I don’t know if isolation is a requirement or a side effect of the indie lifestyle. I do know that I spend a lot of time alone. This tweaks up a whole crazy busload of quirks. I talk to myself. I answer my own rhetorical questions. At times, in my black, coffee-stained hoodie, I could be mistaken for a shorter version of the Unabomber.
And then I write a book and get it published. Sure, I could hunker down with my moldy coffee mugs, fingernails reaching Howard Hughes lengths, husband threatening to hog-tie me and drive me to the hair salon, where I’ll be forcibly pruned and sheared. But I’ve been told by professionals who know these things that a good way to sell books is to actually GO OUTSIDE and TALK TO PEOPLE IN GROUPS.
Okay, I have the “going outside” part down. I like outside. There are trees. Bookstores. Better coffee than I can make at home, with the foamy milk and the little stirrers that used to have tiny spoons on the end until someone clued them in that people were snorting cocaine off them. But talking to big groups? Yikes. When faced with people in large numbers in small spaces, my sweat glands go into overdrive, my heart pounds, my face flushes, my mouth goes dry, and if I don’t get out of there by the time the mental countdown hits zero, I will find a quiet corner and go into a fetal curl.
That’s fetal, people. Hey. My eyes are up here.
Anyway, getting “out there” can be a vital part of being an author, making sales, and generating interest for your next book. But what if just thinking about speaking in front of a group makes you want to throw up?
Forget the clichés about imagining the audience in their underwear. That would horrify me even more than speaking in public.
Remember why you are there. Unless you have been forced at gunpoint to go to the local library and talk about your book, you agreed to speak at this event. People chose to show up. They made the effort. Now, what are you going to do for them? Reframe your presentation and your attitude toward helping your audience. I know. You’re tired of everyone saying it’s not about you. But this time, it’s about THEM. You’re sharing information, entertaining them, or selling them on your witty, adorable self, which sells your book. At one of my events, I
invited myself was honored to participate in a panel discussion for aspiring authors on what to expect during and after publication. This took the focus off my little crazy-salad of neuroses and put it on what I could do for them. Knowing that I was there to HELP people was an Oprah-esque “aha” moment for me, which changed public speaking from a nail-gnawing horror into something…dare I say it…fun.
Be prepared. You’ve memorized your hundred-word pitch. You know everything about your protagonist down to her preferred method of birth control. But if you’re nervous about public speaking, winging it is a sure way to get off track and start blathering on about the mating habits of the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Write out your entire speech if you need to. Practice. Ask a friend for feedback. Or practice in front of a mirror, no matter how stupid it feels. You might catch your tendency to let your tongue loll out when considering your next point. (I’ve been meaning to tell you, dude…) Revise your script as needed. Practice until you are comfortable enough to ditch it for a few key bullet points so you can occasionally look up at your audience. People like eye contact, but not the overly long kind that makes them file restraining orders. Are you reading from your book? Choose an engaging excerpt. And slow. The. Heck. Down. Most of us read too fast, especially when nervous. Print out the passage in an easy-to-read font. Add (PAUSE) everywhere you need to remind yourself to pause. (Just don’t say the word “pause.”)
Do recon. The bookstore may have a crackerjack staff promoting your event, but don’t bet on it. Manpower and budgets are limited. Ask what they do and what they expect you to do. This will help avoid awkward mix-ups like having the local kindergarten class in the house when you’d planned to read erotica. Or having no one show up at all, which sucks.
Be the master of your domain. Bring your best self: rested, fed, shaved, showered, confident. Arrive early. Settle into the space. Bring your notes. Bring whatever legal doodads make you comfortable. My mouth gets dry when I speak, so I always have a bottle of
hooch spring water and my favorite lip balm. Also, tuck some extra books in the trunk of your car or behind your display table. Better to have them and not need them than to run out.
And, finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if public speaking truly reduces you to the pitch and vibration of a terrified chihuahua. Find your local branch of Toastmasters so you can practice speaking in a safe environment where people won’t throw things or heckle you. Unless you like that sort of thing.
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Laurie Boris is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novel, THE JOKE’S ON ME and the upcoming DRAWING BREATH, due out in May. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her website: http://laurieboris.com