I recently attended an event where I spent the better part of a day with local authors. There were some who were doing a great job of ‘working the room’. They were clearly at ease with making appearances and discussing their work. They were having fun. Others, looked like they wanted to crawl in a hole. Their discomfort was obvious. Their conversations were either stiff and brief, or nervous and overly verbose. I felt their pain.
As authors, a good number of us are far more comfortable letting our written words speak for us rather than our voice. Whether it be marketing and promoting or speaking engagements, the idea of opening up and selling ourselves in public can be a nerve-racking experience. If you’re new to the scene, it can be overwhelming and downright scary.
If you’ve read some of my posts before, you know I’m somewhat of a self-proclaimed hermit. I could spend hours (okay, maybe days) becoming one with my office chair as I lose myself in imaginary worlds. When I published my first novel, the idea of leaving my ‘cave’ to market and promote my work was daunting to say the least. Talking about the book that had existed only inside my head for years was bad enough. Talking about me was a whole other animal—and in person, no less.
My first author appearance was a little over a year ago at a “Meet the Author” event at a local library. In the weeks leading up it I fretted over every detail; what I would say, what I would wear, how not to ramble when someone asked a question I wasn’t prepared for. Talking too fast would be as disastrous as talking too slow. I don’t have the loudest of voice, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t shout at them. I imagined every possible question and how I would answer it. I imagined myself drawing a complete blank and, as a fellow author recently put it, ‘forget me’. I drove my friends crazy. I forced my youngest son to sit and listen to me practice the talk I would give. He was bored inside a minute. I attributed it to his age and tried not to take it personally. But in the back of my mind I thought: of course he’s bored. I’m a new author with nothing to say. Who wants to hear about me?
The big night finally arrived. I managed to get my super-prepared self to the library without hyperventilating or passing out, which was a plus. I arrived early and waited for the room to fill up. Five minutes after start time I realized that wasn’t going to happen. The only people that had come out to ‘meet me’ were my friends and my husband. Their support meant the world to me, but I had been hoping for a few new faces. Not that I’d been expecting a legion of rabid fans—or even one. For one thing, my book had only been out a couple of months and on the library shelves half that. But the talk I had planned centered on my writing journey and what led me to self-publishing. I was hoping for at least one aspiring author in the crowd. Even so, I sucked it up and gave my spiel.
My friends listened raptly and asked questions. The library staff drifted in and out to listen. A man who had been browsing the shelves wandered over and sat down. It was a small, intimate crowd, and I took it as an opportunity to practice what I knew would be a regular occurrence moving forward. I was still nervous. I forgot some things I’d wanted to say and said some things I hadn’t planned on. I scrambled, and winged it and somehow managed to sound coherent and put together. I shared how I went from having a dream to having a book. I talked about my writing process. I read. I was just me, talking.
It was at about the halfway mark when a funny thing happened: I started to relax. The scary idea of sharing the crazy stuff that went on in my head with a room full of people became less scary. What’s more, I kind of liked it. It stopped mattering if I forgot some things or rambled off topic once or twice. People were laughing and enjoying themselves. And so was I.
I forged new ground for my author self that night at the library. Each appearance and event that followed was met with a bit less trepidation and a bit more excitement. I began to look forward to chatting with potential readers, book lovers, fellow writers, and whoever happened to come my way. I realized in-person marketing and promoting was not the mysterious and intimidating necessary evil I believed it to be. I’d unmasked the monster. How? By being myself.
It’s understandable as new authors to be worried about how our books will be received. We’re concerned with our persona. Who wants to come across as naïve and inexperienced? Writing and publishing a book is no easy feat. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to claim the title of author. But the truth of the matter is: if we’re new, we are inexperienced.
We can combat the naivety by preparing. We can ask for advice and learn by watching others. Present ourselves in a neat and professional manner. But a noob in new clothes is still a noob, and that’s okay—as long as you own it. Work your inexperience, don’t let it cow you. New shouldn’t be a stigma. It’s a brand we should wear proudly. We’re not wet behind the ears. We’re refreshing.