Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Being an Author Requires Actually Talking to People

Guest Post by Sarah M. Chen

Holly's note: When I read Sarah's guest post this week, I thought, "Yup, I can relate to that." I think a lot of us can. Few of us are comfortable speaking in front of crowds or even interacting on a smaller level, but a part of being an author is doing just that. Like Sarah, I'm kind of surprised at how easy it's gotten for me. It doesn't mean I like it any better, but it doesn't fill me with anxiety like it used to.

The funny thing is that I've heard Sarah speak and read her work in public and I never for a second thought she wasn't right at home doing it. That's a useful thing for us all to remember--we might not feel entirely comfortable when we're called to speak publicly, but more likely than not, our audience isn't aware of our apprehension.

<Handing the virtual mic to Sarah>

As authors, we all know that it’s important to get ourselves out there, whether it’s through social media or actual face time with real people. We’re told “You need to tweet ten times a day!” or “post consistently on your Facebook author page.” Even better, “boost your post on Facebook.” I have no idea what that entails but a publicist recently said it works. I took her word for it. 

All this social media work (because that’s what it really is—work) is daunting. But it doesn’t stop there because as an author you also have to do appearances and signings. You have to speak on panels at conferences and read at Noir at the Bars (if you’re lucky to be asked).

They say if you don’t do all this, then readers won’t feel connected to you. They want to meet you in person. They want you to reply to their tweets. They want to know what you’re doing every single second of the day. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating with that one. But my point is that if I’d known all this beforehand, I wouldn’t have ever had the balls to be a writer. Because all that social stuff makes me extremely anxious.

But I think I’m getting the hang of it—meaning I don’t have a complete meltdown at the thought of speaking to a crowd of people. Which is how I was years ago. When I first started publishing short stories back in 2007, I had no idea there were things like panels and events where I’d have to talk to people. When someone suggested I participate on a panel, I scoffed. Yeah, right. I’m a writer, not a motivational speaker. I quickly learned that that was the wrong attitude.

So I started out tentatively. My first panel I was on was a “South Bay Mystery Writers” panel at the Carson Library. I managed to squeak out a couple sentences that didn’t make sense. Next was reading alone in front of a crowd who may or may not heckle you. It was a “flash mob” style Noir at the Bar at Left Coast Crime in Monterey. I sucked it up, ignored the urge to duck behind the bar, and read from my WIP. It was the best thing I ever did.

From that point on, speaking gigs started to get easier for me. I moderated a panel at Bouchercon Long Beach. That was terrifying, but surprisingly, people told me I managed to look like I knew what I was doing. Then I was a panelist at Left Coast Crime in Portland. I read at Noir at the Bar in LA. Next was the Noir v. Cozy Smackdown for LitCrawl LA. Most recently, I participated in a celebration of a friend’s debut novel. Instead of the usual launch party, he did a mish-mash of author readings and live bands, and it was really fun.

On the digital side of things, I finally joined Facebook after balking for years and even created an Author page which still surprises me. I became friends with authors I admired which was a huge honor and pretty damn exciting. I joined Twitter finally this year. I’m still trying to get the hang of it, but I’m pretty certain ten tweets a day is not happening for me, like ever. I became a regular on a blog and—hey, I’m even doing guest blogs now!

I also feel like I’ve finally discovered my niche as a writer. A noir novella on the horizon has put me in contact with a lot of other noir folks and it’s a good group of people to know. It makes my time out in the real world and the digital world a lot less terrifying, with a lot more profanity. Works for me.

Sarah M. Chen’s crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Vol. 2, and the SinC/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, CLEANING UP FINN, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books, proving she can write something over 6,000 words. Visit her online at


Ellen Byron said...

Love this, Sarah! You're doing GREAT. And that "10 tweets a day" killed me. No effing way. If I squeeze one out, I'm proud of myself. So don't sweat it. You're awesome!

Barbara Allyn said...

What??? Like speaking to people face to face? In numbers greater than one on one? Maybe I'll start with two on one and move up. Thanks, Sarah. This was motivational.

Sybil Johnson said...

Love the post and it's all so true! I was one of those people who thought you did a great job moderating that panel at Bouchercon in Long Beach. Would never have known that you were nervous at all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the read and comment, Barbara. Glad I could motivate!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ellen! I think we were all surprised by that "10 tweet/day" rule. Seriously? Appreciate the comment!

Anonymous said...

That's so good to hear, Sybil. I think prepping for that panel contributed to my overall angst at Bouchercon. I was a total mess! And of course, it had to be late Sat afternoon.

Carole Sojka said...

Great post, Sarah. I've had trouble getting up in front of people and pitching my books--which also means pitching myself--but I'm learning. I'll never do 10 tweets a day or three Facebook entries either--maybe once a week.

Unknown said...

Great piece, Sarah. Different paths to mastering your voice. My favorite line: "I’m pretty certain ten tweets a day is not happening for me, like ever." I can hear you say that as I read it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Carole. Yes, it's difficult for many of us writers to pitch our books and ourselves. Hopefully it will get easier and we'll figure out a way to enjoy it too!

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's exactly what came out of my mouth, ha! Thanks for reading and commenting, Andrew.

Matt Coyle said...

I particularly liked your reading at Monterey.

Matt Coyle said...

I particularly liked your reading at Monterey.