Friday 30 March 2012

Crabbit's Tips 8: Authors Doing Events

The latest in my series of Crabbit's Tips for Writers aims to help authors doing events. If you'd like the downloadable, printable version, click here.

It follows my recent blog post aimed at event organisers. (By the way, I've had great feedback on that behind the scenes, from agents who are also sick of seeing their authors poorly treated or unpaid. And, for your info, the agent does not take a commission on the author's fee!)

Crabbit’s Tips for Authors Doing Events
1. When you are invited to do an event, do not be afraid to ask about a fee. You are a professional writer and even if you’ve never done a talk before, you ought to be paid. You are an adult with bills to pay. Not asking for a fee also undermines other writers who need to be paid.

2. However, there are some circumstances in which it is reasonable not to be paid or not to be able to set your fee:

a. Around publication, we are expected to do a limited number of free events. However, all expenses should be paid.
b. Festivals should pay every author the same, so you’ll need to decide whether you are happy with the fee, but you shouldn’t negotiate.
c. If you are happy to do an event for nothing because perhaps it’s for charity (but don't feel bludgeoned) and every other adult won’t be paid, or because it’s your kids’ school, or any other specific reason that feels good to you, properly good, not emotional blackmailly good, that’s fine.
d. If you genuinely feel that the benefit in other ways outweighs your loss of income, fine; but don’t be swayed by the organiser saying “It’ll be good for your profile.” Only you can decide that. Your increased profile from doing some paltry event with crap publicity and no booksales is likely to be as tiny as a tiny thing from Flea University.
e. Bookshop events are different: they are usually not charging the audience to attend, and usually book sales will not cover the extra staffing etc. HOWEVER, if the bookshop is charging for the event, they should pay us. The paying attendees will assume it.
3. In advance, check the following with the organiser:
a. Venue; audience size and make-up, precise length of talk. Say if you’d like any equipment, even something as simple as a table to put your notes on. Holding your notes in your hand is not nice - people can see you shake.
b. That they have your biography and will introduce you and round off the event, bringing questions to a close for you. Insist on both these - it makes an enormous difference.
c. Bookselling – who is organising this? Which books will be there and, crucially, will the audience know in advance about bookselling? (Particularly important for school events.)
d. Technical requirements – is someone going to be there to set up and deal with problems? What items are they expecting you to bring? Will your computer or software be compatible. Have a Plan B…
4. Think ahead about food and drink. Be prepared for the fact that you may be dumped somewhere rural after your event and given no food or drink. Take food with you – you know what you need.

5. Make sure the room is set up in the way that suits you. For example, I like a table of around hip or waist height, so I can put my bits and pieces, books, glass of water etc and be able to reach them easily. Shift the furniture if necessary. It makes more difference than you think - having to peer at your notes or whatever is a pain and means you turn away from the audience.

6. Dress to feel good, but remember that you are more likely to feel too hot than too cold, and being too hot during a talk is horrible. And you may well sweat…

7. Loose trousers will disguise shakey-leg syndrome.

8. When you feel your mouth drying up, don’t battle on: drink. (Water...)

9. You will be nervous at first but as you learn how your body reacts, you’ll get better. Have some extra material to fill any sudden looming gaps, if you finish too early. Spare passages to read, for example. And plan which bits you could leave out if you were running out of time.

10. Your voice will be much better and stronger if you stand up. Breathe, smile, keep your head up, speak slowly and loudly.

11. If you plan to read a passage or two, make them fairly short; practise often and cut bits out that you feel you don’t need.

12. If you are speaking to kids or teenagers, and they are messing around, if glaring and pausing doesn’t work, ask the teacher to deal with the situation. You are not obliged to do it yourself. If it gets really bad, sit down and refuse to continue until order has been maintained. (I did this once - remarkably effective.) You can do the discipline bit yourself if you want to but, as I say, you shouldn’t have to, and it spoils the relationship with your audience.

13. Again re speaking to kids, be aware that if you read to them you lose control over the words and the audience, so avoid it if they are playing up.

14. Don’t try to make teenagers laugh unless you are a genuine comedian.

15. Everyone likes stories but many people don’t like being lectured to – so, rather than telling facts, tell stories.

16. Engage – ask them questions. It takes the pressure off you for a moment.

17. With kids, be prepared for these questions: How much do you earn? (Answer: nothing if you don’t buy my books.) What car do you drive? Where do you get your ideas? How long does it take to write a book? Who is your favourite author/book? Why did you want to become a writer? What famous authors do you know? Have you met Harry Potter?

18. Be ready the night before, with a checklist: notes, books, props, food and water, tickets, tech equipment, flyers and other promo material, CONTACT DETAILS FOR EMERGENCIES…

19. Follow up afterwards; take any nice quotes and use them on your website; ask for any pictures that might have been taken.

20. Breeeeeeeeeeeeathe….

21. Enjoy it!

Do you have any points to add, those of you who have done events?

