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A Very Public Encounter

July 16, 2010

Dylan Who? Not Bob, surely? A good friend suggested, when I mentioned that I was about to attend my first literary luncheon as a published author, that I should do a “Dylan Thomas” –

No, not Bob!

“Just wear a scarf, drink a lot of alcohol, and you’ll be OK,” she said. Except that I don’t have a Welsh accent. Good advice, I thought. (And thank you, Kate 🙂 )

I did also think about a donning a black felt fedora… I do wear a hat, on a regular basis… and it is black, felt and fedora-like. But, despite my love of hats, I couldn’t help thinking that, as a relatively unknown author (so far – but I do have appropriate aspirations, I assure you) then I could easily be wrongly labelled as trying to copy that great British author – Sir Terry Pratchett.

Love the hat, Sir Terry!

So, before I go further, I will take this opportunity to state that I will, at an appropriate time in my authorial career, let my love of wearing hats resurface! I will come-out of the hat closet and reveal all… (But, as readers of my posts will know by now, I am prone to digression… so back to the post in hand!)

Given the free nature of this week’s subject matter, I suggested to C.J. (rather requested, and she – who is the font of all schedule wisdom – kindly agreed) that I post on Friday this week, so that I could write on the experience of my first literary lunch. So, here goes…

The week my book was published, a local paper carried news of an excellent Delicatessen and Tea-room’s launch of a monthly literary lunch. Lunch guests could sit and enjoy an aperitif and three-course lunch, while listening to author’s talk about their work.

“Wow!” thinks I. “What a great way to get some exposure for my newly published book!”

So I called, before the organisers had time to realise I wasn’t well known! What a coup – they booked me in for July 15th, 2010. That was around four month’s ago! Plenty of time to prepare, I thought!

Much ado...

Then my ‘redundant’ employment situation came to a welcome, but unexpected end… and, lo and behold, I found myself with little time to do much ado about anything! (The slight hint of Shakespeare is purely intentional, dear readers.)

In the public eye?

I’ve now experienced radio on quite a few occasions. This time, though, I was to appear in front of people who had actually paid real money to come and listen to me! The pressure was on!

I then realised, a while ago, that there was little advertising of the event. “Strange,” I thought, “maybe I have been found out!” Until the publicity consultant contacted me to tell me the event was a sell-out. They had reigned back on publicity, in order not to disappoint any further potential guests.

Who goes there?

More pressure! Not only were there going to be real people, but the room was going to be full! But who were these mystery guests going to be?

This is problematic, how can you prepare something, if you don’t know your audience? So, under pressure, the night before the talk came this week, faster than I had thought possible. (And in entirely indecent haste, in my humble opinion.) Nothing prepared. What to do!

I have never believed in re-inventing wheels. Interviews work well… I have been interviewed on radio, and in print… Why not take an interview format?

A Brilliant idea!

I don’t ad-lib… I have never ad-libbed… But, I reckon, if you ask any author a question about their book, then they will wax lyrical! Indeed, I have done so. The trick, then, was to come up with a set of one-word questions which would provide the catalyst to 30 to 45 minutes of un-rehearsed monologue! Add a couple of readings, and, hey-presto, a format for my talk.

Oops! Did I do that?

Well, here is something for you to think about if you find yourself in the same position… FLASH FICTION! (And thank you, the person who suggested the theme a few weeks ago… despite my having never tried it.)

A 500 word short story is an ideal ice-breaker in a public reading. It is a show-case of writing skill – a chance for an audience, who may never have actually read your work, to see how you handle a beginning, a middle, and an end! A normal reading just does not allow that, and can easily act as a spoiler.

OK, so the tea-room was small – at around 16 guests, the room was fully packed – but the audience was a gem! Quality, not quantity! They listened to ‘Just a thought’ intently. And a strange thing happened…

I said "spontaneous"!

Within two minutes of me being introduced… the audience had broken out into spontaneous applause!  That has not happened to me before, ever! I can tell you!

