Author Appearances: Top Ten Tips

By C. Hope Clark

Cover of C. Hope Clark's book The Shy WriterYour 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

The Value of Writing Prompts

By Uma Girish

I often feel like a motor car, for I have starting trouble.
Pen poised over paper, I wait for the words to trickle.
Rarely do they gush from the word “go.”

When my brain does the freeze-mode act, I flick the computer on and run through my “Favorites” list. I look for a writing prompt that will thaw my machinery. I pick one that catches my fancy, then set my timer and start to scribble.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big believer in the value of writing prompts to rev up my writing session. A writing prompt lubricates my creaking creative joints and limbers them up nicely so they can do cross stretches when I need fresh, inspiring ideas. Believe me, it works.

What I do is very simple. I give myself a program to follow.

  1. For the next fifteen minutes I will write non-stop.
  2. I will correct nothing; I will simply let my thoughts flow, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.
  3. I will not think about grammar, punctuation, and syntax; I will let the words pour out of me.
  4. I will start my writing session with a positive reinforcement — I know I can do this really well.

When the timer goes off, I zoom back to the real world, and find I want to write more. When I read what I’ve written, I cringe, groan, shudder. A lot of it needs re-working, but I invariably spot a gem or two in the huge word rubble. Gems that I can polish and buff for later use.

I’ve actually sold a lot of work that started out as ordinary writing prompts and morphed into personal essays and short stories. What happens when I consciously turn off the Inner Critic is that my writing is unshackled, my ideas flow freely. I find a glimmer of something, the beginnings of an idea, a phrase I didn’t think I could produce. All valuable grist for the writing mill.

Many of us have trouble deciding how to start, and what to write when we arrive at our desks. I have at least 4–5 jobs on my To-Do list but I sometimes cannot figure out if I’m in the mood for a personal essay, a work of fiction, or an article that needs to tap into my reporting skills. So I choose my prompt of the day. Write about jealousy. Sounds simple enough. I’ve been jealous a million times, over issues big and small, and I can surely unearth one anecdote worth telling. I follow my instinct and slowly feel the sluice gates open wider and wider.

There was a time when my writing day got off to a predictable start with a prompt. With my top-heavy To-Do list I find myself diving into my assignments right away these days. But I always turn to a prompt to rescue me from dry days and find that it unclogs word passages and frees up idea highways.

Sites that Offer Writing Prompts

Uma Girish is a freelance writer based in Chennai (India), and mother of an 8-year-old. She writes both adult and children’s fiction. Her articles on parenting, freewheeling columns and short fiction have appeared in newspapers, magazines and websites. She has written extensively about coping with grief. You can find her Web site at UmaGirish.com

Getting the Scoop on Poetry Contest Scams

By Linda Alice Dewey

“Congratulations! Your poem has been selected for our next anthology.”

Every year, these words bring tears to the eyes of thousands of poets, first from joy— then from anger. Why the anger? Because in many cases, they’ve been swindled.

Submitting work to a legitimate writing contest can be a rewarding experience, but before you send in your entry, there are a few things you should know.

Scams get your money through flattery or something-for-nothing ploys. Many times the prizes go as high as a million bucks. And the big prize-winners? Not legitimate either, often not even real people.

Some contest sponsors aren’t interested in quality writing at all. In fact, you’re guaranteed to be a winner. There’s just one hitch: it’ll cost you. Want a copy of the anthology your poem will be in? Fifty bucks, please. Add your bio—$25. Typesetting? You guessed it. Be included in a future ‘Best of’ Anthology—for a fee. You can even get a plaque or cassette, but not for free.

We’re talking big business here. Consider a company in Maryland that published more than 50 anthologies last year. Say each has an average of 300 pages (most do), with 3-6 poems per page at approximately $50 per poem. You have a little company making lots of cash.

Poetry on scam contest websites is sometimes “borrowed” from famous poets to give the site authenticity. One well-known author, while researching scams, was surprised to find his work posted on a site. He promptly sent them a letter, and they removed his piece.

One of the more infamous but still functioning contest websites has a page for posting poetry about the September 11 tragedy, preying on the emotions of a grieving people to further their ends even more. Some specifically prey on children. And it isn’t just poetry they want: they’ll go after short story, essay, fiction and nonfiction writers, too. Authors looking for agents get taken by companies charging up front fees who may also refer you to fee-charging book doctors.

Crooked come-ons lurk in literary magazines, newspapers, online and in writer’s guidebooks right alongside their legitimate counterparts. How can you tell them apart? Well, take heart. Fraudulent contests share several characteristics, and once you educate yourself, you’ll easily spot one from a distance.

Here’s the scoop.

