Monday, September 28, 2015

Notes to Self: My First Author Panel

Last week I had my first author panel.

I survived!

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.


  1. I’m a better (or at least more comfortable) moderator than panelist for many of the reasons you mentioned. The biggest problem is that Puritanical “who do you think you are to be talking about yourself” that came from my New England and Germanic roots.

    As with public speaking, it becomes easier and more natural with practice. Soon you’ll be the seasoned veteran and other newbies will be looking at you as a model (and isn’t THAT a scary thought).

    ~ Jim

  2. Thank you so much for promoting Homicidal Holidays, Shari. I was asked to be on the panel and had to decline because of being out of town. It would have been my first panel, too! I'm copying your notes because I would have been in the same position. I'm surprised it went on for two hours. How many people attended?

  3. I just survived my first book signing (anthology) and didn't have to refer to my list of "get the audience warmed up" questions.

    I loved it when someone asked where I got my ideas. "Just look around the room, there's plenty of material here."

  4. It sounds like you did very well for a first-timer. There were some excellent authors with you. And listening is never a bad idea.

  5. Shari --

    I had the good fortune to be in the audience for that panel, and I think you did a splendid job. You had a lovely, bright smile that made you look friendly and sincere, and you said things that the audience found helpful. At one point, you even made us laugh. No one would have known that this was your first panel. I would really like to see you on your next panel if you follow all your notes to yourself. You'll absolutely wow everyone.

  6. Nice to know someone else struggles with those puritanical hang ups, Jim. I remember your panel at Malice the year you all wore hats. I kept thinking to myself at this panel, Maybe I need a hat?

  7. Hi E. B., We had just over 20 people - which for a library program on the same weekend as a huge library-promoted Book Club Conference was great. I wish you could have been there. Your story had a less typical holiday which would have rounded things out nicely.

  8. Margaret, cheers to you! Another panel survivor! BTW, great line about ideas! I think everyone who reads it today will steal it.

  9. So true, Warren. It never hurts to listen. And the other authors were great - writers and panelists.

  10. Hi Grace, thank you so much for your kind words and for coming to the panel. It was wonderful to look out and see you there!

  11. Shari, I had my very first author panel at Malice, and like you I really worried about it, but it went much better than I expected and I'm sure it went better than you thought it did.

  12. I didn't notice you were trying to break in at times. If this had been a convention panel, we'd have had a moderator to try to even the speaker's put and lure out the quieter ones. But as Grace said, you did great, Yankee instincts notwithstanding.

  13. Darn auto correct! That should say even the speakers out.

  14. Wonderful Shari, Great tips for someone like me who has not yet been on an author panel. I'm putting this in my future information file! PS I heard from friends that you did GREAT!

  15. Hi Gloria, I saw your author panel at Malice and never would have guessed it was your first one.

    Hi Barb, I am still laughing over your People to Kill File. That line made my hubby your fan!

    Hi Kait, I am sure you will be on a panel soon talking about your wonderful books!

  16. Yay, Shari!

    You mentioned the biggest newbie tip I could give a new author -- to go into the experience with this expectation: "I actually felt a lot more comfortable on the panel than I had expected."

  17. Hey, Shari --
    Thanks for sharing this! I'm sorry (again) that I had a conflict and missed the panel, but it was wonderful to talk to folks about it afterward, and so nice to get your own perspectives on it more fully here!
    Looking forward to your NEXT panel appearance!

  18. What a terrific group of authors. I'm sure the discussion was interesting--wish I could have been in the audience. Next time!

  19. Hi Gigi - Thank you! Often we're our own worst enemies with all the disaster scenarios we can conjure (writers - sheesh!)

    Hi Art - Sorry I will miss your panel tonight - it's a great line up. Looking forward to seeing your panel at B'con. It will be fascinating to see how you moderate a panel with all those authors!

    Hi Kara, I wish you could be there, too! Next time, I hope.

    Hi Sarah, Me, too!

  20. Sounds like the whole panel went really well, and that you did an outstanding job, esp. for your first panel!

    I've read all the stories in that anthology, and it's an outstanding group.