When it comes to parties, I tend to roll large. Most of the time this is fine, but in terms of book launch events it may have backfired since my social tendencies and inability to turn anything down resulted in the world’s most over-scheduled book release day.
I started off before sunrise with an insane TV segment where a morning show cut to me and a loud, hilarious, supremely confident reporter every twenty minutes or so for three hours. We were hanging out in a bookstore with copies of The Queen of Hearts, which I signed while the reporter asked me goofy questions. I had no idea what he’d say, but I gamely smiled and tried to be funny. Was I successful? Yes, absolutely, as long as you’re a fan of panicked expressions, garbled words, and nervous, high-pitched laughter. In retrospect, actually, that probably was funny.
(Also, please note the title of the yellow book behind us. Totally unintentional, I promise.)
After the TV thing, it was on to a luncheon for my three hundred closest friends. This would be my first major experience as a public speaker and it was rendered bearable by the kind intervention of a friend who is a news anchor. She “interviewed” me by asking me a series of easy questions so I didn’t have to stand up in front of all these beautiful accomplished women and stammer out a speech. This event took months of hard-core planning—especially because I had to set up a system for the attendees to pre-pay— but I don’t remember a damn thing from it and I stupidly failed to get any photos of the crowd.
Next up: an evening signing at the library for over a hundred people. Once again, a different but equally telegenic friend stepped up and interviewed me. I hosed her by blurting out the answers to every single question she had planned to ask in my first response so she was forced to improvise for the rest of the talk. This was in the early evening and had been sponsored by the library and the bookseller, so the crowd contained more strangers than the luncheon. In a bizarre way, this was comforting: I feel more pressure when familiar people are watching me. Plus, this group was comprised of book-loving library people so I could have stood up there and picked my nose and they’d have tried their best to appear supportive.
I got home late, feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and apprehensive. The next day, my publicist scheduled a day-long satellite radio tour where I was passed to a different station in a different city every twenty minutes or so. By the third one, I was enjoying myself, but also could not keep straight what I had already said and when I’d said it. The day after that, I left home for a round of media appearances and book signings in other cities. (In case that sounds glamorous, it was all pretty minor, but I still managed to make some interesting blunders.)
Based on my experience, I’ve pieced together a little advice:
Designate Someone To Take Photos. You want two things here—someone who is a competent photographer, and ideally, some redundancy. In addition to the person formally charged with doing it, ask a bunch of other people too. Be specific: you want a few close-ups of you speaking, but also a photo from the back, with some trick photography to make the crowd appear massive. Do not ask my husband to do it, though, because this will result in a blurry photo of the back of exactly one person’s head, with my face, frozen in a distorted expression of nausea, barely visible in the distance.
Also do not ask my writing group. They will dutifully take ten million photos at every single event and all of them will look like this:
If You Don’t Like Giving Speeches, Have Someone Interview You. I alluded to this already, and this is key, writer people. It is so much easier to answer questions or sit on a panel than it is to deliver a presentation: you don’t have to worry about managing the time or forgetting crucial elements, and the person interviewing you can surge to the rescue if you get stuck. For example, if they ask you to talk about your writing process, and you suddenly go mute because you forgot all the words in the English language, it’s on them to explain your process. They should make you sound smart and likable while they’re at it. Remember to nod wisely when they say something good.
Unhook The Microphone If You Are Tall: Or, if you prefer, you could just hunch awkwardly the entire time.
Don’t Just Read From Your Book: Unless you are David Sedaris, this can get boring. If I am doing a talk, I tell a mixture of stories—both humorous and poignant—related to the writing of the book. Taking a tip from another author, sometimes I invite volunteers from the crowd to come up and choose a random passage from the book and have them read it, which usually winds up being pretty amusing. (Note: as soon as they open to a page, do a quick pre-screen to ensure they haven’t chosen a passage that gives away a crucial plot point. If they land on a scorching sex scene, it’s up to you whether or not to have them read it, but I vote yes.)
Serve Bourbon. People will buy more books AND you will seem funnier. You will also be funnier—up to a certain point—if you drink the bourbon too.
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