Let me entertain you

 

   sue little     

Here I am with Sue Little at the Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, Massachusetts

I’m home for a quick laundry change before I head out on the road again.  It’s been lovely meeting booksellers and readers, and my one regret is that I haven’t been traveling with a camera, so I have very few photos to share.  So far I’ve had bookstore events in Lexington KY, Dayton and Cincinnati, as well as stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine.  

Authors who’ve never been on tour probably wonder what’s expected of them when they appear at an event.  Do you talk?  Do you read?  Do you just sign books?  The answer is… it’s up to you.   One best-selling fantasy writer told me that he avoids doing a planned talk or reading.  Instead, he simply greets readers and signs books.  He thinks that readers are leery of getting “trapped” for an hour, listening to an author talk.  “They just want to drop in and get their book signed,” he said.  “They don’t want to wait around for the autograph.”  

Other authors believe that a reading is the best way to please their audience.  If you let readers have a taste of the book, they’ll be more inclined to buy it. 

I tend to avoid doing readings, because I think readers are  interested in what they can’t learn from the book, and that’s the background of the story.  Where did I get my idea?  What interesting facts did I turn up while writing it?  How did I get into writing in the first place?  But every so often, a reader will express disappointment that I didn’t read.  “I wanted to hear the story told in your voice,” one woman said.  So maybe it makes sense to read a short passage or two.  I’m still not certain.

What I’ve been doing this time on tour is talk about the historical background for MEPHISTO CLUB.  I’ve talked about demons in the Bible, about the Book of Enoch, and the Nephilim.  I’ve talked about beliefs in Armageddon and about my own childhood brushes with the paranormal.  I share some of the truly spooky stories I’ve heard over the past few weeks.  A few nights ago, I debated the nature of evil with one of my audience members, a passionately opinionated young man who disagreed with me about whether evil actually exists.  (He didn’t think it did.)  It was an interesting dialogue, and even though the rest of the audience lost patience with him , I enjoyed the debate.  (And to my surprise, despite the fact he clearly disagreed with me, he bought the book!) 

I don’t use notes.  I just stand up and start talking.  Of course I do have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be presenting ahead of time, and I know which punchlines invariably get the strongest reactions — the collective gasp or the predictable outburst of laughter.  But every presentation is just a little bit different, and that’s the fun of it.  You never know if someone will take offense and walk off in a huff.  A startling question can send your talk veering off into new directions.  I love the back-and-forth of it all, and I always hope that SOMEONE will ask a question.  Because there’s nothing worse than an audience that just sits there and doesn’t ask you anything. 

Over the years, as I’ve gained experience on the road, I’ve added bits and pieces to my repertoire so that I can expand the talk at an instant’s notice.  If someone asks about my research process, I can talk for ten or fifteen minutes about how I worked with NASA to write my book GRAVITY.  If asked about the premise for VANISH, I can talk at length about real cases of corpses waking up in morgues.  I can give off-the-cuff lectures on leprosy, or famous families who killed for a living, or mad cow disease, because these are all topics that I’ve used in my thrillers.  Stand me up at a podium, and I can talk till I’m hoarse. 

That’s what writing ten thrillers has done for me.  It’s given me a wealth of topics to talk about. 

But of course I also know when to shut up, and I try to wrap it up after half an hour, max.  Because by then, the bookseller wants to go home, people want their books signed, and I’m ready for my martini.

If you’re an author about to go on your first tour, you’ll discover what works for you.  While you’re speaking, pay attention to your audience.  If you see someone nodding off, pick up the pace of your talk.  Switch subjects or throw in a never-fail anecdote.  You’ll acquire them over time, the little stories that you know will always get a reaction. 

We’re writers, and we’re expected to entertain.  We already know how to do it on the page, but while standing up in front of an audience?  That takes practice.

19 replies
  1. Cher B
    Cher B says:

    Wish I could be at one of your signings and talks. Yes, you are expected to entertain in your talks and books. I thoroughly enjoy the stories you write. Mayhap some day, I will be able to see and hear you on one of your signings. Everyone should be gratified to see and hear you. Enjoy your tour and rests at home. MEPHISTO CLUB is no. 3, but should be no. 1. Congrats!

