Panels. Conferences. Book signings. Reading your work out loud. It's enough to make writers, who spend most of their time with only a computer to talk to, lose sleep at night.
I still remember my first Bouchercon, seeing a panel comprised of Laurie King, SJ Rozan, Val McDermid and Laura Lippman. They sounded so poised, confidant and articulate. They were charming and funny. They had the audience eating out of their hand. And on my first panel... I no doubt sounded like an idiot.
No one gave me any really hard questions, so I can't blame my moderator or the audience. But I was really nervous and insecure about talking about my book. I made notes. I wrote down a summary of my book (just in case I forgot what I'd spent several years writing) and my bio (in case I forgot who I was). I tried hard to keep breathing so my heart didn't explode. And when it was over, I went somewhere and collapsed.
So what happened? Did I slink away and never do another panel again? Uh, no. When my book came out, I went on tour. I did another bazillion panels. I got better. I answered most of the questions I heard at least once before so I had practice. I listened and learned from other more experienced panelists. I moderated a few panels. I didn't sound so idiotic. I made audiences laugh and want to read what I had written. I started to have fun.
But there's always a few questions that stop the panel in its tracks, and most writers hate getting them. So if you want to pour cold water on a writer's happy parade, jump up and ask the following questions:
- How much did you get paid for your last book?
I don't know about you, but I work for food. And books. If you want to get rich, become a banker.
- Who is your agent and can you recommend me to them?
Not unless I know you and your writing. Sorry. My agent is pretty busy trying to get me more money (for food, etc.) on my next book.
- Why is publishing so unfair (because they have not recognized my genius)?
I don't know. I'm not an editor, or a publisher. I just write books.
- How come so much crap gets published every year?
- And last, but not least--the question that isn't a question at all but a pitch for your unsold manuscript to the room. I've written a book about blah, blah, blah, and I'm so and so, and on and on and on...
The writers on the panel usually freeze and sit there with a slowly drooping smile on their face wondering when you are going to stop talking and ask a question. Of them. About their book. Because you perhaps were not listening earlier when I said I'm not a publisher, editor, etc.? And the audience gets restless because they came to hear the panel talk.
But usually the audience has wonderful questions, and even sends out a few curve balls to keep the authors awake and on their toes. And everyone leaves the panel pumped up and excited and ready to go back to their computer and write.