Also by this author: Resolve, Bolt Action Remedy
Today I have author J.J. Hensley guest posting about what you should and shouldn’t say while being an author in public. Enjoy!
Authors and Public Speaking: What NOT To Say
Many people don’t realize that being a published author can mean one has to become competent areas other than writing. If the author is independent or has published with small presses (as I have), then it may become necessary to learn basic web design, how to operate on social media, and navigate online marketing. However, from time to time we have to come out from behind the computer and do the unthinkable. Sometimes we have to… (Cue ominous organ music)… speak in public.
A lot of writers are introverted, so PUBLIC SPEAKING is near the top of their list of “Things I Never Want to Happen” – right beneath GET CALLED UP TO THE STAGE AT A CIRQUE DU SOLEIL SHOW.
For others (myself included), public speaking presents a different kind of challenge. If an author tends to use dry humor and sarcasm in personal interactions and in writing, he or she will be tempted to do so in group settings where it may not be entirely appropriate. I’ve been a published author for nearly two full years, so obviously I’ve got this thing down to a science now. (Yes, that’s sarcasm). Throughout this journey, I have had the opportunity to speak in a variety of settings. Regardless of the setting, I’ve discovered one important fact: Someone there will NOT have my sense of humor and will NOT appreciate sarcasm. So how does an author who is prone to sarcasm keep it under control?
Below I have compiled a list of questions that I have actually been asked over the past two years. They are legitimate questions and it is certainly not my intent to belittle the people who asked these questions. In all seriousness, it is incredibly flattering to an author that anyone, anywhere, would be curious about his writing. The questions are valid and a few years ago I probably would have asked similar questions if I were talking to an author.
The point of the exercise below is to demonstrate how one can do some self-censoring when talking to a group. Below each question I’ve listed the Inappropriate Response that may or may not have entered my sarcastic mind. Then, I listed the way I actually responded (I think). Whether or not you are an author, feel free to use this as a guide for your next speaking engagement. You can adjust it as you see fit. However, this guide is flawless because I’m an expert after two years of doing this.
See… there’s that sarcasm again.
Before you get in front of a group, you may receive an invitation by phone and get the following question. Be sure to get off to a good start:
Q: Do you have an appearance fee to speak to my group?
Inappropriate Response: Ha! I’m a small press author. Do you have any idea how many people would pay me to shut up? You think I’m going to charge an appearance fee for me to GET to talk about my book?
How ‘bout this? I’ll show up early with coffee and make balloon animals upon request.
Appropriate Response: I’ll waive any fees for your establishment.
Once you are standing on that stage, leaning on that podium, or sitting in that chair at the end of the table, weigh your responses to the group very carefully.
Q: Why didn’t you include book club questions inside your first book?
Inappropriate Response: Because – #1: It didn’t occur to me that it would actually get published. #2: I didn’t know it would be read by anyone who doesn’t share my last name. #3: I wrote the sucker three years ago and I probably wouldn’t be able to answer the questions myself.
Appropriate Response: That is a wonderful idea! I’ll have to consider that for future works.
Q: I read that for your first novel was divided into 26.2 chapters (the mileage for a marathon) and that you did a lot of distance running and talked to sources for research. Your second book is divided into the 12 steps of addiction recovery and involves alcoholism. Did you research the same way?
Inappropriate Response: Yes. I drank like a fish. In fact, I’m a little tipsy right now.
Appropriate Response: If you are asking if I talked to recovering addicts and read up on the subject – then the answer is “Yes”.
Q: When will your books be made into movies?
Inappropriate Response: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!
Appropriate Response: I’m not sure. I believe the movie rights are still available.
Q: Did you quit your “real” job to write full-time?
Inappropriate Response: If I did, I’d be 83 pounds and begging you for one of those pastries sitting on the table over there. Do you have any idea how little most authors make?
Appropriate Response: No. I enjoy what I do for a living.
Q: Your book would have been better if the main character would have been nicer. Did you think about doing that?
Inappropriate Response: I did think about that. But in the end, I decided I wanted the book to be worse. (emphatic mic drop)
Appropriate Response: I felt the protagonist needed to have an edge to him in order to be more realistic.
Q: Are you on the NYT Bestsellers list?
Inappropriate Response: (puts face in hands and starts crying)
Appropriate Response: Not yet. However, (name of book here) has received a good deal of critical acclaim and…
Q: I was just in the bookstore and I didn’t see your book there. What’s up with that?
Inappropriate Response: Yeah… what’s up with that????
Appropriate Response: A great many small press books are not on the shelves of bookstores. There simply isn’t space for all of the great options out there and large publishers actually pay for shelf space and display areas. However, most bookstores can take special orders if you prefer not to buy books online.
Q: Your second book isn’t an audiobook. Don’t you want it to be an audiobook?
Inappropriate Response: Not unless Gary Busey – and ONLY Gary Busey – agrees to narrate.
Appropriate Response: Many things like that are out of the author’s control. There are a lot of variables involved.
With a bit of focus and self-control, even speakers who have a sense of humor that is a little “off” can survive the stage. Simply take a deep breath and remember that if the first response that pops into your head would cause your significant other or a family member to cringe, you may want to go with Plan B. And if that fails… you can still make those balloon animals.