When I look back to the time before I was published, I had a definite picture in my mind about what my days as a “professional author” would look like. I’d write in the morning and read in the afternoon—either research material or new mystery releases to keep up with current trends.
Nowhere in that mental image did I include hours of marketing (cue hysterical laughter).
In the years since my first book came out, my daily schedule has morphed and pivoted as I adapted to changes in my status and changes in the publishing world. I still write in the morning. That part has remained fairly consistent. But my afternoons are rarely spent reading, at least not new releases. More often than not, I’m working on marketing, accounting, and all sorts of business stuff after lunch.
Up until this spring, I’d become proficient at speaking in front of crowds…something my younger self was horrible at. But I truly enjoyed interacting with an audience.
That all changed in March. Since then I (and most of my fellow authors) have had to build a new skillset: Being “on camera.” Whether it’s Zoom, Crowdcast, Facebook Live, Google Groups, or any of the new (or new to me) meeting platforms, suddenly I had to figure out how to interact with an audience that I either couldn’t see at all or was visible in tiny squares on my laptop’s screen. If they’re muted, I can’t tell if they’re laughing at my humor or if my joke fell flat. Questions often are read in the chat feature rather than asked by members of the audience. It’s all unnerving. And where to look? If I look at an audience member’s face to read their expressions, to them I’m not making eye contact. If I look at the camera, making it appear I’m looking right at them, I can’t see their reaction.
I miss face-to-face events.
But this is our current reality, and I try to make the best of it. Early on, I bought a new laptop and boosted my internet speed. I’ve tried various microphone/audio combos. My good pal, Liz Milliron, observed during one virtual conference that audience members’ biggest complaints involved audio. Too soft, too garbled, too echoey. It didn’t matter how wonderful your presentation was. If your audio was poor, no one paid attention. After much experimentation, I keep coming back to my old headphones and mic. I occasionally get teased about them, but I’ve yet to receive a complaint about my sound quality.
Lighting is another matter. I bought one of those ring lights, only to discover that it glares on the eyeglasses I need for seeing my notes. My laptop location has been another source of experimentation. I’ve learned the camera should be at or slightly above your eye level to be most flattering. So my current set up involves having my laptop propped on a box. I have a lamp on my desk that I can dim or brighten. It provides fill light (did you know I used to be a photographer?) while my main lighting comes from a window for day events or from the ring light, which I now set 45 degrees to the side instead of right in front, for evening events.
The most recent addition to my video set up has been the background. This, like the audio lesson, comes from audience members’ comments. They love seeing our writing world, messy or not. They love seeing our bookshelves with our awards. Unfortunately, my bookshelves aren’t very grand, and I don’t have any awards to show off. Someone in my book marketing group suggested posters.
Brilliant! For $8 each, I had four of my book covers enlarged and tacked the posters on the closet doors I’d been using for a backdrop during my virtual events.
Here’s a laptop-camera “selfie” I took before a virtual book club meeting last week. It’s not the greatest quality (the laptop does better video than still photos), but you get the idea.
Fellow authors, have you been doing any virtual events these days? If so, have you made any equipment purchases for that purpose? Readers, do you enjoy taking part in them? Do you have any additional advice for us (besides good audio is a must)?