Friday, October 16, 2009

Way Too Much Information

I've just gotten back from another horribly awkward author event.

I should start by saying that most of the times I've heard authors give talks, it's been fine-- sometimes even legitimately entertaining (or in Shannon Hale's case, peeing-your-pants hilarious).

But as should not be a surprise, I've attended a lot of author presentations over the years, and sometimes it's hard not to leave them wondering just what is wrong with certain people.

Over-sharing seems to be a trait slightly more common among authors than other groups, and if you want to be a really good, professional author who never makes his/her editor want to crawl into a hole in the ground for letting you out in public, please, be aware of the danger.

Today, a list of questions to ask yourself before you say things in front of an audience:

1. Is it something you might reasonably share with a therapist?
Then it is not appropriate for the public. The public is not your therapist. Remember that.
2. Is it something you found out or experienced while wearing a hospital gown?
There's a reason for doctor confidentiality. That's right, it's for OUR benefit, not yours.
3. Is it something that might nauseate people who have just taken a bite of something squishy?
If it's not fit for dinner-table conversation, it's not fit for public speaking. Yes, even if there's no eating going on. Please try to remember that many of the people you speak to will have very strong imaginations. Don't make us regret that.
4. Does it concern parts of your body that are, in all public situations, covered by clothes?
EW, EW, EW, EW, EW. See above re: imagination.
5. Is it something that could be reason for your arrest if a policeman were present?
You are making us ACCOMPLICES, you CRAZY DIPSHIT.
6. Does it concern something you only ever (or only should ever) do in the bathroom?
MOTHER OF GOD, why do I have to point this out?!

This public service announcement has been brought to you by People for the Ethical Treatment of Audiences. If I never have to hear about another author's bitter family baggage, inappropriate hair issues, gory surgery details, unusual lingerie choices, or interstate crimes, I will be a happy, happy person.

49 comments:

Cass said...

Ahh the curse of the overshare. Your post made me laugh. I hope to avoid that curse if I ever find myself in such a situation.

Michael Reynolds said...

So you were at the Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld, Carrie Ryan, James Dashner event on the 15th? Because I just want to say that my wardrobe malfunction was totally unintentional and I don't think Ms. Ryan thought her miming of zombie eating habits would be quite so graphic. (It's okay, really, I can still count to nine.)

I am sorry about the confessional nature of my segment, it's just that middle school was a very tough time for me. And for everyone who knew me.

-- Michael Grant

Ann Victor said...

Well, I find it consoling that oversharing is a trait more common to authors. At least I'm not alone. It explains a lot about me and perhaps my family and friends should read this post.

But I promise - in that glorious future time of being A Published Author - I will remember my ToastMaster's training and keep my audiences entertained, not embarrassed.

Sarah Laurenson said...

6 things to remember. Right. I can do that.

Thank you for your self-sacrifice in doing this research for us.

Nerd Goddess said...

That's too bad.

And I completely agree with the Shannon Hale thing. This would be why I love and stalk her. No, really, I do. She knows me by name now!

I'm just curious, where did you hear her speak? Or would that reveal your very mysterious identity?

Thomas Taylor said...

Hilarious post:)

I'll keep my split infinitives and dangling whatsits under wraps then.

Lilit Hotham said...

do authors who talk incessantly also fall into this category? I mean, some people have good things too say, just way too much of it. Quite frankly, I'd rather listen to gory birthing experiences.

nw said...

Wow, I feel way better now about my last author event. Thanks!

Ash. Elizabeth said...

peeing my pants right now. . .why on earth do people mention these things in public? half that stuff i don't even mention to close friends!

Jennifer said...

I wish I could post this at the reference desk in my library! And add one in...children's librarian does not equal child therapist, behavioral specialist, reading specialist, etc. Ugh.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for all this wise--and hilarious--advice!

Anonymous said...

