Timing, baby…

Book review maven Lauren Roberts from the fabulous review site BiblioBuffet sent me a link to an article that has interviews from book event organizers who discuss the length of time an author talk should go on, suggesting it might be of interest to those who bump up against our blog. Bless Lauren’s golden heart. She’s always looking out for me. Go read her site because you’ll see that she’s looking out for you, too.

Lauren’s email made me laugh because I just experienced this a few weeks ago at an author event. The author went on and on and on.

And on.

As I sat there hoping she’d run out of gas, thoughts of slitting my wrists came to mind with alarming frequency. I bargained with the Cosmic Muffin. Please…for the love of verbs and nouns, make this author STFU.

I scanned the crowd and noticed they were fighting to keep their eyes open. The event organizer stood off to the side – eyes glazed and sheet-white. I felt for her because I knew she’d been put in the horrible position of having to hook this mindless trap yapper. I’m sure if she’d taken a vote, we’d have all been willing to offer our services. I mean, doesn’t everyone carry a muzzle in their purse with the idea that someday we’d be called upon to rush the stage and tackle a speaker?

Or is that just me?

After some serious throat-clearing and making a big deal of looking at her watch, the event organizer got bold. When the author stopped to take her first breath of the evening, she rushed in. “And that concludes our discussion for tonight.”

The applause was ear-splitting. The author beamed, convinced she’d really wowed the crowd. People bolted out of the bookstore like the place had been firebombed. And guess what? They didn’t buy books. Why? Because they were ticked at the author.

This,
Is.
A.
Misfire.

Bookstores growing more mindful about author events because they take time with the set-up, ordering the books, making posters, etc. They want to be sure they’ll be rewarded with a crowd who will buy books and make everyone happy. This author managed to draw a very respectable crowd – I’m guessing around 45 folks. After everything was said and done, I chatted up the manager, who was steaming.

“How many books did you end up selling?” I asked after introducing myself.

Bullets of fire shot out of her eyes. “Five. Five effing books.”

I thought she was going to stroke out. And I can’t blame her. The book was very worthy of reading, but the author talked her audience into a coma, so by the time they woke up all they could think about was escape. And mainlining coffee. All thoughts about her book had gone the way of velociraptors.

I’ve learned the hard way that 45 minutes is the max you can ask of a book event audience. And that includes questions. If you don’t have audience participation, then wrap it up at 30 minutes. Better to leave them wanting rather than wishing to slit their own throats. Or yours.

As I’ve said in other posts – have something to say. This poor author droned on and on about the writing process, and no one cared. They weren’t writers – they were READERS…y’know, those lovely folks who whup out dollars for our books. She went from telling us about her writer’s angst to reading passages from her book.

Urp.

Read from your book, but KEEP IT BRIEF. Think about it; your head is down because you’re reading. If your head is down, you’re not engaging your audience. Their minds can wander a bit. Keep in mind that many people aren’t auditory and need to read the pages in order to be engaged. For the visually inclined – such as myself – this sort of thing is sheer agony. To keep everyone happy, keep it brief and keep your eyes on your audience.

So. When planning your book events, keep it short and sweet. You’ll not only make everyone happy, but you’ll sell books.

5 Responses to Timing, baby…

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I know all about things that go on too long.

    I honestly think with fiction, one might be better off giving only a very short introduction and launching straight into questions. Toss the ball right to the audience and say ‘Okay, what do you *want* to know about here?’

    From what I’ve seen on speculative fiction fansites, readers always have questions for authors.

    (Which would bring me to another suggestion. If you write spec fic, then re-read your world building notes before an event. That way when a reader asks you ‘Well, why didn’t the Queen do X?’…you might actually remember the answer…yeah, that’s one of my big fears about doing Q&A’s…forgetting my own stuff).

  2. authorguy says:

    On the few occasions I was asked to be a speaker at an event, my technique is always to say very little for myself, and say a great deal in response to audience questions. They asked it so they must care what the answer is. Other things to remember: Always keep your head up, your voice strong, and your eyes focused on someone, but change the focus from time to time. Make everyone feel as if you’re talking to them specifically.

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

  3. Keep in mind that not everyone comes to an event armed with questions and you may need to speak for a little bit in order to incite questions. Many times I’ve known very little about the author in question, but they may have said something that piqued my curiosity. It’s all about balance.

  4. kimkircher says:

    Great advice Lynn. Thanks.

  5. Bob Stewart says:

    As always you make me smile. Good advice for me to follow since I’m going to be speaking at a Nano conference in about a month.

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