PS - I'm away a lot on business at the moment, so can't respond to your comments. Normal service will resume soon! Louise Kelly is blog-minding for me.


Sarah Duncan said...

I did a series of 5 blogposts on the very subject last year, but I think the most important one is to remember that the audience has chosen to come and see you. They want to pass a pleasant hour or so; they're not interested in criticizing or judging you, and they don't expect you to be 'perfect' - in fact, they'll like you more if you're not.

And the second most important thing is always ask for a fee unless, as Nicola says, you've some good personal reason for not doing so.

Imogen said...

Brilliant advice. I wish someone had told me this when I started out. I shall bookmark this and read again every time I have an event coming up to make sure I don't forget anything!

M Louise Kelly said...

Imogen: Yes it's so helpful to have the tips set out clearly like this.
Sarah: I think I might have seen some of those on your blog and liked them (couldn't find them again now!) but it is good to be reminded that people are usually willing speakers to do well so breathing and trying to be relaxed are key.

Lauri said...

Fantastically useful list wish I would have had it when I was asked to speak at LSE. Person introducing me knew next than nothing about me and couldn't pronounce my name, then disappered- for ever!!!And great what you've said about asking for a fee. I'm tired of agreeing to speak and then regretting afterwards. Also- kids- I was a teacher and cannot stand indisciplined children. I once had to stop and tell a boy to stop playing with a ball while I was speaking and the teacher was in the room!!!

Caroline Green said...

That was so, so useful. I hadn't thought about asking a teacher to deal with it when teens aren't listening or whatever, but is a gem I will hang onto. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

this is full of excellent advice. I'm currently organisingNot the Oxford Literary Fesival and have to look after 40 authors over 3 days single-handedly, with only bookstore staff to help, so I would reiterate the point about asking if you have special requiremets. We try to send out as much information as we possibly can in advance but we can't think of everything. In particular, if you have technical requirements, ask about IT provision and crucially - as Nicola says - compatibility. Especially if you have either a Mac or a very new computer and you're only bringing a USB stick - your gorgeous powerpoint in the very latest Windows edition will almost certainly cause most organisers' elderly laptops to combust - please save everything as 1997-2003 compatible as well as the latest version.

A second request to authors would be always to take on board what organisers say about length of readings, and please don't be put out if they say 5 minutes of extracts. As a writer I *know* I want to read for 15 minutes from my novel, but I've seen so many great writers, even great readers, go from having an audience hooked at 5 minutes to almost crying to get out of the room at 15 minutes. Fill that time with anecdotes and liky things and variety. And be especially considerate about timing if you are part of a panel event and the first speaker.

Katalin Havasi said...

Excellent summary!

My points to add:

- Make sure you have enough time to sleep at night before the event

- During your talk, every now and then make eye contact with people in different parts of the audience, but not always with the same couple of persons

- Give out your main points on a sheet of paper to the audience as a reminder. It's a good idea to include your contact info.

Erin Latimer said...

"...tiny thing at a flea university". Thanks, that gave me a good laugh! Also, I'd like to note: Tell the person introducing you to make sure people turn cell phones off! People are totally silly when it comes to remembering to do this. I've seen them go off at funerals, weddings, writers's ridiculous!

Kit Berry said...

Great post (as ever). I think there's an important distinction between public events where, as Sarah Duncan says, the audience has chosen to come and hear you speak, and school events where the audience is captive - and may hate boring books and boring reading.

I sympathise with children (and teenagers especially) who are subjected to dull talks from authors who've been told they must do x number of school visits by their PR dept but don't have a clue how to engage an audience. I say this as an ex-schoolteacher. Schoolkids are a captive and non-voluntary audience and therefore need to be wooed, entertained and engaged if they're not to become bored, especially if they're sitting on the floor, or have been passively listening to a teacher for hours already. Of course there'll always be one little bugger who'll be rude or disruptive however good a speaker you are, but I used to feel like a naughty kid myself at times when we had to listen to someone who didn't have a clue.

Having experienced it now from the other side too, I know school events aren't easy and can be terrifying, even if you are (as so many authors seem to be) an ex-teacher. I loved your remarks about shaking notes and trembling knees - so true!

Anonymous said...

Great post. #14 - so wise and SO TRUE! Did it, blew it, won't try that again!!

Rach said...

Hi Nicola - Sound advice again. On the subject of public speaking and handling one's nerves - the best piece of advice I was ever given was to take your time. If you have lost your place or train of thought just take a moment, it always seems ten times longer to you than the audience. The second best is to laugh and admit to your nerves openly - it releases some of your tension and often it can actually help the bond between speaker and audience. Good luck!

Nicola Morgan said...

Rach, sorry, only just saw this comment because blogger had put it into spam! I don't moderate comments but comments on old posts go into spam and I have to go looking, which I rarely do!

Good advice.