This is why I'm afraid to be a best-selling author. You see authors everywhere -- JG comes to mind, but he his hardly the only culprit -- whose presence as "YA authors" far exceeds the importance of their work. They get sales not necessarily from innovative work but from BEING THEMSELVES.

You know -- twittering their every move, making vlogs, giving keynote speeches, and traveling around like a circus side-show hawking themselves at any and every event.

THIS is why other authors are stuck. They feel they have to be entertainers, not authors. It's suddenly not enough to sign a few copies or do a reading. You've got to be everyone's best friend, too, have cool inside jokes with them, pretend you are sixteen instead of an adult, so they think you are SO COOL.

The lines are blurred because the industry itself has blurred them. If you aren't an overbearing vlog presence but feel pressure to entertain people (as if the book isn't enough) then I can see how you could easily start making bad choices.

Maybe I'm just cranky, but it seems the balance between work and hawking is 10-90, not in favor of the work. There is a popular YA author right now that pretty much fills his/her day being "a popular YA author" with nary a nod to ever completing another book. That, to me, screams fraud.

SAVanVleck said...

It is amazing that this would be an issue. Seems like common sense to me.

However, I do wonder if, as annonymous states, the curent necessity to find something to share on Twitter, Facebook and blogs is partly to blame.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:48 a.m. - Bitter, much?

Wendy Sparrow said...

Weird... very weird. I never would have guessed this was a problem.

Maybe I haven't been to enough author events....

I once heard Debbie Macomber speak and, after the fact, she was talking about her house remodel with fans. I thought it was strange, but they seemed to care.

Lily Robinson said...

You made me laugh and nod my head at the same time. Why should they have to be told these things? Maybe it's symptomatic of a generation brought up with talk shows and reality TV...

Editorial Anonymous said...

Lily,
re: reality TV
Most of the offenders I've seen were in fact not of that generation. They were authors who ought to have had enough gravitas to avoid spilling their guts on stage.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous commenter:

Thank you. I trust you also have problems with the "high school clique" aspects of the current authorial scene. It is one thing to write for teens. It is another thing to act like them. It is sad and embarrassing.

Kate said...

This made my jaw drop open. The authors I know are just the opposite - they tend to have spiels that may or may not be true personal stories, but are in fact very carefully edited and oft-repeated speeches. I guess my group (ages 35 to 80) are a little old-school though. Maybe the Blog & Reality TV Era has confused the young people :)

I also want to respond to Anon 10:48. You use the ratio 10% "work" to 90% "hawking". Even if an author is only spending 10% of her time actively writing her next project, it's all "work". Suggesting that actively promoting her work and herself makes her a fraud is unfair for a lot of reasons, including:

A) Promoting herself is a critical component of promoting her current and future books; it isn't a giant ego trip (quite the opposite).

B) If a current book doesn't sell well she will have a hard time publishing the next one no matter when she writes it.

C) An author who wants to make a living from her books is still a real author. If an author has to earn money for rent and food, is spending her days waiting tables more noble than promoting her book? Is it more noble when you consider that her editor and agent put their own reputations on the line for her book?

D) Sometimes an author just needs a break between writing books and enjoys the promotion process. I like doing things at different times too.

Kate said...

Whoops! I hadn't seen your reality TV generation comment when I wrote mine.

:)Ash said...

This post was hilarious.

This also needs to be passed around pratically every office in America. There's always one over-sharer in the group. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to sound bitter. Re-reading my post I guess it did come off like that, though it wasn't my intent.

I suppose it is Twitter (combined with everything else) that I find the most troublesome. The constant need to say witty things at all hours of the day and night so that people you don't know will think you are cool. With Twitter it is ALL too much information. What good can come of that type of overexposure? Because let's face it, people aren't that interesting.

But this is just my opinion, and I don't think I'm bitter. I LOVE these authors, am the first in line to buy their books. But on some level, yes, I get annoyed about someone trying to look cool all the time when they are a grownup. They'd eschew a character for trying to be popular -- yet (at least from my POV) they spend so much time trying to be popular.

