Friday, October 2, 2009

Stage Fright

Russel D McLean

By the time you read this, I’ll have launched THE LOST SISTER. Yes, the book’s been available early in some places but tonight is the official release, and let me tell you that I’m excited. Well, nervous. Very nervous.

Thinking about the release, has got me thinking about events. Like, author appearances. And what a strange concept they are. In the end, do we really want to know who it is behind the words on the page? Are we not just setting ourselves up for disappointment?


Authors are not public speakers. Just because you can write words does not mean you can speak them. I have seen authors torturously mumble their way through appearances, come out with statements that were clearly not thought through and generally make a pretty poor impression on the audience. Some of these guys were immense talents, but it did them no favours to make that appearance.

Which is why I think that authors should always think carefully about events. Do you enjoy doing them? If so, you’re probably halfway there. If not, the audience can smell that dislike from miles away. Believe me.

I get very nervous about events. I get antsy and fidgety beforehand. I lose my appetite, and I get a little grumpy. But when I get up there, I love doing them. I love interacting with groups of people. I’ve done big events. Small events. I’ve done events that are about merely being entertaining and I’ve done events for university courses where I’ve had to be a little more cerebral. I’ve interviewed other authors and I’ve talked about myself. And, truly, I get a kick out of it. I’m not perfect, of course, and no one is, but what I’ve found is that the fact that I’m there and I’m passionate about what I’m talking about translates to the audience.

There are certain things that as an author in the modern age you have to learn – voice projection and enunciation help. The ability to communicate through body language and presence. Basic stagecraft that would have been optional years ago seems to be becoming more and more essential. If you have to put yourself out there, you’re going to need to put in the effort. The audience wants to be on your side, but you have to give them something all the same. They’re forgiving, but if you haven’t put in the effort, they won’t forget.

I’m speaking here not just as an author, but as a bookseller who’s worked with a number of authors on events and launches. I’ve seen good. I’ve seen bad. I’ve seen ugly. And I hope it informs what I do when I head out there with my author hat on.

Tonight, I’m putting myself out there and letting a very smart journalist ask me some questions about the book and about my work. I have half an idea what he’s going to ask, but he could very easily surprise me. I don’t mind this. I prefer panels and interviews because I love having someone to bounce off; its one of the things that make events fun and why as an audience member I generally prefer multi-author panels.

In short, I believe that if we have to do author events, we should always try and remember that they are about some form of showmanship. Not laugh a minute, necessarily, but they should be as much about passion and communication as our novels are.

And so tonight, I step out in front of folks in the vain hope that some of them might buy the new book not just because they feel obligated, but because they’ve had a good time. Because they enjoyed what I had to say. Because they had as much of a blast as I know I’m going to…


Unknown said...

break a leg. Hope you sell hunners of copies. strictly entre nous, I stayed up till the wee small hours reading an advance copy. Excellent stuff.

j purdie said...

Hope the launch goes well. I've seen the book in Kirkcaldy Waterstones already.

Jay Stringer said...

And a great launch it was too.

You chose a perfect format, I think. All Q&A launches, even the best ones, can feel a bit stilted as they reply on interaction and - just as it's not natural always for a writer to take centre stage- it's less so for the people in the audience. The way you put yours together sidestepped this with a really well done interview and then some I formal questions afterward.

And a good venue. More launches should look to put the audience in aplace where they can feel comfortable and relaxed.

The funny thing for me about auhors and launches is that you can never quite tell. Some authors who profess to being shy and uncomfortable turn out to be great in front of a crowd, while some who are confident and brassy can struggle.

With webcams, blogs and all this jazz, I wonder what the future will bring for book events.

As for THE LOST SISTER, great stuff so far!

Jay Stringer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana King said...

This sounds like great fun. I was in the audience for a panel you shared with John McFetridge and Sandra Ruttan at last year's Bouchercon, in the bowels of the building. It was one of the highlights of the conference. All of you were funny, informative, and, to me, seemed to have a great time. That comes across, and definitely builds some rapport and interest in potential readers.

Jay's right: getting someone to ask questions in advance is far preferable to the awkward moment that always occurs when the audience is collectively deciding who's the poor bugger who has to go first.

Russel said...

Michael - cheers. I think we sold a few last night. And even better to know I kept you awake. That's kind of my goal (not just keeping you awake, of course... but all readers)


I don't know the Kirkaldy Waterstones that well...must pop in and see 'em one day!


Cheers. I honestly think the interview format can work well - - but only if the interviewer and interviewee both prepare. It was weird for me considering that I'd been doing David's job the other week, interviewing Alexander McGregor for his launch, but its all about feeling comfortable with your interviewer/your subject.

Funny you should mention shy and nervous. I got very weird before events. I get so hyped up its unreal, but I think nerves are good and honestly, once I get up there, I love it.


Would it surprise you to know I only met John some five minutes before that panel? I have an idea who he was and had read his work, but... Luckily he's a consumate professional and a great guy so it all worked out. And I knew Sandra... she'd been harrasing me terribly for years before that panel :-)

Funny enough last night I set up a challenge to the people who'd been going, "oh we'll heckle you with awkward questions" and none of them rose to it. Luckily the questions did get going after a while and actually there were some very nice ones.

And the venue helped. Drouthy's is a grand location. They'd never done a book event before and were surprised how well it went for them; how many people bought from the bar for one thing!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Best of luck. My kid quit teaching because of performance anxiety. Little did she know!