Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You Promoted Your Book and I Don't Bitterly Regret Coming! Win/Win.

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.
Actually, all of the examples I've witnessed were in person, at publisher-organized events. AND several of the worst offenders were very established writers who could easily have refused to do events. I think some people just have no damn filter.
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?
Well, the reason authors usually aren't given a topic or theme is because nobody else but you knows what you can speak entertainingly about. You could speak about eggplants and how they were clearly never meant for consumption. You could speak about your first meaningful experience of the power of storytelling (as long as you aren't breaking any of the rules). You could speak about publishing's pitfalls or writing's ecstasies or vice versa. You could even speak about your book, if you really want to.

The trick is just to find something that you want to talk about and other people want to hear. Still, if all you can manage is to avoid speaking about something your audience finds uncomfortable, disgusting, inappropriate, weepingly dull, or nightmare-inducing, I say: that's a job well done.


Anonymous said...

I've NEVER been to an author event, sad but true. If authors don't talk about the book what in the heck do they talk about?

*I should point out I've been to signings but other than the author being introduced briefly there was no presentation. I just stood in line and politely waited my turn to get my name spelled wrong and have zero eye-contact with the author. (I don't blame the author -- signings to me have the feeling of an animal being stared at in a zoo, which is why I don't go to signings anymore -- the book is enough for me, I don't need your sig on top of it.)

*Also, I've been verbally accosted by authors who sit at tables at Barnes and Noble and Borders with a big pile of their small press or not so small press book. One man screamed at me as I walked in (I kid you not, screamed): "Hey, you! Do you want to buy my book?!"

God, I felt bad for him. That kind of mix of desperation and elitism is enough to ruin anyone's day. But I also didn't buy his book. Books aren't like those impulse buys at checkout lanes. There's a huge difference between buying a dollar pack of gum and a 25 dollar hardcover in a genre you don't even read. As a struggling writer myself, I didn't even have the money to buy the book I went there looking for, much less some other book. Unless its a favorite author, the library gets my business.

So..... back to my question... what do author's "talks" look like?

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Chris Crutcher is one of the best I've seen. He was a featured author at the Montana State Reading Conference this year - absolutely spectacular! I was a fan before I saw him speak, but now I am awed and impressed.

Michael Reynolds said...

The problem is often with the audience mix, especially when you're going to schools. Teachers have a very, very different view of what's appropriate than the kids do. The teachers want us to put on a nice safe dog and pony show, stroke the school, and say nothing remotely challenging or that will result in angry calls from idiot parents.

But we're not there to talk to the teachers. We're there to talk to the kids. No question some of what I've said to kids put their teacher's teeth on edge, starting with the admission that I dropped out of high school. Or that I pretty much did nothing but smoke and weed and work dead-end jobs until I was in my 30's.

The teachers (and the librarians, and the bookstore owners, and the flacks) have their needs but their needs are not necessarily the same as mine.

Teachers have the power of law behind them, their "audience" has to show up. My readers are there voluntarily. I have to compete with every other writer plus TV, internet, movies, music and games.

So will I push it beyond the teacher's comfort zone? Yes. Because the kids live their lives beyond the teacher's comfort zone and because the kids smell inauthenticity and phoniness like a shark smells blood. I tell as much of the truth as I can. If teachers, store owners, editors, flacks and assorted other people who fall into the category of "not my readers" don't like it they should probably not invite me.

JEM said...

Hi Editorial Anonymous! Quick question for you, because this post brings up an interesting point I've never considered - when authors are asked to give talks (presumably at a non-author organized event), are they frequently not given a specific topic to speak about? I'm used to business speakers, who are given pretty strict guidelines.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Michael, I personally don't have a problem with authors telling kids the truth about their path to adulthood. Dave Pilkey was a problem student, and I'm happy he's out there reminding kids and teachers that lots of bad listeners turn out ok.

Dropping out of high school is fine; it's not like that's inappropriate content for kids.
If you spent some time in the porn industry, though, I would expect you to leave out that part. Would you agree?

Jem, usually there's no set topic.

Michael Reynolds said...

If you spent some time in the porn industry, though, I would expect you to leave out that part. Would you agree?

Ah, so you are familiar with my film oeuvre.

Kidding. My films were never released in the US.

To be honest I think it probably all depends on the age of your audience, and on the type of book you write. I'm reading and really loving Brom's Child Thief. I think he could say things to a YA audience that would seem out of place coming from Ann Martin. Like Eminem can say things that might seem a wee bit outre coming from Miley Cyrus.

I think it's an algebraic equation involving speaker, audience, venue. (And of course how drunk everyone is. Especially the kids, 'cause man, a drunk 11 year old can really talk some trash. Am I right?)

In any event the thing most likely to make the grown-ups mad is "bad" language. Which is an idiotic thing to get upset over. And yet you'll find my books are carefully PG because I'm not suggesting anyone be stupid. After all, it's about moving books, not deliberately annoying grown-ups.

Sarah said...

I attended a library function where Fran Cannon Slayton spoke about writing.

Oh. My. Word. She kept both kids and adults entertained as she compared establishing yourself as a person to establishing voice in a novel.

And she managed to work in a story about wearing a chicken suit.

A lot of us hope we'll have the chance to be the author in an event. If I ever get there, I hope I pull it off half as well as she did.

Editorial Anonymous said...

LOL, Michael!

jellybean said...

My take on the problem is this: being a writer is all about over-sharing. Bringing a character to life means revealing both good and bad (and sometimes gross and inappropriate) aspects of that 'person.' I think that working in that headspace sometimes blurs the lines in real life.

I suppose we all need to remember that we are not characters ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for addressing this question EA!

I was shocked to realize that topics were not given to authors, and always felt a bit sheepish about asking WHAT I was supposed to talk about.

There are plenty of books on getting published, but unless I am missing something - none that I know of on what to do once you've got there and how to stay there.

jellybean: good point about making characters, not being one! Ha! People really do give authors and artists a lot of leeway to be eccentric, but yes - there IS a line...

M. R. Sellars said...

Like it says, the trick is to be entertaining.

If you engage your audience with a story - any story, even if it contains uncomfortable topics. With uncomfortable topics, if you wish to use them, you have to make it into something it is not - that being, a comfortable or better yet, amusing topic.

Still, it all comes back around to entertaining the crowd and showing them that you are a person too. Then they are even more likely to walk out the door with one (or more) of your books. :)

M. R. Sellars

Rob King said...

In some ways, I think authors are magicians. We do something that most people find amazing and miraculous. So, like magicians, we shouldn't show everybody exactly how we do it. When people want to meet the author, they want to have a magical encounter, not hear about doubts about the book or bad reviews or substance abuse.

One problem with oversharing is that fans see the man behind the curtain: We cease to be the great and powerful OZ and are revealed to be just tricksters. The look of disappointment on Dorothy's face says it all.

Anonymous said...

I don't like it when authors talk politics (even if I agree with them) - do that at the appropriate time. Christopher Rice (son of Anne Rice and a good writer on his own merit) gave an excellent talk at the Kansas City Public Library where he gently refused a request to be more political and said that he keeps those opinions separate from work. He was one of the best authors that I've seen - confident without being arrogant, accessible while maintaining boundaries.

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