Monday, September 19, 2011

Author Teresa Frohock Discusses Giving a Successful Book Reading

Please welcome guest blogger and author, Teresa Frohock.

Raised in a small town, Teresa Frohock learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction collection of her local library. She eventually moved away from Reidsville and lived in Virginia and South Carolina before returning to North Carolina, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.

Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her debut novel.

Teresa can be found most often at her blog and website Every now and then, she heads over to Tumblr and sends out Dark Thoughts, links to movies and reviews that catch her eye. You can also follow Teresa on Twitter and join her author page on Facebook

I’d like to thank Nora for asking me to share my experience with giving a book talk. It’s not something I gave a lot of thought to when I was writing my novel. That’s a good thing, because I am such an introvert, I probably would have hemorrhaged at the very idea of standing up in front of people and reading them scenes that I wrote at two o’clock in the morning with a box of Kleenex at hand.

I’ve done two book talks now; one went splendidly, the second one not-so-good.

The first talk I gave was at my release party. It went extremely well, lasted about forty to forty-five minutes, and I was very comfortable sharing why I had written the novel with family and friends. I even read a few pages for them. They were an appreciative audience and that helped immensely.

The second talk I did was at the library where I work. That was a lot scarier, not because I was speaking before complete strangers, but because these were co-workers and colleagues.  I knew I would be nervous; however, I had no idea that my brain would immediately cease to function the moment I got behind the podium. Since the first session had gone so beautifully impromptu, I thought I would be able to do it a second time with nothing more than a bulleted list of speaking points.

Not so.

I experienced some form of Vulcan mind-wipe, stuttered horribly, and suffered long pauses of silence. Frankly, I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone being as interested in this stuff as I am. I mumbled when I read passages from the book, because I was sure they would hate it and see it as trite. I only became comfortable toward the end of the talk when I was engaged with the audience. It was horrible—for me and I’m sure for my audience too.

Since I have an opportunity to redeem myself at an upcoming function, I decided to make a list of things that will enable me to do a better job. Other than the obvious pointer of practice, practice, practice, I thought I would share some things I intend to do differently in the future:

Ask the coordinator of the event how long they want you to talk. I try to keep the talk at forty minutes with plenty of time for questions and answers after the talk. This time-frame gives me twenty minutes to play with, so if I find a topic really engages the audience’s interest, I can expand on it.

Have everything written down. This is where I really blew it on my second talk. I should have had everything that I wanted to say written down. BUT! [you say] Doesn’t that kill the spontaneity of the talk? No. If you get up behind the podium and your mind suddenly goes blank, you’ve got actual words in front of you. This enables you to fake it until you feel yourself engage with the audience. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there if you need it.

Turn off the negative voices. You know which voices I’m talking about: the ones that say, “I’m not good enough” or “OMG, he’s yawning, I’ve bored him death” or my personal favorite “They don’t want to hear about my book, they want to hear about a REAL writer.”

Those voices. Turn them off. You ARE good enough, people took time out of their schedules to be with you and hear about YOUR book, not Neil Gaiman’s books or Stephen King’s books, but YOUR book. There are hoards of other book events going on all the time. If people have come to hear you talk, then it is your responsibility to talk about your book. Speak well of it.

Plant a friend in the audience. Sounds silly, but if you find you can’t turn those voices off, ask a friend to go with you. Have them sit in the back. If at any point during the talk, the voices start to yammer, look up and make eye contact with your friend. The friend’s job is to smile and nod encouragingly at you. After a while, it will feel like you’re talking to your friend and not a group of strangers.

Pay attention to the time and your audience. If people start to wiggle in their chairs, it means their butts are going to sleep; this often interferes with brain waves for some reason. If you see people getting squirmy, either call a break or try to wrap things up, depending on what you’ve worked out in advance with the coordinator of the event.

Have fun. This is not about impressing people with your vast literary knowledge. If people want to hear about Literature-with-a-capital-L, they will take a college course in Literature-with-a-capital-L. People want to hear your story too. They want to know that you’ve endured the same trials and tribulations toward publication that they have. They’re not expecting you to divulge some deep literary secret; they just want to hear about your book; what motivated you to tell this particular story and how you went about the process. If you’re having fun, they will have fun, and that is what it is all about.

A book talk is a lot like teaching; you need to know your subject, but it’s also a performance art. Both of my audiences were incredibly tolerant of my failure and my success, and they were pulling for me to do well, I could see it in their eyes. Admit to them that you’re nervous, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most importantly, be yourself. You and your novel are worth their attention. Your audience knows it or they wouldn’t have come to hear you talk.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale ( / July 1, 2011)

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina's soul, but Catarina doesn't want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell.

When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina's wrath isn’t so easy to escape. In the end, she will force him once more to choose between losing Rachael or opening the Hell Gates so the Fallen's hordes may overrun Earth, their last obstacle before reaching Heaven's Gates.


Jonathan said...

Great stuff. Thanks for the insights. Hopefully I'll get to attend one of your readings some day!

Teresa said...

That would be so wonderful, Jonathan! I'm still practicing, but I feel more confident now.