Deirdre Mundy said...

EA--- how do you know that they were really spilling their guts? Maybe they were compulsive fabricators............

(Hmm... very Vida Winters/ 13th Tale...)

shelley said...

"It is amazing that this would be an issue. Seems like common sense to me."
****
So does not texting while driving, but alas....

Re: example #2. Oh, dear. Why do I feel that someone shared their first colonoscopy experience? LOL

P said...

I think I need to distribute this list to my next extended family get-together. They'll laugh and maybe get the hint.

Anonymous said...

Most of the authors I've heard speak are hilarious. One dwelt far too much on therapist issues. And one talked so much about how wonderful he was that I walked out and never read another one of his books.


Anon 10:48 a.m-- authors are entertainers; publishing is a branch of the entertainment industry.

moonrat said...

hahahahahaha

i wish i didn't relate to this one quite as closely as i do.

Michael Reynolds said...

I'm mostly with Anonymous 10:48 on this. I'd rather be writing. I don't see the economic logic of constant shilling. I mean, Jesus, just write another book already.

All through the 5 plus years of ANIMORPHS my wife and I refused to do appearances or meet with editors. We had 14 books to write per year. Now we've broken the embargo and do the occasional school or event or meeting. And each time we wonder "Why? How does this make sense?"

myimaginaryblog said...

I'm sure it wasn't fun to be there, but it sure is fun to read about what not to do.

GhostFolk.com said...

Because let's face it, people aren't that interesting.

Dogs seem to think so, though.

Anonymous said...

Re: the comments (not the original post). The thing you have to remember (about everyone, from friends and colleagues to public figures) is no matter how many blogs, vlogs, tweets, and status updates there are, one can never know how much one really knows someone, or the intimate details of their private life. Does this mean they’re “lying”? Absolutely not. It just means we’re all entitled to private and personal aspects of our lives EVEN IF one chooses to reach out to one’s audience in some manner.

You might think you know all the intimate details of someone’s personal life, or writing schedule, or challenges, or professional plans—but you probably don’t. If you enjoy that part of an author’s life, then just enjoy it. Even better, if their target audience enjoys it—fabulous! But don’t assume anything, good or bad, about what any of that means about his/her craft.

Karie said...

Thank you for the good laugh! I havent been to enough author events to have experienced any oversharing or rule breaking...that I can recall. But I will certainly pay more attention going forward.

Jimmer said...

David Sedaris happens to have the voice that makes it all worth while, but he's a rare gem. Sorry you had to suffer, EA. You made me smile.

Kimberly Lynn said...

LOL!

Khanh Ha said...

If this isn't enough to make you squirm with their private silliness, try reading the acknowlegments in their books. They thank the shack they once happened to write a chapter of their book in; they thank their hairdresser for making their life whole, which helps restore their self-esteem; they thank their editor for being a genius (God knows why); they thank somebody who'd given them the moral support during their writing, because "Without you I am a quivering bowl of Jell–O."

Deirdre Mundy said...

So, EA, if one of YOUR authors was making a fool of herself on the book-talk circuit and you found out, would you say something? Or would you just let her continue to foul up?

Because it seems like stepping in and saying "You might want to quit telling that story about the time you and your cat were high on PCP and broke into the FBI building to determine if the truth really WAS out there" might be an important service to the reading public....

WV: Scarid. Yes, that is what some of these presentations would leave an audience of parents and children!

Carrie Ryan said...

