The Writer

What is expected of you when you ‘become’ a writer? Or rather, you’re published – you’ve received an advance, got copies of your book sitting on the shelf, people are asking for your autograph, and dear old Aunt Enid has stopped muttering about you being a drain on society and isn’t it time you got yourself a real job, not to mention a husband.

Well, obviously keep writing. One book does not a career make … the next book is always required. You also, unfortunately, need to learn to ‘perform’. That means readings, book signings, interviews, talking to people in the supermarket who recognise you from your author photo and are now eyeing your choice of full fat vanilla yoghurt in a judgmental manner – okay, that may just be Aunt Enid stalking you.

And so, please master the following arts:

1. Reading aloud to an audience. Practise in private. Choose a passage that is short enough to be an easy read for you and an easy listen for an audience – 5 minutes can be a very long time. Learn to control your breathing and pace while reading aloud – if you’re getting out of breath while reading, it’s hard for people to understand you and also for them to fall into the comfortable rhythm of your voice and story.

2. Selecting a passage to read. Choose part of your book or new work where something happens – preferably not the end of the book as there’s nothing worse for a reader/new book purchaser than learning the butler did it before you’ve started reading. Make it a long enough passage that it will engage listeners and give them an idea of important characters and what’s happening to them. Finish on a high note, preferably a cliffhanging moment, so people want to know what happens and those who’ve not bought the book, will rush out and do so. Immediately.

3. Signing books. When you’re sitting at the little table set up for you at the bookshop where your reading has just taken place, trusty quill at the ready, smile at people and chat. Ask their name and if the book is for them. Do more than just sign your name – try to personalise it. Someone like Neil Gaiman will stay late, way beyond the call of the reasonable to make sure everyone who brings a book of his along to sign, gets what they came for. Take a leaf from his book.

4. Talking to the employees of the bookshop. These are the folk who will recommend your book to prospective readers. They are the ones who decide if your book is going to be face out, spine out, or have its own little book castle at the front door or near the cash register … or indeed near the toilets. Be nice. They are not excrement-kickers, they are part of your guerilla sales and marketing team. Be nice – in fact, take choclit.

5. Be polite to newbie writers. There are sure to be some in the audience, asking craft and career questions, so be supportive and sprinkle a little good karma dust around and be helpful. Of course, if it starts to look like stalking, then feel free to step away. But in general, try to be helpful in a professional, detached manner … and don’t make them look stupid even if their questions are a bit dumb – we’ve all got to start somewhere.

6. Telling anecdotes. You don’t have to be the funniest person in the room, but do try to have some amusing anecdotes about the book, what led you to write it, writing it, etc – it gives an audience a nice little insight into the creation of your work. Don’t tell long, boring, irrelevant, rambling stories that will raise snores … think about what you’re going to say before you turn up at the door of the bookshop. Don’t wing it, especially if you’re new at the game. And if you’re doing an interview (radio, tv) or a panel at a writers festival, be prepared for questions about your own work AND try to learn something about the people you’ll be on the panel with – there’s nothing worse than seeing 3 or 4 people on a panel who’ve never met, never chatted and know nothing about each other … and look completely uninterested in the process.

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21 Responses to The Writer

  1. Thank you Angela, for this post.

    Posts like these enable me to forget my drab, dreary, grey, nay, black, suicidal, yawning-abyss-of-despair, financial-institution surroundings and imagine myself a REAL WRITER, much like a character in Murnane’s The Plains, imagining a narrator who is dreaming another character setting off through the endless grasslands of desire to that mansion on the hill (shades of Fleetwood Mac as well?) where the pure Platonic forms of readers gather in Tuscan-lit rooms with tall windows on which guase curtains blow eternally in the breeze to hear and celebrate with her the universal achievements of grassland writers…

    …What? What? What requirements? They didn’t even answer my email! Noone’s available for this workshop. I’m a business analyst, not a side-show carney spruiker!…..

    …sorry Angela. Must go….

  2. Um, I meant “gauze”, not guase. The phone had started ringing, I was stressed, I couldn’t type….

  3. Cat Sparks says:

    But how do you get the kitty out of the typewriter?

  4. angelaslatter says:

    OUT??? Do you know how hard it was to get it IN!!??

  5. jason nahrung says:

    McDermott read your blog. Now she’s crying 🙂

  6. Nicky says:

    I wanna know a)how you change the ink ribbon of that typewriter & b)how the kitty has the tensile strength in its tail to use for typing. (I probably have that word wrong. I don’t care I’ve been doing too much teaching & brain is now numb/only capable of short monosyllabic length…mostly).

  7. angelaslatter says:

    With tears of joy, right? Coz she’s totally one-we-prepared-earlier, yeah?

  8. angelaslatter says:

    You go sit in corner …

  9. favel says:

    very great advice from the hardest working writer I know – and who told me about a very strange but wonderful weekly workshop called write club – where people yell at you if you stop typing…

  10. angelaslatter says:

    Hey, it makes you write!

  11. Jeff Chapman says:

    Hi Angela,

    I stumbled across your blog today from a link on Brendan Carson’s blog. (I’m one of the readers for his novel.) There is a wealth of information here to mine. I’m also a fan of fairy tales both as a reader and writer. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time here in the coming weeks. It appears this post, “The Writer”, is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Thanks for all your work.

  12. Lynne Green says:

    This is a brilliant post, Miss Angela. And it will cut down on questions from newbies in the audience!

  13. angelaslatter says:

    Cheers, Jeff – sometimes I try to be helpful 🙂

  14. angelaslatter says:

    Zanks, Miss Lynne 🙂

  15. Ben says:

    Or the book signing reality that probably only one or two people may ask for a signature while the remainder walk past your little desk with sidelong glances (half-pitying) and disparaging thoughts at the genre novel you’ve created.

    Ah the lunch time crowd at Post Office square, Angus&Robertson…

  16. angelaslatter says:

    Well, sure you can sit around having genre resentment and stockpiling weaponry, Ben, or you could be positive about your chances and do the stuff that helps those chances improve! But hey, each to their own choice of writerrly personality.

  17. Jason Black says:

    Great tips!

    Here I was, all set to encounter another blog about “Show versus Tell” or whatever, only to be very pleasantly surprised. Nice job.

    The only thing I’d add is: if you have a fear of the kind of public speaking that a successful author’s life really does entail, conquer it ahead of time. A great way to do that (well, one way that absolutely worked wonders for me, anyway) is to join your local Toastmasters International club.

    Just like writers join critique groups to get feedback on their writing, Toastmasters provides a supportive, comfortable forum for getting feedback (and practice!) on public speaking. Absolutely invaluable.

  18. angelaslatter says:

    Cheers, Jason – also some excellent advice there 🙂

  19. Harry Markov says:

    I would have been clueless about 1. At the university book club, where we mostly read our work rather than discuss books per se, I have noticed how much I suck at reading out loud and I mostly think that you either have or not. I think that there may be some truth to that, but practice seems so easy to figure out and yet I did not.

    Thanks a lot. 🙂

  20. angelaslatter says:

    Cheers, Harry. It’s all about the practise – eventually it gets easier, or at least it’s no longer something that makes you want to throw up all the time! 🙂