Author Talk or Author Flop?

I think just about every author looks forward to the day they’ll be able to do ‘author talks’, getting in front of fans or soon to be fans and sharing their work with the public. But what if an aspiring author is in the audience and what they witness isn’t exactly what they were expecting?

That’s what happened when I went to an ‘author talk’ in my current home town a few weeks ago. I’m not going to name any names, but I went in expecting one thing and it turned out to be something completely different. So I did what I often do when I have a writing dilemma, I turned to the other authors at the writing site I belong to.

I posted four questions and looked for feedback, eliciting a wide variety of responses and interest. I’m going to share each of the questions and follow it with some of the answers and who it was from and also include my comments.

1. What do you expect when you go to an author talk?

I went in expecting the author to speak about her work and then to share some of her work. I do expect to hear some excerpts when I go to an author talk, but I don’t expect the entire thing to be a reading unless it’s advertised as a reading. I think when advertising, the place hosting it needs to be clear whether it’s a reading or a talk. To me there’s a difference.

I expect to hear about the author’s latest projects. I expect to hear some excerpts of those projects. I expect the author to take a good bit of time to interact with their fans, and field questions. From Amy

Expect to hear about latest projects, maybe upcoming projects, sneak peeks from D.

I expect the author to maybe read from his or her latest work. There might be some talk about what inspired it or the context it was written in, but mostly just reading and a Q&A session with the audience. From Crys

2. What would you do as an author at a talk?
I would want to connect with my readers, share with them some of the writing process for me as a writer and hopefully encourage those in the audience who are writers themselves. I would share a little of published works or what I am currently working on and possibly do a Q & A session depending on time.

I would do the things mentioned above. I would be very grateful to the people who had come to hear me talk, and would be sure to express that. From Amy

I would answer questions, thank people, talk about my projects from D.

All of the above! (See Crys’s answers above :-)) From Crys

3. What are good and bad points of doing an author talk?
You don’t have control, you don’t know how people are going to react and you don’t know what is going to happen. To me that’s scary and it would be easier just to do a reading, but it could also be the way to interest people in the type of writer you are and get to know your readers more.

It’s exciting to meet an author whom you admire and respect, and whose work you enjoy. It can give you a different perspective, and help you understand things that you might have been missing. On the other hand, you may find yourself disappointed by the author, who does not turn out to be as wonderful a person as you might have hoped, or who might simply be someone who does not communicate or engage verbally with a group as well as they do on the written page. From Amy

Some good and bad things: Good: meet the author in person, see what their personality is like, and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) the books they write, publicity.
Bad: If you haven’t read the book yet, it might spoil something from D.

Good: meeting an author in person, getting to hear their work in their own voices.
Bad: I’ve been to author talks with very large audiences before, and then I had to wait in long lines to get my books signed, and only got to meet the author for two seconds. I’ve also been to author talks with a very small audience and had the opposite problem! I have been overwhelmed and nervous about meeting authors before. From Crys

4. Where would the weirdest place be to do an author talk?
I think I’ll let the other authors handle this one because they came up with more unusual places compared to the ones I could think of. Although a grocery store. I think that would be an odd one.

Disneyland? Someplace loud and chaotic. From Amy

Weird places: private homes, amusement parks, recreational areas, but I think shopping malls are ok from D.

I have no idea. I can’t think of why anyone would schedule an author talk at a weird place like an amusement park! I could see how a large, chaotic, big-name bookstore like Barnes and Noble might be chaotic and also a little overwhelming for the author. I prefer libraries or indie bookstores in a more intimate setting. From Crys

Both Elisa and Ransom Noble wrote up very nice paragraphs for me so I’m just going to paste them in their entirety here so you can read them.

From Elisa:
It’s been a long time since I went to an author talk, so I can’t remember what happened there. I would say I’d expect a bit of information about what inspired a particular work. In fact, in most cases I’d expect an author talk to focus on one or two particular works. I’d be okay with an author discussing one series of works as well. When it comes to author talks, I worry that the focus will shift away from the work to the author him/herself. I had that happen in a creative writing course, and that was uncool. As for location, well, I’m not really sure. I feel a bit odd when there’s someone I want to see but the event is in a religious building. I went to see Neil de Grasse Tyson at a synagogue last May. It was a great talk, but as an atheist I felt really weird being in a house of worship. If it wasn’t for the fact that the talk was sold out and had dozens of people on the waiting list to get into the talk, I’d have dwelt a lot more on the location.

From Ransom Noble (and check out her book The Art of Science!)

Part of my experience lately has been to listen to authors discuss things with the people who are going to be authors – y’know, we’re doing our best to climb the ladder.

In that case, I want to hear more about the process, I ask questions, and generally figure out what is important from the topic at hand. The fun part about that is giving an author a topic to discuss that might be about outlining for someone who’s great at it, or finding out about how they got discovered…

So, what I have come to expect is a topic. It might not be about a specific work, but it is a specific something. Just having a Q&A seems to devolve into a bunch of fragments. So something prepared, even handouts, is cool.

Weirdest place for an author talk? A bathroom! You’d never fit people in there, and it’d be a sort of taboo place to meet. Plus it would really bother the people who wanted to use the thing. Might be a fun story.

Giving an author talk would be cool, but I’d also want a topic to discuss. Something to lead me in the direction of interest to my audience. I attended a book club discussion (mothers and daughters) with my book once, and it’s a highlight of my career. They asked me few questions, but I enjoyed how they used the discussion questions in the back to lead their own talk about the book’s events.

I hope that gives all of your aspiring authors something to think about as you start planning what will happen when you get into the publicity portion of your career. I know it definitely gave me something to think about as I listened to the author that day and as I read the feedback from my fellow writers (authors). Thanks to everyone who took the time to write up the answers to my questions!

I hope this was helpful and informative. I know it was a bit longer than a typical entry from me.


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