Sorry about the loss of limb, Michael, at least it was tasty! And I actually did start reading this with the initial thought of "oh, no, what did I do wrong last night!"

cindy said...

to the anon despairing about having to be entertaining--you certainly don't *have to* be anything. you can most definitely release a book and do nothing. that's perfectly fine. it may not get the word out there about your book, and that's the truth and fact, but authors should do what they are comfortable doing.

for me, tho it can get overwhelming, twitter and fb and my blog are the *easiest* ways for me to network, since i have two little ones and traveling can be limited.

i DID just get asked for the first time to give a speech at my old university. so i can share my college experiences as well as my journey to publication. i feel pukey just thinking about it. public speaking definitely isn't what i'm comfortable doing, but i'm willing to try it and challenge myself.

again, there are plenty of authors who lead and choose to lead much quieter lives!

but i don't see my job as being "entertaining". i'm not a juggling monkey. in the end, i still have to write a good book people want to read.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Carrie: this post was not inspired by your presentation. ;)

Deirdre: Delicately, yes.

Jo said...

Fortunately writing children's books helps me to self-edit (don't want to traumatize young impressionable minds), otherwise it's easy to get carried away by the love, the interest and the excitement of an avid audience, and open up like an oyster.

ae said...

Last Sunday my husband and I were listening to NPR about a man who buys (for hideous $$$)and collects hair from famous dead people.

We had to turn the radio off.

Some...things...are...not necessary to share (or do).

Shelli said...

do tell!

ae said...

Shelli, if you are talking to me I am afraid I cannot expand on the little bit of tripe I endured.

But suffice it to say that I do have an imagination, and envision this poor soul gluing all sorts of famous hair to his chin to form a multicolored beard and getting some kind of sick kick out of it.

WV: Berate...um...isn't that is real word? Are we running out of new ones? Oh no. Say it ain't so.

The Sesquipedalian said...

Hmm, I have a tendency to be a little more forthcoming with personal information than might seem necessary or even prudent, but I am quite certain that none of the aforementioned subjects would be on my "what to talk about while giving an author talk in front of an audience" list.

But maybe I should print your list for future reference, just in case...

Anonymous said...

Anon @12:24 -- yes! The whole high school clique thing that a particular group of authors have right now is a big turn off for me.

Honestly, I just don't get it, and everytime I am faced with it (even though I do not go on their blogs it's still "out there") I am confused. Do they not know they look like total tools? How can you ever think that kind of behaviour is a good idea when you're writing for the YA market?

It's less what they share than the attitude behind the sharing. They sing each others' praises for what is sometimes mediocre work (with mediocre reviews). But the generosity only extends to their clique, not other writers. In one case an author was nitpicking another YA author's best-selling book while comparing HIMSELF to Fitzgerald. What?? Yes, sorry, that is a tool.

Anonymous said...

Hi EA -

The trend to over-share might be in part because for authors there can be quite a bit of fear-driven pressure [from peers and self] to be doing what the most visible authors are doing. And as many commenters have pointed out, some very visible authors fall into the category of internet over-share in terms of anything goes personal information. Some put out a lot of information very naturally, and some really very entertainingly - but others I suspect may be acting somewhat out of character in order to try to meet a perceived expectation [besides maintaining blog posting volume]. These can be our most prominent examples.

In terms of the dangers of speaking over-share, when people ask authors to speak they often don't have any kind of request for a particular topic or theme, and we are just expected to do 'our talk'. I've seen authors talk about all sorts of things, more and less successfully. So besides what not to say [which IS helpful!!], what would you give as advice for an author wondering what exactly to really focus on when asked to give a general talk?

Anonymous said...

It's funny when children share too much, but not so much adults.

LA Bug

ChristaCarol said...

Hah, this had me rolling! I fall in the category of being a writer who is openly...um...open. About everything. But, public speaking? Yeah, I have enough marbles and not enough er, I'll just say courage here, to feel comfortable doing it. I'd think it'd be common sense to keep things relevant. I'm assuming they WEREN'T relevant, right?

....

Right? I hope not lol.

B. Freret said...

Excellent advice that many would benefit from, regardless of occupation or avocation.

And by "many" I mean "me" - lots of folks I don't know violate at least one of these every day.