On Author Panel Hygiene

On Author Panel Hygiene

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Figure 1. Dear Authors on Panels: some of you are not living your best life. 

 

I dedicate this post to two lovely people:
Carrie Jones, who brought up the topic on Twitter which made me get all foamy about it
Haddayr Copley-Woods, who added foam of her own

 

BASIC PANEL HYGIENE GUIDELINES*

1) When you introduce yourself is really the only time you need to mention your book. Probably the book is sitting propped up in front of you. Probably it’s been listed in the program notes. After you mention it, though, LET IT GO. Most people haven’t read it. Don’t bore us with a synopsis about the story we haven’t read. It’s like telling inside jokes to people you’ve just met.

2) Do not use your introduction time to do a “quick reading” from your book. This is a panel, not a reading. And even a “quick” reading hogs up microphone time.

3) The gift of the panel is variety. If the audience wanted a concentrated shot of one or two writers, they’d attend a reading. But this is a panel, intended to offer a buffet of opinions and experiences. It’s also the most prone to being boring and walked-out-on. To prevent this, you must always consider the audience first, your panelists second, and whatever the hell your own concerns are dead fucking last. You want the audience to want to hang out with you afterwards. Because if they like you, are amused by you, find you entertaining, then they’ll want to get your book.

4) Be funny, engaging, entertaining and succinct. If you can’t be at least three out of the four, it’s really going to suck for you and the audience. Don’t just answer the questions. Try to extend the conversation to your co-panelists and the audience. I know a lot of authors don’t have a choice about where they’re sent to promote their books, much less how, and some authors may hate public speaking. Sorry about that. Perhaps you should just aim to be succinct? At least the end result is that you won’t be hated for being a microphone hogger?

5) Listen to your co-panelists. Don’t just sit there and plan your answer. When you listen to the other authors, this ensures that you might a) not repeat the same kinds of answers b) enhance and elaborate on the answers the others gave: “Like Nancy said, I also had a successful day job. But eventually, I got tired of just being a paleontologist. So one night, after I’d covered all my dinosaur bones, I got into my tent and started writing a story about these two mermaids who want to be wizards.” This keeps things flowing narratively for the audience. It also might result in Nancy wanting to buy you a drink afterwards. Collegiality among authors is a lovely thing.

6) It’s okay not to have an answer. If everyone else has already said what you would have said, it’s fine to pass. Everyone will appreciate that. Again, the point is variety of opinions, not equal time slobbering over the mic.

 

*these are all made up by me and not endorsed by some Author Governing Body. I have no authority in this matter except that I try to follow these guidelines. Not many other people appear to follow them. Do whatever the hell you want, I guess.

 

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Figure 2. ENOUGH ALREADY WITH BEING MEDIOCRE!

 

ADVANCED PANEL HYGIENE**

 1) Please don’t introduce yourself thusly: “Hi, I’m Joe Schmuckatelli, New York Times Best-Selling Author of ______.” Think about this for a minute. Your NYT-Best-Selling status is probably on your website, your Twitter bio, your business cards, a tattoo just above your genitalia and the fucking welcome mat at your home. It’s also in the program notes. It’s also probably why two thirds of the audience is sitting there. For the sake of collegiality, skip saying it. Remember, the alpha dog is the alpha because she doesn’t go around humping other dogs. Be cool about it already. And hey? Maybe take your co-panelists out for a drink afterwards. Spread some love.

 2) Audience members asking for writing advice are looking for encouragement. They are not looking for you to showcase your genius, how fast you write, how fortunate you are to be independently wealthy, how you constantly get brilliant ideas, how your agent crawled through a desert to get to your door and sign you. Even if all those things are true (sidenote: fuck off), please act like a regular person for a moment. Tell them practical things: your daily writing ritual, how you balance family and work, how you use a typewriter or a quill (sidenote: really? fuck off). Make this shit up if you have to. Even if you think most people are idiots and shouldn’t write. Even if you think publishing is totally difficult and basically a matter of luck. Even if you are like me and find giving advice perilous. Just be magnanimous about it. Remember your co-panelists are listening to you; don’t make them want to spit in your eye, too.

3) Behave on the panel as if your goal is to leave the proceedings with all your co-panelists for a long, rollicking, joke-filled, cocktail-studded dinner. This has never happened to me, but one can always hope.

 

**Pure fantasy on my part, but just like zero unemployment or anarchy, I think these are beautiful dreams

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  • Kellye Crocker on Apr 26, 2016 Reply

    wow. There must be some baaaaaaad panels out there. The ones I’ve seen are mostly middling to excellent. But if people are out there doing the opposite of what you say here, Lord help us all.

  • EMKokie on Apr 25, 2016 Reply

    I thought it was going to be about actual hygiene — ie, avoid sneezing on the panelist next to you and try not to eat so much garlic it is seaping from your pores all over the first row.

    But, yeah, even so, yes. This. Especially the part about listening to your co-panelists. The best panels feel like a conversation — one the audience wants to have every night over beverages of their choice.

    And about encouraging the writers in your audience. Not to the extreme fake everyone will be published by next year! extremes. But if someone is asking about being blocked or how do you tackle a revision when…you can guess they’re not asking “for a friend.” Give helpful advice, for sure, but, like with critique, flavor it with encouragement.

  • Terri Jones on Sep 28, 2015 Reply

    I help run Necronomicon in the Tampa Bay area (every October for…uh… 33? years I think). I live with the guest liaison and panel coordinator. I am going to send her this link because she will laugh and agree and might even share it with a guest or two. Generally, our panelists are good. Sometimes, a terrible person gets in. That person is never invited back. They are terrible for the reasons you list above. Oh boy, the mic hogs… Anyway, thank you. This is great. 🙂

  • Justine Larbalestier on Sep 28, 2015 Reply

    This was brilliant and true and spot on. I am now fighting against the urge to tell you ALL ABOUT MY NEW BOOK IN AS MUCH DETAIL AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE TAKING UP POSSIBLY MORE WORDS THAN THE ACTUAL NOVEL BUT FORTUNATELY FOR YOU I HAVE RSI AND CAN’T.

    PS You are funny.

  • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey on Sep 28, 2015 Reply

    I’ve been told by newbie authors that their agents insist that the reason to go to cons is to get on as many panels as possible, and the reason to get on panels is to use those panels to plug their book(s): relentless, shamelessly and without regard for courtesy, etc.

    This is the era of the “personal brand” mindset.

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