This is a blog inspired by Myslexia – Www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames – to take part in a wider blog project. Thank you for the inspiration!
Most authors are, by nature, shy and retiring creatures. It’s an introverted career path, calling for long periods of silence, deep though and not interacting with others. Writers like to hide from the world, emerging blinking into the light between chapters, or when the coffee calls. However, once the book is written, and the reality of trying to sell it kicks in, the author has to become someone who can talk in public.
Podcasts, interviews, talks, book readings, workshops, panels at events… to sell books an author has to connect with people, and for many this is a tricky process. Last weekend, I was involved in a short story competition. One author confessed to never having used a microphone before, no doubt there were others with limited stage experience. They all did brilliantly, but I’ve seen authors caught like rabbits in the headlights at other times. It doesn’t matter how good you are on paper, it won’t help you when you have to get your body and voice in front of people.
On this score I have been tremendously lucky, because I came to the stage through folk music. I started singing floor spots in a folk club, and went on to singing floor spots on nights when there were performers booked. Next stop, MCing nights, and doing the odd small gig, and busking. I was gigging with someone, so could hide behind them. Having a process of building confidence and stage skills really helps, and that’s available some places.
When you get on a stage as an author, reading your own work, or talking about something, it’s all you. It’s totally exposed. Getting on stage as a folk singer, I have mostly sung other people’s songs, safe in the knowledge that the songs are excellent, and that other people have already agreed these songs are excellent. It’s a considerable comfort. A tune can carry the words, and when you’re signing, the pacing, phrasing, even how you deploy your voice is already dealt with. People can sing along, and in a set of songs, they tend to clap after each one, so you get little doses of reassurance that they don’t hate you. It’s much easier this way.
If the first time you get on a stage you do it to read, with a microphone, or talk, this is intimidating. Authors on stages need stagecraft as much as musicians do. You have to be able to look at the audience, talk to them, not just read to them. You have to be able to answer questions, and if you seem confident and relaxed, it’s a far better experience for them.
Most authors do not get away with avoiding public appearances, and if you want to be successful, it’s a necessary part of the mix. If you want to be good at being on a stage and it doesn’t come naturally, think like a musician. Find safe places to join in, where you can build your skills and confidence. Go out and watch other people doing it, and learn from their mistakes.
The thing is, very few of us are naturally good at standing up in front of people. Those who do it well make it look effortless. What you’re actually seeing is a carefully honed set of skills. If you are a shy and nervous woodland creature by nature, it’s just a case of learning how to appear otherwise for short periods of time.
Then at the end, they clap, and after the long silence of the writer’s shed, being applauded is a truly wonderful thing.