Hands up, authors who enjoy the publicity and marketing effort that attends the release of a new book. I’m talking about everything from public appearances, less common in this digital age, to heightened visibility on social media, to interviews on radio, podcast, by phone or email. There are guest blogs, giveaways, and a host of other things about which I know less than I probably should. Some writers thrive on all this activity, or at least give a very convincing show of doing so. They’re relaxed and confident public speakers and seem able to juggle a vast number of events while remaining impressively productive. Some, like me, are always aware that giving time to publicity lessens time available to write. Some of us are happier sitting quietly at our desks working, in the company of the faithful dog/cat/other emotional support animal. If we write somewhere public – in a library or cafe, for instance – we’re expert at shutting out our surroundings while we work.
When we’re not used to it, the glare of the (virtual) spotlight can be uncomfortable, not only because our quiet lives are suddenly full of social interaction, but because we know that while Project A is being released into the wild with much fanfare, the clock is ticking down to the deadline for Project B, and even if it isn’t, we’d still rather be getting on with the next book. New release time requires high energy; it is demanding. But it can also revitalise us. It can help refill the creative well. Besides, it’s good for us introverts to put on a smiling face and engage with our readers in the real world from time to time. They’re nice people, and we need them.
Like me, you probably have memories (or nightmares) of not-so-great public appearances in your role as a writer. There’s the book launch or reading to which only six people turned up. The talk you gave where you misjudged the nature of the audience or stuffed up the timing or left your notes at home and went blank. The convention panel at which one person talked over everyone else, or the one at which an audience member took the opportunity to deliver a furious harangue about a pet topic, and the moderator failed to shut them up so you never got the opportunity to say what you wanted to say. The phone interview where you thought of perfect answers just after you hung up. Those experiences tend to be the ones we remember, even if they’re far outweighed by the times when we did well and the times when we did OK. We writers tend to set high standards for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. We should keep challenging ourselves and trying to improve, no matter how successful we are. But there’s no point in flagellating ourselves over what went wrong. We should do as well as we can, learn from the experience and move on. For me, interviews by email are always the easiest because I have time to think about the questions, to answer in well-structured sentences, and above all to edit before I press send. I wish I could speak as fluently as I write.
I’m in the middle of all this right now with the recent release of The Harp of Kings. Happy with my email Q&As. Book launch went well. Mixed feelings about my radio interviews. Podcast coming up. Doing my best to stay calm, focused and well prepared. I do have some advantages in dealing with all this. Although I’m the hermit type, I had a past career as a teacher, so I’m used to public speaking. I also have the support of publicity and marketing teams from two major publishing houses, who are energetic in seeking out opportunities to promote the book. On the other hand, although I’m a seasoned professional, I still get nervous. I do set stupidly high standards. I’m trying to focus on a few key points.
- The audience is not your enemy. They’re interested in you and your book or they wouldn’t be here. Show them you appreciate that. Smile, make eye contact, invite and respond to questions. Respect those people.
- Know your audience. You’ll get a different kind of question and a different level of engagement at a genre convention from the one you’ll get at a bookshop launch or a library talk. You’ll have a different style of interview on a national radio arts program than you will on a local breakfast show. Be prepared.
- Take a friend with you to book signings. Why? Practical assistance and moral support. Someone to talk to if only six people turn up!
- Wear clothing in which you feel happy and comfortable. Be yourself. That’s the person your readers want to meet.
- For phone interviews, have easy-to-read notes on the desk or screen in front of you and read them before you start. You may not even look at them during the interview, but they’ll remind you to breathe, take your time and form answers with care.
- If you’re on a panel, don’t interrupt other people or talk over them. It’s bad manners.
- To write convincing characters, you need to engage with real human beings. Think of your public appearances as a vital part of the writer’s toolbox.
I’d love to know how you introverts out there deal with publicity and marketing. Which events do you enjoy most? (I like genre conventions, especially the ones with cosplay.) What are your top survival tips?
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