  2. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    i met you once last year at a signing for Vanish-you were very accesible to everyone and put them at ease-it is probably because you were an internist,which i would guess involved primary care-you had to elicit very personal,sometimes embarrassing,and sometimes downright scary information from patients who probably already had some degree of “white coat syndrome”-not every doctor is good at that(SURGEONS):)-but i bet you sure were

  3. Supersleuth1
    Supersleuth1 says:

    Wish you would come to the San Diego/Temecula area later this month on your West Coast tour. Any chance? But not on 10/28; that’s Men of Mystery in Irvine and Jeffrey Deaver is going to be the guest speaker. Loved VANISH and hope to read your new one MEPHISTO CLUB soon

  4. ellenmeister
    ellenmeister says:

    One day I hope to hear you speak, Tess. I bet I can learn a lot.

    I’m new at all this and have done just a few appearances. I do a mix of talking a bit and then reading a bit. I love taking questions from the audience, though sometimes I find that people can be awfully shy about speaking up. Any tips on how to get past that?

  5. Rachael from NJ
    Rachael from NJ says:

    I think if readers are complaining about having to wait until after the reading or talk to get their books signed, that they really didn’t like the author that much to begin with. A true reader who loves an author would love to just be in the same room as them! They would love to hear them talk, read from the book, or just answers questions. I’ve never had the pleasure of going to a reading or Q&A. I’ve been to one book signing and that was for Janet Evanovich. I stood on line with my fiance for 4 hours and I wasn’t even a big fan yet! I had only read one of her books but it looked like fun, so I waited for 4 hours! I have about 5 of my books signed by her so that was nice. But to wait 4 hours standing on line for a 1 minute hello and goodbye is exhausting. Tess please come to New Jersey. I would love to meet you. Maybe another option for people who don’t want to come to the reading or talk is, sign books from 12-2 and then have the talk and reading at 2 or 3:00. That way the people that are coming know this is only that, they already had their books signed, and they can sit back and enjoy the reading.

  6. struggler
    struggler says:

    Tess, I don’t know how I would react if I met you in person. I mean, you sent me an email the other day and I nearly fainted! Yes, I’m a grown-up, broad-shouldered, red-blooded hunk of a man and the thought that YOU sent a message to ME had me walking on air. Basically, I am not worthy….

    PS I am the very proud owner of The Mephisto Club as of today, proud because they are very rare here in Britain. New copies fetch about $30 to $35 on eBay, and that’s used! Most retailers won’t have stock until January. Anyway I can’t start it just yet because I’m reading Vanish at the moment, it’s excellent but why did you stop calling Rizzoli by that name, and instead revert to ‘Jane’? Rizzoli sounds so much tougher and more apt, given her personality!

    PPS I bet your latest is better than Jeffery Deaver’s latest (Cold Moon). I’ve read CM, wasn’t bowled over….

  7. JanetK
    JanetK says:

    There are real cases of corpses waking up in morgues? Eeeww. Not sure I needed to know there are ANY cases, let alone multiples!

    BTW, VANISH is the first book of yours that I read. Hooked me but good.

    In the author events I’ve attended, success seems to depend largely on how comfortable the author is about speaking. A nervous author usually makes for a poor event.

    This writing gig is tough — not only are authors expected to write, they’re expected to speak in front of strangers, too. Scary stuff for many of us! But it’s just the nature of the business these days, I guess.

  8. jilljames
    jilljames says:

    Tess, got The Mephisto Club today. Can’t wait to get started, I have all the Rizzoli and Isles books. I’m hoping to make it to Sacramento when you’ll be speaking there.

  9. struggler
    struggler says:

    This is another PS :-

    My copy of The Mephisto Club is a ‘free uncorrected proof copy, not for distribution or resale’. It’s a paperback, ‘made available in confidence to selected persons for specific review purposes’.

