Two months ago when THE GLASS WIVES was published, I started my career as a published author by celebrating with friends. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I did my first event. It’s counterintuitive at times, to realize that I spent years writing a book alone, chatting with writers and authors online, and now, part of taking my career to the next level meant standing up in front of real live people and talking. I was nervous but excited by the prospect of doing it. I’m not shy, nor am I an introvert. But this meant being fully responsible for the experience of the audience. Yes, people are responsible for their own happiness—but book events almost transfer the author into the role of entertainer.
Don’t let that deter you or scare you. The things I learned on what I loosely describe as my “book tour” which consisted of eight events in the Chicago area, ran the gamut. I spoke to a high school creative writing class, a crowd of two, a crowd of fifty, and I participated in a group reading, and a panel at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest. My one “out of town” event was in my own hometown of Philadelphia, where I knew, or knew of, all seventy people in the audience. I was related to some and had known others since elementary school. I had not seen many of them in thirty years. Or more.
And while these lessons were based on my experiences over the past two months, and your mileage may vary, I’m thinking that the debut author experience is a somewhat universal one. I’ve also been told that every book feels like a debut, so I’m going to make sure to read this list in 2015 when my next book comes out! (More on that soon!)
SEVEN LESSONS FROM MY DEBUT BOOK TOUR
1. People are not there to see you fail.
This was kind of a revelation for me. Not that I ever thought I’d have hecklers, but the acknowledgment that everyone was there because they wanted to be, with an expectation that they would walk away pleased, kind of freed me from feeling pressure. I’m not sure why. Just remember, the people in the audience are in your corner, whether you know them or not. Unless you have a nemesis who attends book events, of course. But really, look around. People are smiling. (So smile back!)
2. Don’t feel compelled to read.
What I mean by this is—read your audience. If it’s filled with people who’ve read your book, you might be able to refer back to certain scenes when you talk. If your audience is mostly people who’ve not read your book, or there’s a mixture, read a bit, talk a bit, then read again. I’ve been to readings where I’ve thought “I can read it myself, talk to me.” And there are times I was riveted by an author’s audible rendition of her own work. Know your strengths. We’re all storytellers so remember to tell a story.
3. Leave plenty of time for questions.
People are curious by nature, and if your book talk touches on different topics, you’ll spark the audience members’ imaginations. And moxie.
4. Serve snacks.
Even if you go home with most of them, it emits a generous and welcoming vibe. And fully bellies make for happy listeners. Will some people just come for the cookies? You bet. Maybe next time they’ll come for the cookies and the book!
5. This is a celebration. Don’t forget it.
It’s easy to let nerves get the best of you sometimes. Remember this is a celebration of a book and its author. Go out before or after. Toast with friends and family. Don’t shy away from letting it be all about you this once.
6. Every event and sale is worthwhile.
I drove an hour and a half to a book store and there were two readers in attendance. I’d been alerted by many author friends that this happens. But if you add in my daughter, her friend, and two booksellers, there were six people in the audience. I sat in a chair, talked about my book, read a bit, and talked some more. Then the readers and booksellers asked questions. Books were sold. Then I spent an hour talking to the booksellers about books and publishing. I knew it was a worthwhile trip, even if we did get lost on the way home. And just the other day I was invited back to speak to this store’s in-house book club. Why? Because the book sellers read and talked about my book. And probably because they could tell I was happy to be there even if we didn’t fill the room.
Two! These are the two! There were four people behind them. My daughter deftly took this photo to hide the fact that there were so few in attendance, but I’m coming clean!
A crowd of seventy from my point of view!
7. And my most important lesson of all? The one I can’t deny any longer no matter how hard I try? (And I do, believe me!)
I talk with my hands.