Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Author Talk Disasters: Don't Let These Happen To You

Since publication of my novel I have been invited to speak to book clubs, literary guilds, and library groups. The Writer’s League of Texas Annual Agents and Editors Conference invited me to serve on their faculty where I offered a breakout session and participated on a panel discussion.  Although my talks generally went well, there were some glitches I could have avoided with a little more planning and attention to detail.  I've provided the humiliating details below to save you from making the same mistakes.  

It’s The Book, Stupid.  During one author talk I had gone on for 40 minutes, sacrificing my husband and children for a laugh, baring my rejection history for a little sympathy, and explaining how my creative technique evolved from watching Gilligan’s Island as a kid, when someone raised their hand.  Normally, I love questions but this person asked:  What is your book about? 
My book?  MY BOOK!
I told her.  And then I went home and wrote on my note cards:  FIRST: TELL THEM WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT!!!

Surprise!!  I was once the surprise entertainment at a surprise birthday party for a woman turning 80 who belongs to four book clubs.  So when her surprise party organizers introduced me (the surprise entertainment) it should have come as no surprise that she wasn’t surprised.  When you hang with four book clubs there is a good chance you’ve heard the local authors.  Fortunately for the birthday girl, I never give the same talk twice.  While this means I don't have the smooth delivery of someone who works from memory, at least in this case she did not have to spend her 80th birthday party sitting through a talk she’d already heard.       

Avoid Wardrobe Malfunction.  Probably a good idea to have someone look over your attire before presenting yourself to a roomful of people just in case you are wearing a new black skirt with a slit in the back that is still stitched together with the white thread the factory uses to sew giant cross hatches so big everyone can see them from across a wide auditorium, with or without their glasses.

Don’t Assume Anything.  An acquaintance invited me to speak to her book club.  While I arrived on time with my fresh talk, my host was called away and remained oddly absent through most of the event.  And she was not there to sort things out when, seated around a large table, having just made my introductory remarks, things went terribly wrong.  One of the guests took over the discussion.  And she took control with such authority, changed the subject to other books, and proceeded to lead without ever allowing me or my Author Talk back in.  I found myself wondering if I was indeed the featured speaker.  Was I on the right planet?  Could these people see me?  I maintained a graceful exterior but when I got home I wrote myself another note:  DON'T FORGET TO ASK if you are the featured speaker.   

Don't Quit Your Day Job.   Book talks and signings are part of the Author Package, the life-after-publication dreams that begin once the book contract is signed.  If you publish a book, groups will invite you to speak and speak and speak.  And while speaking is fun, it will eat into your precious writing time just like other promotional activities including blogs, Facebook, twitter, etc.  Although I love all aspects of the writing job, I try not to get too carried away with the extra stuff, reminding myself the thing that makes me actively happy and fulfilled is the act of writing.        

Do you have Author Talk Disasters to share?  Please do!


Cindy Jones is the author of My Jane Austen Summer, the story of a young woman who thinks she may have realized her dream of living in a novel when she is invited to participate in a Jane Austen Literary Festival.  Her problems follow her to England where she must change her ways or face the fate of so many of Jane Austen’s secondary characters, destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.


  1. Cindy, I have to confess to laughing at the part about talking for 40 minutes without describing your book. I know I can definitely be guilty of being my own worst salesperson, more interested in entertaining than marketing. Oh, well. At least we try to give people a good show!

    1. My problem is getting off track when I'm talking because you have to keep going without looking at your notes every two seconds and sometimes I end up skipping a lot of my material, which is what happened that time. Glad it made you laugh! It made me laugh, too.

  2. Oh, I've so done the skirt thing!

  3. Wow, you get around, Cindy! Great advice no matter the setting!

    1. Lots of reading groups and book organizations in Dallas. Thank you!!