Earlier this year, my lovely publisher Choc Lit announced they were off on tour and would be hosting events at various libraries around the country. On offer was an afternoon of author talks, Q&A sessions, fun quizzes, goody bags, a chance for aspiring authors to pitch their manuscripts to a Choc Lit editor. Oh, and plenty of choccies!
When I heard that one of the events would be in Southampton, not on my doorstep, but a place I can get to by train direct from East Croydon, I was tempted to volunteer to be part of the author panel, but couldn’t see past my morbid fear of public speaking. I slept on it, talked to Mr B and as much as the thought of it gave me palpitations, a lingering ripple of excitement in my tummy told me I should go for it; that it would be good for me.
So I fired off an email to the Choc Lit team and before I could bottle out, booked my train ticket.
No backing out now, Jan, I thought.
I was Southampton-bound.
Alongside me on the panel would be my fellow Romaniac, Laura James, who has written three books for Choc Lit, and Evonne Wareham and Liv Thomas (who writes under the name of Isabella Connor) – both ladies having published two books each. We’d be required to chat about our routes to publication and about our books themselves.
Hideously nervous, I put together some notes, both detailed and bullet-pointed. Laura had given me a great tip to use highlighter pens for buzz words and phrases.
Other advice I received, all of which I was hugely grateful for, was as follows:
- Remember to breathe properly. Might sound obvious, but when I was practising my read-through, this was something Mr B picked up on, along with my habit of saying “Erm!” after nearly every sentence.
- It’s fine to slow things down if you feel yourself wanting to canter through it. It also gives you a chance to scan your notes if using them for reference as I did.
- Keep your focus on your audience soft as you begin, until you settle into your rhythm, rather than trying to gain eye-contact with too many people too quickly.
- Be yourself. Smile. If you fluff a line, clam up or laugh inappropriately, it will be forgiven. You’re human. It’s your first time.
All of these tips proved invaluable, as did the public speaking/confidence hypnotherapy recordings my best friend sent me which I found really relaxing. Not for everyone, granted, but they did help me to focus on the ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t’.
I also drew comfort from my own memories of attending these types of events, sitting in the audience with my pad and pen, taking precious notes and listening to authors talk about their books and feeling so pleased that I’d gone along, as I learned so much. If I could in any way encourage the aspiring authors among our audience and convey to the readers and bloggers among us how very grateful we are for their time and support, it had to be worth all my doubts and fears, didn’t it?
And so off I set, armed with my wad of notes, caught my train to Southampton, which another of my lovely fellow Romaniacs, Sue Fortin, hopped on en-route as she was coming along to the event. We then bumped into Laura at the station and the three of us went for lunch, with both Sue and Laura doing everything they could to ease my last-minute jitters, having both given author talks themselves.
This nice plateful of food helped …
When we arrived at the venue, the rest of the Choc Lit team welcomed us. I donned my T-shirt and after a lovely meet and greet session, we began our talk.
I heard the quiver in my voice as I began, was conscious of flapping my hands about a bit. I remembered everything I’d been told, though, and managed to engage the audience. We had a few laughs and talked about funny research memories and everyone on the panel had a different aspect and angle which gave the talk balance. I can’t deny I let out a long internal “Phew!” when my turn was over, but if I’m honest, I loved it and felt very proud that I’d seen it through.
We then had a fun quiz, lots of interacting and more laughter and the whole event was professionally organised and wonderfully informal. We had some fantastic feedback and even managed to sell a few books. The chocolates kept coming throughout and it was great to meet so many of the people I speak to online.
Thank you to everyone at Choc Lit, readers, bloggers, writers and Southampton Library for helping to make my first author talk such an enjoyable, memorable experience.
Should anyone be interested in future Choc Lit library events, have a peep here Choc Lit on Tour for ticket info and notice of who will be in attendance.