Recently, a friend asked me how I get through interviews and Q&A sessions at book events. How do I know what to say? How do I keep from sounding dumb? Authors, especially, seem to be an overall introverted bunch (there are exceptions!), so how does one turn themselves on for these kinds of things?
This was a huge concern for me, too! Writers spend so much time not just alone in front of the keyboard, but revising everything we say — and you can’t rewind and edit your phrase to make it perfect when you’re standing in front of a crowd of people. You’re stuck with whatever just came out of your mouth.
Though I’m still in a constant state of learning how to avoid making a fool of myself, I did a few things that helped me keep my face from going scarlet every five seconds:
1. I looked at all the author interviews I could find online. I pulled out all the questions they were asked, figured out how I’d answer, read what other authors said — that sort of thing. I also compiled a master document with my answers to dozens of questions.
So I did a lot of prep work before anyone ever sent an interview request, which felt a bit presumptuous, but was very, very useful for showing me what kind of things readers tend to ask about.
2. When I met my publisher for the first time, she (very nicely) asked me where I got the idea for my book. I sort of shrugged and said I didn’t know. She also asked me another book-relevant question, that I gave a one-word answer for. And (again, very nicely), she sighed and said I’d need to work on my responses to those sorts of questions. My responses needed to be more interesting, she said.
So I began practicing my stories. You know, the ones people ask about a lot: where did the idea come from, how the book sold, behind the cover, and any funny/inspiring stories that might get told a lot. I wrote them down, told them out loud, and the first few times I had to tell the stories in front of a crowd, I was still very nervous — but I knew what I was going to say.
3. I live in the middle-of-nowhere Virginia, so we don’t get a lot of book signings out here, but I tried to go to as many as I could — and watch signing events online (live or on YouTube) — and study how the authors responded to questions and how they interacted with the audience. I wanted to know what worked for getting a reaction from the audience.
(Yeah, I realize that could sound a little creepy.)
4. For panels with Q&A sessions, I like to have a few answers for various questions, because someone else will inevitably have your answer, too. Which is tough if you’re the last person to answer the question! (But really, sometimes I just end it with “Ditto!”)
5. This one isn’t prep-work, but it’s something I immediately wanted to put into practice (not just for interviews and events, but for life, really): stay positive.
Which basically means I avoid saying anything negative. If a reader asks about a book I read but didn’t like, I never say I didn’t like it; I praise it for something it did well. If an interviewer asks me to list some books I don’t like — I simply don’t answer that question.
Sometimes this can be a challenge, and sometimes I say things I wish I could rewind and change. But moving past it quickly (rather than trying to defend or explain or backpedal) helps, especially ending on a positive, encouraging note.
Friendliness, a positive attitude, and encouragement can go a long way when speaking in public.
And, I’m going to say it again: practice. The more events I do, the more comfortable I get doing them.
What about you? Any thoughts? Ideas? Tricks for breaking out of your introvert shell in order to speak above mouse volume?
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of INCARNATE and ASUNDER (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.