OK, the RSS feed is not working; I am also having trouble importing paragraph breaks in the new blog. So this is going on the old blog and we’ll work on fixing the new one when my webmaster gets back next week.
One of the things most newly published professionals do is attend conventions, school fairs, and trade shows in hopes of publicizing their books. Sometimes, especially if the publisher is enthusiastic, they will arrange the first few events and have someone around to steer their new authors. Most of the time, they don’t, especially if the event is small.
Either way can cause problems. Some folks get so used to having someone official around to handle all the little things and make sure everything runs smoothly that when they have to do it on their own, they miss things. Sometimes, this is merely inconvenient; other times, it makes them look bad.
The first principle of going to events is that you are doing it to publicize your book; therefore, you do not want to look bad. Not looking bad means that you are prepared for whatever you are being asked to do, whether that’s panels, a reading, autographing, an interview, a kaffeeklatsch, a speech, etc.
The first part of being prepared is knowing in advance what you are going to be asked to do, and when it is. I cannot begin to count the number of times some author has missed a panel on their first day because they didn’t arrive in time. Sometimes, this is a problem with scheduling on the convention side; other times, the author was notified but neglected to look at the email carefully enough to catch the problem. The convention can’t fix what they don’t know about.
Knowing what you are going to be asked to do means also knowing what to bring with you. If it’s a reading, bring something to read; if it’s an informal coffee, think up a few questions for the fans in case you need to get the conversation going (but if they have questions, let them go first). “What do you like best about my book(s)?” is a good one, on the theory that people sign up for informal get-to-know-the-author things because they like the author’s books and want to find out more about them.
Always bring several pens that you know work. Whether it’s a panel, a formal speech, an informal meet-the-author, or anything in between, you never know when someone is going to come up afterward and want an autograph because they can’t make it to the official signing. If things have run a bit late and folks are trying to set up for the next panel, point this out and ask your fans to come out in the hall so you won’t hold things up; then sign their stuff and chat for a little.
When you are at an event, you are “on” every minute you are not actually alone in your hotel room. This is true even if you are a first-time author whose novel is not actually out yet. So be polite. If the convention has a “green room,” spend some time hanging out there; it is a good place to meet fellow pros. If this is your first time on a panel or at a convention, admit it and ask for advice.
Do not spend all your time in the green room schmoozing with fellow pros. SF/F conventions always have a consuite; spend some time hanging out there. If you’re at a trade show like the American Bookseller’s Association, the American Library Association, the National Conference of Teachers of English, etc., there is often something similar; find out where.
If a convention invites you directly to go, or if you just want to go to one you’ve been hearing about for years and now have a good excuse to attend, let your publisher know. They may not be much help (this is actually likely if you’re new and the convention is small), but on the other hand, they might…and it is a relatively non-pushy way to let them know that you are out there actually doing publicity on your own.
If you are at a convention or trade show, try to make a pass through the dealer’s room early on. Note who has your books and who doesn’t (so you can point people to the right places if/when they ask after panels or at readings or autograph sessions). Introduce yourself if you have time; ask if they’d like you to come back and sign stock on the last day and if they do, what time.
Different types of conventions handle readings, autographings, and panels differently. Fan-run SF/F conventions tend to be informal; panels are usually three to seven people who’ve been given a topic to discuss and a moderator whose job it is to keep the conversation moving and take audience questions. Academic style panels involve similar numbers of people, but they give you the topic in advance and expect each “panelist” to present a ten to twenty-minute speech on the subject before taking audience questions. If you are expecting one kind and end up with the other kind, it can be nerve-wracking (especially if you were supposed to have a speech and don’t). Do not believe academic institutions when they tell you the panel will be an informal discussion. Their idea of “informal” is “it isn’t a paper with footnotes;” at least, that’s what has happened every single time to me.
Informal SF/F type panels have two basic functions: to inform, or to entertain. It often helps to connect with the moderator and/or other panelists in advance (in the green room) to find out which way they’re planning to slant it and what kinds of things they’re going to ask, especially if you haven’t done this much before.
At an SF/F convention, it is considered OK to bring a copy of one or two of your books and set them up in front of you so people can see what you wrote. It is not considered OK to bring eight or ten copies and fill the front of the table you’re sitting behind so that nobody can see you or the person next to you. The more academic or professional the event is, the more they’re likely to have policies about this kind of thing, so ask first, and don’t be surprised if they tell you they prefer that people keep the presenter’s table clear.
Being at a convention to promote your book does not mean talking about nothing else. If the first thing you think of when someone asks a question is an example from writing your own book – an especially if this happens every time someone asks a question – keep your mouth shut until you can think of an example from someone else’s book (unless of course the question was specific to you or your writing, like “How do you come up with the character names in your books?”)
If you are on a panel with someone who has more experience or who is better known than you are, try not to interrupt. Especially if it’s the Guest of Honor. Politely saying “That’s not the way I do it” or “I don’t think I agree” is perfectly acceptable; spending fifteen minutes of the one-hour panel in an impassioned attack on New York publishing is not. (I actually saw a small press editor do this once…on a panel with two highly respected editors from two different New York publishing houses, one of whom was the convention’s Editor Guest, whom I had come to hear. Not only was I annoyed, I determined five minutes in that I would never, ever, ever submit anything to this particular small press as long as that editor was running it. Which I doubt was what the editor had in mind.)
On the other hand, if you are thirty minutes into a one-hour panel and the “moderator” has yet to let you say anything, your only recourse is to interrupt. This has only happened to me three times that I recall, and twice were panels that included an academic who was clearly accustomed to the “give a ten minute speech and then someone else gets a turn” type of panel, rather than the “moderator asks a question and everybody starts discussing it” type. In the third instance, the moderator was clearly a big fan of one of the authors on the panel and essentially started interviewing just him, leaving the other three panelists completely out in the cold. If you have been asked to moderate a panel, do not do this. Ever.
If you have been asked to moderate a panel, be prepared. Remember: panels are to inform, entertain, or both. Come up with a bunch of questions to get the discussion going and keep it going. Try to talk to the other panelists about what they expect. The first panel I ever moderated, half of the panelists thought it was a serious panel on the numinous in SF/F, and the other thought it was supposed to be about Buddhism. If I’d figured that out earlier, I’d have been in a lot better shape. Also, if the discussion seems not to be going well, you can always start taking questions from the audience early.
If you are moderating, one of your jobs is to make sure that every panelist gets a chance to say something and that none of them monopolizes the conversation. Pay attention to who’s said things (and what) and who hasn’t.
Pay attention to the way other writers behave and how they are viewed by the attendees as a result. Don’t be late to anything you are scheduled for if you can possibly help it. If you’ve been scheduled for five panels in a row, right across lunch and dinner, talk to the convention staff as soon as you realize this and arrange to skip at least one. Let the moderator know, and let them know why.