I sometimes get conned – sorry, asked nicely – into chairing author/reader events such as the Festival of Romance or the UK Meet. Now, this is meat and drink to me, seeing as I do some freelance training and facilitating, so standing up to handle panellists and audiences holds few terrors, and acting as a panellist for author events is also right up my street. When Laura asked me to blog about how some of the opportunities came about – and if the skills needed can be learned – I was delighted to oblige.
The Deadly Dames is a classic example of me being in the right place at the right time (story of my publishing life). I got to know Nicola Slade and Eileen Robertson through the local Romantic Novelists Association lunches and, one day, Eileen said, “Would you be interested in doing library talks? You have to join Mystery People first.”I almost knocked her down in my rush to say, “Yes, where do I sign?”
From there the Deadly Dames grew – five “girls” local to the M27 corridor, all of whom write cosy mysteries as well as other things. We devised a name, a logo, a style (black and red clothes) and began our career at Chichester library, discussing how and why we write, where we get inspired, how we do our research and lots of other things. It was a great success, which we’ve followed up with other bookings, some of which we’ve sourced ourselves – cue nabbing librarians and trying to charm them – and some have been sourced by the lovely Lizzie at Mystery People (next up, Bognor!)There are pros and cons to all of this, not least because of unforeseen problems which upset your plans. The DDs had been lined up to do a panel in Windsor but it had been booked to clash with Comic Relief and had to be cancelled. Back into the cupboard the snazzy red and black gear goes… But you have to take the rough with the smooth, and the ‘free’ opportunities – to get our names out on advertising, to engage with potential new readers (whether they buy our books at the event or later or get them from the library) and to present ourselves as interesting, nice people – are not to be sniffed at. Any author at our level in the profession will tell you that books don’t sell themselves and the harder you work and network, the more success you tend to have.
Preparation is key for Deadly Dames events. Not to the nth degree, as you start to sound very flat (you need some bounce in your bungee!) but to have some idea of what you might say. For the Deadly Dames, our panel leader circulates some key questions in advance so we can get our notes ready to tackle those. Those questions change, so people could come to several DD events and not be bored. I also like to have some answers at least half prepared in my mind for anything tricky someone in the audience might ask. You know the sort of thing. “Why does a straight woman write about gay men?” I want to get the answer to that absolutely right. (Although some of the audience questions, especially about e-books, make such little sense that having an answer ready would be well nigh impossible.)
Extending the discussion to the chairing or facilitating of panels/events, experience and practice undoubtedly help, but the sort of skills involved can be learned and there are plenty of tips to help things go smoothly, such as:
- Have people in the audience you know you can call on for comments if questions have dried up or are slow getting started. Something like, “Laura, I know you’re interested in vampire fiction. What’s your opinion on ‘Victoria and Albert, love at first bite’?” Once somebody talks, generally others will join in.
- Make sure you have some questions to ask your panellists if nobody else is doing so. You can always use generic ones, such as, “Is there a classic book you couldn’t finish” or “Is there a book you wish you’d written?”
- Try to ensure everyone gets to ask their question, even if that means being blunt with floor-hoggers. “Can we come back to you if there’s time? I have a lady in the back row who won’t forgive me if I don’t get her question in.” Smiles and good humour help pour oil on many a troubled water.
- Don’t be afraid to pull panellists/delegates back on topic. Remember that your core business isn’t to be everyone’s friend, it’s to keep the event running to topic and on time. Oh, and have a clock to hand, and even a whistle. Don’t be afraid to use either of them!
What are your tips for making public appearances go well? And do you want to pick my brains (such as they are) on the subject?
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. She lives in England, but has yet to use her local town Romsey as a setting for her stories.
She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.
Charlie’s latest release is Promises Made Under Fire
Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden–his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he’s never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can’t be so open with Frank–he’s attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.
When Frank is killed in no-man’s-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave–and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…
Thank you so much for your wonderful advice, Charlie. As Chairperson at the Festival of Romance, you certainly put us at ease for our first panel, and we knew we were in safe hands.
We wish you and your Deadly Dames well.