Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Relax And Be Yourself

Since the November 2008, release of the latest in the Sam Harper Crime Mysteries, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, I’ve focused more attention at doing local talks and book signings. My first speaking engagement was at a library back in October. When it comes to public speaking, I’m no different than most. Although my heart doesn’t pound and my palms stay dry these days, it’s still not my favorite thing to do. But, I was determined to get through that talk one way or another. I spend several days, outlining my thoughts, typing my notes, highlighting sections in my books I wanted to read, and trying to memorize my lines. All this in an attempt to come across as “perfectly natural.”

On the day of the gathering, all eyes were on me and I quickly discovered that no amount of planning or rehearsing was going to save me. Worried that I’d forget to say a key word or phrase stressed me to the point that at times, I drew a blank in mid sentence. Yes, readers say I’m capable of crafting complex plots and creating well-developed characters, but I couldn’t remember a simple outline.

A few minutes into the talk I tossed out my notes and started to tell my story from the heart. Smiles eased across the faces before me, heads began to nod and questions started to pop up. Clearly, those people weren’t there for a speech, they just wanted to talk. They wanted to know who I was, why I had chosen to write, and how this middle-aged woman from Indiana had managed to “do it.”

Recently, an elementary school teacher friend of mine invited me to speak with her sorority group. When I called to confirm things, she said she was very excited and was looking forward to my speech. She gasped when I told her I didn’t have anything planned.

“But, but—” she said.

I assured her that everything would be fine, that I would say a few things about myself and my writing and then see what the group was most interested in. As it turned out, it was a great group of women and the evening was a huge success. I love meeting people and doing what is most natural to me; talking about my books and the Sam Harper character. But more important, in the eyes of those present, I was as real as the person sitting next to them. I was approachable; just another woman in the group who happened to be a published author. It was wonderful!

What I hope writers will take from this is that no one knows your journey or your writing better than you. Whether you’re doing a local talk or chatting online, the most important thing you can do is to be yourself, connect with your readers and have fun, because there’s nothing more contagious than that.

PS: Check out what one of my co-murderers from MB4, S. W. Vaughn created for me:

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Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (November 3, 2008)

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Your timing is perfect, Marta. I'm doing a reading Tuesday night. I haven't got anything planned. I did email the lady in charge and asked her what she could suggest. She hasn't got back to me.

I have attended a few readings, so I have those memories to fall back on. As far as planning goes, I guess I'll read two chapters. I worry about telling my story because it's been in all the newspapers a few times; do these people want to hear it again.

I'm going to play it by ear.


Kim Smith said...

I am so following your journey, Marta. You are doing everything right! And SW's trailer is just phenomenal!!!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Amen, Marta. Amen! I've done the same thing at big events - tried to just relax and be me. So much better than prepared speeches. But if you've done lots of interviews or radio shows already, you're already essentially prepared, having answered questions many times over. It helps!

s.w. vaughn said...

Ha! Great advice, Marta. :-) Though I have to admit, all this talk of . . . well, talking is starting to scare me. LOL

Me + talking in public = disaster!

But I can definitely see the sense in your approach. It's much easier to talk like you're sitting around a table at Denny's, instead of standing in front of a bunch of people you don't know who are supposed to be hanging on your every word.

*gah* /CHOKE/

I don't think I'll go out of my way to look for speaking engagements. LOL But if I am asked for one, I think I'll take your advice. :-)

Marta Stephens said...

SW, I completely understand where you're coming from but when you have that book with your name on the cove in your hand (and you will) wild horses won't be able to hold you back!

Informality has proven to be the best approach for me. It puts me at ease and creates an inviting environment for everyone.

I spoke with another book club last night. Very similar set up--nothing planned, just shared my experience on the road to publication.

Although I took several copies of my book with me, I only took out a couple of samples of each to pass around as I spoke. Those who had previously purchased my book, brought their copy in for my signature, the rest bought a copy on the spot without me ever needing to say I had a supply with me--didn't push the sale. But when one asked if I had them available, the rest in the group jumped in. It resulted in 100% sales.

for me the beauty of these talks is not the sale, but the human contact. Love it!