By C. Hope Clark
Your heart races, banging against your ribs, your chest, your throat. Fingers grip a pen to disguise the shake. The other hand flattens on your leg, your side, and your leg again drying the moisture that never disappears. You did not bargain for exhibition when you entered the world of writing. What started as a reclusive haven for your creative muse evolved into a public forum to sell your work. Good work should sell itself, you say, you wish. But nonetheless, there are invitations for author appearances.
Stepping before people, forcing yourself to say a few words, and pretending to enjoy the experience is the hive-causing, palm-sweating, mouth-drying bane of many an author. If the trauma of public appearances makes you question your chosen profession, stop and ponder ways to improve the experience and mitigate the stress.
Ten Tips for Author Appearances
- Take an assistant with you. Author appearances at book signings, book fairs and conferences are great places for an author’s “assistant.” The gregarious son, the extroverted spouse, or the effervescent niece can do what you cannot in many ways. While you sign books, your assistant can work the crowd and attract the customers. They charm the folks and lead them to the celebrity author (you), where you busily smile and sign books. Makes you look professional to have hired “staff.”
- Pretend you are famous. This is an age-old trick of actors and comedians, many of which who are painfully shy. Take a moment and paint on the persona of someone confident, energized and famous. The people feel it, and your confidence rises. Makes your voice a little louder, too.
- Hold a pacifier. Well, not literally, but holding something in your hands tends to settle a few jittery nerves. Jane Pauley fingers a paperclip when she makes author appearances. An author holding a pen is quite expected. Put a token of affection in your pocket to remind you to chill. A handkerchief in your pocket gives you something to fiddle with as well as wipe off sweaty palms.
- Share the spotlight. There are so many ways to do this. Sit on a panel instead of speaking alone. Have your assistant speak talk about you, introduce you, and close a function with you only saying thanks for coming. Share a booth with an outgoing author or other salesperson who draws people. Partner with a speaker who shares your topic’s expertise, and split commissions to have him incorporate your book in his presentation.
- Gimmicks speak alone. Branding yourself is common advice, but did you know that brands speak on your behalf? If someone recognizes FundsforWriters instead of C. Hope Clark, that’s fine because the connection is made either way. Without you saying a word, your image, logo, color scheme, or design says, “Here she is!” So hone that gimmick.
- Dress the part. As a “famous” author, you need to present yourself as polished at your author appearances. Hate pantyhose? Dressy slacks give a cool representation these days. Dressing like a gypsy does not speak professionally unless your book is in tune with that costume. If you dress casually, you tell customers you are casual in all ways, including the writing and marketing of your work. The sharp image attracts customers and lends an air of trust.
- Label yourself. Permanent nametags introduce you to others. Wearing your branded self on a professionally designed legible lapel pin is just like walking up to a person and saying, “Hello, I’m Jane Doe, the author.” You will find more people initiate the connection and relieve you of the icebreaking task when you wear a conspicuous form of identification.
- Visually dodge the group. Look at only one person at a time. Imagine a bookstore with hordes of people wandering around while you do a reading. Envision 200 people at a sit-down banquet. Think about a writers’ group of two dozen members. The numbers do not matter. Pick one person and communicate a thought. Move to another one and communicate your next thought. Keep the connection singular, and you tune out the sea of eyes and reduce it to a one-on-one coffee chat.
- Toss it back. Putting the spotlight on the other person takes it off of you. When meeting a stranger, compliment him, ask him questions, and keep tossing the conversation back to him. People love personal attention, and it relieves you of the same. In a group, ask for people to give examples or explain their experiences, releasing you of the entire speaking obligation. Not only do you release your own pressure, but also you become so special in their eyes. Oprah Winfrey is known for this talent, and everyone loves her.
- Preparation is everything. Memorize pat answers to questions like: What made you write this book; Why are you a writer; Where do you get your ideas; Are your characters taken from real people; and so on. You know the ones. Recite them at home and be prepared. You sound crisp and on cue when you do. For a speaking engagement, write the speech or lesson ahead of time in great depth — every word. Something about writing the words implants them on your brain. Reread your own book, if you need to make the words fresh in your mind. Preparation removes the stress from impromptu. You may know your work, but review never hurts.
The writing world is not the island of words it once was centuries ago. Electronics and media phenomena now place authors in front of their readers making them accountable. Fans want to see and hear their idols, plus, there is something about seeing an author that makes you real and credible. You might hate public author appearances, but options do exist to make it more palatable. By getting creative, you reduce the stress-factor while still giving your readers what they want.
C. Hope Clark is the author of The Shy Writer, and several mysteries. She is also the editor of FundsforWriters.com, and she blogs at TheShyWriter.com. You can find her personal Website at chopeclark.com.