The ice broken, the rest was a pure pleasure: a bit about me (needed no one word question as a prompt), and I introduced the book. (I had ascertained that only one guest had actually read it prior to the lunch.) Here, I made good use of a review, rather than my own words, and then I read the short opening scene from ‘River of Judgement’.

One more time?

By this time, the audience were engaged with me. And, although they did not applause after the second reading (I was not disappointed) my set of questions went out of the metaphoric window as I checked that I now only had ten minutes left! Where had the time gone?

The audience seemed attentive, interested and waiting for more! Do they want more? Really?

I asked them… “I have another reading, if you would like?”

Affirmative nods, and some murmurs of ascent! Even an audible ‘yes’ or two! (I had, fortunately, printed off the opening scene from the sequel, freshly written.)

“Will it spoil our reading of the first book,” came a very interested, if slightly concerned voice.

(Note: if you are in business, selling, this would be considered a very strong “buy” signal… time to close the deal!)

“No,” says I. “There were a bunch of obvious crooks in the first book; I am only giving the name of one in the reading.”

More murmurs of approval. So I delivered the opening scene of the unnamed sequel. I did warn my audience that it would be twice as long to read – 1000 words! But they were not shaken!

“Thank you,” I finally announce.

And a lovely lunch was served, during which I spoke to some lovely guests who were really interesting to talk to, and who were really interested in what I had had to say.

“Do you think it went well?” asked one lady who, together with her partner, had been there because their tickets had been booked by a family member in Australia.

“Yes,” I said, with a smile.

“…because it has persuaded me to buy three copies of your book for our friends,” she said.

That one sentence, from that one lady, made the whole thing worthwhile! And I think around half the audience left with at least one signed copy of the book.

You can't get enough!

As writers, both self-published, and those with publishers, we need to be able to get out there and engage with those we want to buy our books! We cannot be complacent. Every opportunity for publicity must be grabbed with both hands and pursued. We must take every opportunity and maximise its impact. And, if this little story helps show how a previously unknown situation can resolve itself, then I am happy to have had the opportunity to relate it!

Happy writing! (And speaking!)  🙂

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 12:34 am

    Fabulous idea!
    Looking forward to having the opportunity to steal it!
    Sharon

    • July 16, 2010 2:40 am

      Hi Sharon, feel free to do so! That’s what this blog is all about, sharing our knowledge! I hope you have the same success with it as I did! 🙂

  2. July 16, 2010 8:21 am

    So happy for you that it went well! Your recount was terrific – I felt anxiety for you as I was reading.

    Since I get the brunt of most pokes and prods here I’m going to grab credit with both hands for forcing you to do a flash fiction piece! 😀 Glad to hear it worked out as a terrific ice breaker and I plan on following the same type of format you did when I’m lucky enough to go somewhere for a reading.

    That bit about the organizers not knowing you weren’t well know was priceless! And yet the event was a sell out and very well received. Goes to show, we don’t have to be HUGE and famous to make an impression (and hopefully it’s a good one).

    Kudos to you, David, on a job well done!

    • July 16, 2010 4:10 pm

      Thanks, you deserve the credit, CJ! You can force me to do a flash again, sometime!

  3. Supriya permalink
    July 17, 2010 8:57 am

    Great story, David, and very inspiring! Makes me less anxious about public appearances (not to put the cart before the horse)…

    • July 17, 2010 9:57 am

      Hi, Supriya, great to hear from you, and thanks!

      As I said to some of the guests, informally, while I was waiting for it to start… “I’d take my hat off (if I was wearing it), to anybody who can sit in front of an audience and not feel a little bit anxious”

      I actually think a little bit is good – it keeps you on edge and stops you becoming arrogant and complacent.

      I hope your cart and horse come in the right order very soon!

      D 🙂

  4. July 18, 2010 11:47 pm

    Sorry for the delay in reading your piece. I finally caught up on all my reading and reviewing this weekend.

    Excellent piece. I’ve never even attended a literary reading. I keep equating them with Oprah’s Book Club or that Horticultural Society meeting from “Manchurian Candidate.”

    Glad it went well and that CJ was once again able to break the ice by being the brunt of the poke.

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