    The elderly lady I bought it from, who lives 12 miles away, told me she bought it in a boot sale (do you call that trunk sale in the US?). I have a feeling that the only way to get your hands on this novel in Britain is either to buy a proof copy, like I did, or a once-read hardback personally imported from the US. This may frustrate Tess and everyone in the publishing chain, but I’m a genuine fan of her work and I just couldn’t wait intil January!! And I most definitely will not be selling my copy!

  10. Karmela Johnson
    Karmela Johnson says:

    Tess — can I just say one of my favorite things about you is how you have simultaneous ebook and print book releases? And how you are on eBookwise? It actually makes me want to buy BOTH copies of your books. One (the ebook) for reading with my wonderful portable ebook reader (the handy little eBookwise) and the hardcover one for your autograph for when I meet you someday.

    MC is on my TBR stack!

  11. smoody
    smoody says:

    well im a huge fan of your writing and have recently read ur book body double and doing a report over it….i will be writing to you soon.
    Samantha Ashley

  12. Rob Gregory Browne
    Rob Gregory Browne says:

    I don’t suppose I could just do book signings at my house and have people come over for drinks?

    Didn’t think so.

    Hope I’ll get the chance to visit one of your signings, Tess. They sound like fun.

  13. Eva
    Eva says:

    struggler:
    If you really want a legit copy of Tess’book you should try Amazon.com or eBay. Not fair to buy copies that rip off the author. INMO

    Tess, I would love to know about families who kill for a living..
    I was thrilled to see that Mystery Club Canada is offering MC as one of 3 main selections> YAY!!

  14. struggler
    struggler says:

    Eva – I did buy it on eBay, and had no idea that it was a proof copy until I actually collected it. I didn’t save any money, I just got it quickly, which was all that mattered! And when I promote it by way of numerous positive reviews, as I surely will, it will more than compensate, I can assure you. I had no intention of ripping Tess off – it would be like biting off the hand that feeds me!

  15. Eva
    Eva says:

    I hear you struggler,
    and I do apologize! Unfortunately with eBay you never know….I love eBay but I am always very careful about the seller. It’s good to make sure their feedback is excellent.

  16. struggler
    struggler says:

    Thanks for the apology Eva – this has been bothering me for several days! I’m a totally committed fan of Tess, having bought ten of her books so far this year and I have given her RAVE 5-star reviews on Amazon (I’m a Top 500 reviewer) and elsewhere. The lady I bought Mephisto Club from has a 100% feedback rating on eBay, with 2444 feedbacks received – so she’s highly rated. The book had never been read, at least not until yesterday when I started it myself and although I’ve only read about 100 pages I’m more than happy with it. I also finished VANISH yesterday (legitimate hardback copy!!), I think it’s Tess’ best yet, just wish there was more of it!

    But Tess, if you’re reading this, I humbly apologize for buying an ‘uncorrected proof copy’ of The Mephisto Club, I was unaware of it until after I had paid, but I will not do it again as I do not want to annoy, offend or displease you in any way.

  17. april
    april says:

    I love it when authors speak before a booksigning. I just went to a big booksigning last week where it was strictly a booksigning. The little speaking part makes an author seem real, like there’s a person on the other end of the book. The signing to Body Double and The Tenth Circle (Jodi Piccoult) were my favorite booksignings. If it’s just a signing, I get a little anxious. It’s like meeting a celebrity. I get a little sick with the thought of encountering someone that I admire and then get up in line and never say a word.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I love the talking and Q&As (though we’ve already established I’ll never ask a question). 🙂

    ~ april

  18. bethane
    bethane says:

    For someone who talks sort of off the cuff (and writes that way too), you do very well! I attended your talk yesterday evening in Sacramento, and was delighted to find I am not the only one who starts writing without an outlined plot, but rather a sometimes nebulous idea pushing me to put words to paper (or pesky characters wanting to be let out to have their say). I especially liked your emphasis on the emotional punch/impact/hook of an idea. I think we write best about those things that grab our attention by grabbing our gut. Thank you for a very enjoyable and informative evening.

  19. Let Me Entertain You
    Let Me Entertain You says:

    Being a witness or listening to others tell the story in their own voice is more powerful than telling the story others have told. It’s true that we write best about those things that we think about day in and day out.

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