How to Survive Your First Author Event

I hate public speaking. Loathe it. Loathe it like Jacob loathes Edward. Loathe it like my cat loathes me when I try to give him his deworming medicine.

The problem is, I wrote this book called Lies We Tell Ourselves. And it’s coming out this fall. And when you write a book you are supposed to go out and promote it and stuff. And promoting a book tends to involve appearing public and ― gulp ― talking about it. Otherwise known as public speaking.

Two weeks ago, I did my first such event. To say I was kind of nervous going in would be to say the YA community is kind of excited to see the Fault in Our Stars movie.

And yet. It actually wasn’t that terrible.

In fact it was kind of awesome.

Okay, it was actually, genuinely, no-holds-barred fabulous.

I had fun. In all my anticipation for what my first event might be like, it never occurred to me that I would actually have fun.

But fun was had! In fact, it was such a positive experience that I felt compelled to list out some tips for other debut authors who are biting their nails with dread awaiting their first official appearances.

Here’s my quick list:

  1. Have something to talk about. My first panel was about diversity in young adult fiction. A fascinating topic ― and having a specific agenda meant I didn’t have to spend the whole time just talking about my book. Sure, I talked some about Lies We Tell Ourselves, but mainly we talked about the broader topic of diversity and how it affects the YA field as a whole. It’s much easier to get pumped to discuss a meaty topic like this one than to feel self-conscious for plugging your book the whole time.
  2. Know what you’re getting into. The event I spoke at was the third in a series of panels for writers called “Shut Up and Write” moderated by kick-ass author Jon Skovron at the Arlington Central Library in Virginia. So, I made sure I went to the first two panels in the series prior to my own event. Knowing what to expect made me way more comfortable when it was my turn to be on the panel. Granted, not every author event is part of a series, but if you can go to other events similar to the one you’ll be appearing at ― for example, signings held at the same location, or launch parties for other authors in your genre ― it can give you an idea of what your appearance will be like. (I’ll go to the future panels in “Shut Up and Write” series too, by the way, because these panels are freaking awesome.)
  3. Start small. I’ve been to author events that had ten attendees and to events that had hundreds. The crowd at our panel was about 30 or 35 people, which was perfect, in my view. It was small enough that it felt intimate, and everyone was excited to be there. The crowd was really engaged in the topic and asked great questions. It felt more like we were all hanging out having a conversation than what I usually think of as Public Speaking.
  4. Have an excellent moderator and outstanding co-panelists. The aforementioned Jon Skovron is the perfect panel moderator. He asked thought-provoking questions that were easy to answer and got us started on a fascinating dialogue. The other two ladies on my panel, Lucky 13 author Ellen Oh and author/cover designer Shirin Dubbin, were brilliant, and had so many insights to share that I kept wanting to raise my hand and ask them questions too. If I could have my way, they would be my co-panelists for every event I ever do!

Granted, I was still nervous. And granted, it was still bizarre to be talking about my book in front of a crowd who actually appeared to be interested in hearing what I say about it.

But now that I’ve got an appearance under my belt ― and an awesome one ― I’m not quite so scared about doing it again.

I know I won’t always have such a supportive crowd, and I won’t always have such an interesting discussion topic. But I’ll never be a first-timer again.

Next time I’ll be that much less nervous. And the time after that, I’m sure I’ll feel like an old pro.

Or, at the very least, I’ll be less nervous approaching an upcoming appearance than I am when approaching my cat with a medicated syringe. At least author panels rarely involve bloodshed!

Robin Talley lives in Washington, D.C., with an ornery cat, a goofy hound dog and a lovely fiancée. Robin’s debut novel, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES (Harlequin Teen, 9/30/2014), follows a black girl in 1959 Virginia who’s the first to desegregate an all-white high school, and winds up falling in love with a white girl in the process. Robin tweets at @robin_talley.
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One thought on “How to Survive Your First Author Event

  1. Hi Robin,

    Thanks SO much for this honest post. I can really relate even though I’m a retired school teacher, the thought of promoting my own book is rather daunting. But I take courage in your hopeful and positive outlook for the road ahead!

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