Last week I had my first author panel.
A group of Sisters in Crime authors with stories in the multi-award nominated (I love typing that, even though my story was not a nominee) anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays did a panel at my library. Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, Clyde Linsley, Cathy Wiley, and I met on September 19, AKA Talk Like a Pirate Day, to chat about the anthology, writing short stories, and how we use the holidays in our work.
The other authors, panel veterans all, spoke knowledgeably about their writing processes, shared amusing stories about their research, spoke gracefully about their books without a hard sell, and in Cathy’s case, grabbed the audience by dressing up as one of their characters (in her case, a pirate). Was the audience engaged? The panel went for two hours and several attendees asked for another Sisters in Crime visit, so I would say so.
I actually felt a lot more comfortable on the panel than I had expected. Talking with strangers all day at work, and doing story times and school visits paid off. It was great to be on a panel with such collegial folks who definitely had panelist skills and a great comfort level talking about themselves and their work.
I learned so much that day and had a wonderful time, but I also discovered areas for improvement. Just as a director gives a theater cast notes on what they can do to improve their performance, I have Notes to Self to improve my panel performance.
Panel Notes to Self
1. Do not forget that you are on a panel. I adore going to author panels to get the inside scoop on the writing process and to spend time listening to my favorite authors. I am embarrassed to admit that I was having such a good time listening to the other panelists that at times I FORGOT that I was on the panel. I blanked out when a lady in the audience asked me the softest of softball questions. Note to self: No matter how much fun you are having listening to the other panelists, remember where you are!
2. Some people are talkers and some are listeners. I am a listener. You have to talk on a panel. Note to self: Talk.
3. Not only do you have to talk, you have to talk about yourself. Horrors! To a native New Englander like me, this is like saying you have to chew with your mouth open. Note to self: Get over it.
4. Not only do you have to talk, you have to talk with other writers. Let’s face it. Writers are verbal people. If you have mastered the verbal judo that lets you slip gracefully into a conversation, please share. Donna Andrews’ right ear was treated to me saying a variety of word bits like “Th-“ and “Ye-“ as I tried to jump in but never quite finished a sentence. Note to self: Observe how other authors find their way into the conversation.
5. Show people your books. OK, this was a big time fail. I had brought a copy of the book under discussion, but I forgot the anthology with my other story, “Keep It Simple” in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder. (See how I did that?) Folks asked about This Job Is Murder and I didn’t have a copy of that anthology to show them. Yikes! Panel 101, right? Visual aids. Note to self: Make sure you have a copy of all books that are pertinent to the panel’s topic.
Any further notes for newbie panelists? Please share in the comments.