Sunday, May 15, 2016

When You're Reading to an Empty Room

photo by Bishop O'Connell on occasion of his first reading - empty chairs

Today's photo does double-work. This is the first post to the NEW and rebranded blog, formerly the Word Whores and now the SFF Seven!

For those who don't know, "SFF" stands for Science Fiction & Fantasy - a good umbrella term for this group.

As I write this post, it looks a little empty around here. That's what happens when you move out all the silk reclining chaises and red velvet curtains. The new furniture is on order. At least we kept the wet bar from the old Bordello.

Some things never change.

This week's topic is Tips for Book Signings and Readings. I immediately thought of my friend, Bishop O'Connell, who snapped the photo above at his first big con reading.

Bishop (yes, that's really his given name - good thing he didn't go into the clergy, huh?) is a fellow member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, motto: yes, we know there should be another "F"). He writes super cool fairy tale retellings and the first of his American Faerie Tale series came out in late 2014. He's still getting accustomed to being an author at cons and so forth. So when he attended a con and had his first "50 minutes with..." session, he came to the SFWA chat room to ask for advice.

This is something that SFF conventions do pretty typically, so far as I can tell. If you're willing to read, they set you up with an hour time slot (minus a ten-minute passing period), so all of your fans can hang with you exclusively. This is great if you actually HAVE fans. Who are also at the con. And who aren't going to "50 minutes with George R.R. Martin" instead.

The first time I got this on MY con schedule - and yes, opposite George - I freaked, too. I totally got where Bishop was coming from. Some of his major questions:

1) How do I fill the time?

There were four or five of us hanging in the chat room at the time, so he got varying answers. That's one of the great things about SFWA - you get people at all stages of their careers weighing in. At any rate, I suggested chatting with the audience first, finding out if they're mostly readers or aspiring writers and tailoring from there. An audience of mostly aspiring writers will always want to hear the "how I got published" story - and it's really helpful for them to hear, as every writer takes a different path. If the audience is mostly readers, they want to hear about the books. If you strike gold, they've already read some and will have questions. I like to do a blend of talking about my process, the books, answering questions and only read for ~20 minutes.

2) What to read and for how long?

I like to keep the reading part short, as I mentioned above. Some authors sit there and read for 50 minutes solid and I've seen rapt audiences for that. I find it dull myself, but that could be me. I suggested picking a scene that can be read in its entirety at that length, and that's either funny or action-packed. If I have established fans there, I ask them to pick the scene and it's interesting how often they agree on the choice. Then I'll use that scene for readings from that book in the future.

3) What if nobody shows up?

This is the eternal question. And, when I saw Bishop tweet the photo above, I winced for him. It's really hard when no one shows up. The only consolation is that IT'S HAPPENED TO EVERY ONE OF US. Quite a few fellow authors saw Bishop's tweet and chimed in with empathy of been there, done that, burned the t-shirt. If you can, you seed the room with plants - promise to buy your friends drinks if they'll come. Food can work to lure in the hungry con-goer.

In the end though, sometimes you're talking to an empty room. And that's okay, too. It means nothing, except that you'll have a great photo to share when you're Guest of Honor at a con someday. Maybe you'll walk across the hall to the newbie author slotted against you, show them the pic, and say hi.

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