie, Wyoming. My research and the anthology article I had written were sound.

My talk was not very good. I was embarrassed.

In September, the Ingram's rep at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers annual trade show told me I needed to talk about my books more if I wanted to sell to independent booksellers. She told me I should practice a talk first and get competent criticism.

I've gotten lazy. Here's where I went wrong with the WHA talk:

I didn't ask enough questions in advance about the format. I'm used to being on panels with an informal exchange of information. The WHA panel involved a serious presentation of one's written work. I had twelve minutes, so I ended up scanning through pages and editing on the the fly. I need to cut the material in advance, time it to the last minute, and practice reading it aloud.

Yes, reading it! These kinds of talks are not intended to be lively. Panels on writing mysteries are quite different. They are propelled by sound bites and witty quips. Fans relish banter among the panelists.

I am going to prepare a short talk for various kinds of groups: I can talk about Western Kansas, homesteading, collecting oral history, geneology, 19th century African Americans, writing mysteries. Lots more, actually. And you can too. The non-fiction aspects of our mysteries can be of interest to a variety of organizations.

Here are a few random observations about giving a successful presentation:

Talks should be timed. I'm going to tape that up somewhere and read it every day until I believe it. Thirty minutes max is usually ideal.

Equipment rarely works. It's sort of a cosmic rule. Arrive early and check things out. Have a back-up plan.

Many, many people hear poorly. The dumbest question we ask is "can everyone hear?" No, they can't. The people who can't hear, didn't hear the question. Sometimes they are too embarrassed to admit it. Use a mike whenever possible.

And now I have a question for the Type M community. At a signing, some people just want to get a book autographed and leave. Dinner to fix, kids to pick up, you know. Some people would like to keep you talking for a hour or more. Both are present at the same event. What is an anxious author to do?

We would like to keep our fans, not talk them to death.


Aline Templeton said...

There's nothing worse than a talk where you know it didn't work. I still remember one nightmare, which left me terrfied to do talks for a year, so I do sympathise Charlotte.

Hannah Dennison said...

Charlotte - I am absolutely sure it wasn't as bad as you thought it was. We are our worst critics. But I too have a horror story that even now makes me go cold with embarrassment. In this case I had never moderated, stepped in at the last minute, had no time to prepare at all and had a"rogue" panelist who took over ... and it was filmed. But to answer your question, I just think some signings are great and some aren't. I put my armor on and go into battle with a smile.

Rick Blechta said...

Hannah, you'd find it more effective to have a sword when you go into a battle. Just a hint...

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hannah, Aline. I was asked to write several articles later, so apparently I hadn't completely disgraced myself.

To me, the major lesson was to stop counting on being able to wing it. When did I become to arrogant that I thought I didn't need to prepare?

I'm often exhausted when I do events back to back. I can't count on that giddy rush of adrenaline I used to have when I was first published.