  1. Avoid “free” contests. Surprisingly, legitimate competitions normally charge a nominal fee (up to $35) to cover judging and prizes. The freebies will more often than not respond to your submission with a flattering letter about your wonderful poem. For just X dollars, it could be in the next anthology, it’s so good, etc., etc.
  2. Research background information. Two or more dubious answers to the following questions indicate a possible scam.
      • Who is the sponsoring organization? Does the name sound or look like a well-known publishing house or organization? Is their address merely a post office box or a real person’s name with a physical address? Could this be a one-person organization?
      • View last year’s winning entries. Who were last year’s winners? Try to find out if the names listed are real people. If they are, they’ll have credits, a website, an email address—something. Of course, a few new legitimate contests are born each year, so if they weren’t around last year, that alone doesn’t make them dishonest.
      • Who are the judges? Search the web for more information about these people. If they’re authentic writers or real editors (and again, the worst scams “borrow” names), you may have a legitimate contest.
      • Are contest guidelines clear and concise regarding format, what information to include, fees, prizes, judging, cost-free publication, and what rights you may be relinquishing?
  3. Beware of overly flattering response letters that ask for fees not mentioned up front. Legitimate organizations are businesslike and tell you what the fee is before you submit.
  4. How frequent are contests sponsored by this organization? If often, then they’re either after money or they’re trying to fill up anthologies and magazines.
  5. Are there perks? If so, you shouldn’t have to pay for them.

Want to get published? Want to get exposure? Submit projects to literary magazines that print work similar to your own. Get a few credits, then start freelancing for serial publications. Literary newsletters often relate success stories of how an editor or agent saw a story/poem published in this or that magazine and contacted the author. The rest is history.

In his recent jewel entitled On Writing, Stephen King suggests that one way to catch a publisher’s eye is to win contests. However, he also recommends submitting non-contest pieces on a regular basis to magazines. In the first instance, you pay them an entrance fee at the very least. In the second, you’ll never pay, and it is entirely possible that they will pay you. Now tell me, potential award-winning writer: which would you prefer?

If you’re good enough to win a prize, you’re good enough to get published in a legitimate publication on your own merit. So get out there, get writing, and get published.

Contest Evaluation Resources

SFWA’s (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) Writer Beware on Contests

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss on Writing Contests: Facts and Fakes…And How to Tell the Difference

The United States Postal Inspector’s fraud report form

Post and read warnings for writers about deadbeat publications and writing scams on Absolute Write’s “Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check” forum.

Sources for legitimate contests:

Good Luck!

Linda Alice Dewey is the author of Aaron’s Crossing: A True Ghost Story, available in bookstores and Amazon.com. It will be re-released by Hampton Roads Publishing in the fall of 2006. Her current projects include adapting it to a Phantom-like musical and a screenplay about a WWII Mission involving her father, a former pilot of a B-24 bomber, one of a very few to make it back to England after a vicious air battle. You can visit her website at lindaalicedewey.com.

© 2002 Linda Alice Dewey

Editor’s note: links updated 2018

Book Review: 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters

Book Review: 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters.
By Victoria Lynn Schmidt
Writer’s Digest Books
298 pages
2001
Amazon.com price: $13.99

Victoria Lynn Schmidt is a screenwriter for both film and television who was once told at film school that she couldn’t write a script about a female hero because those stories don’t sell. She vehemently disagreed and spent the next few years searching for the female hero’s journey. Despite taking every class she could find on the subject and learning a lot about myths, writing and feminist theory, she could find no answers, until she found a book about the journey of the goddess Inanna, the oldest myth in history. Then she knew she’d found what she’d been looking for—the female myth.

When she did, Jack Heffron at Writer’s Digest Books threw a monkey wrench into it by asking her, “What about the male hero?” Although she felt that the male hero had been done to death, she began to explore it, and discovered that the human journey was a part of both men and women. It could more appropriately be termed “feminine” and “masculine,” she felt, for men and women both took descending inner journeys albeit at different times and with varying results.

Cover of Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original CharactersHer research and thoughts on these matters became 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, which offers writers a new way of developing characters and plots through the use of archetyped characters taken from the pages of ancient myth and modern literature as well as from the screens of film and television. Ms. Schmidt has a lot of interesting things to say about archetypes and their journeys and how fiction writers can use them to produce blueprints from which to work and maps to plot out where their stories are going. One caveat, though—many of her examples will only make sense to readers who are conversant with U.S. popular culture.

Whether you agree with her theories or not, though—in fact, whether or not you even understand them completely—Schmidt’s archetypes are liable to change the way you write as well as the way you watch television and films, the way you read, even the way you look at friends and acquaintances. If, after reading this book, you find yourself unable to watch your favorite television show or read an entire novel without saying to yourself, “Oh, yeah, she’s a Nurturer!” or “He’s a typical Fool” and you catch yourself at the next family dinner trying to figure out if your cousin is a Father’s Daughter or a Backstabber, just remember—you were warned.

Book reviewed by Betty Winslow