by Kate McMurray
This October, I was privileged to read from my book THE SILENCE OF THE STARS to a standing-room-only crowd at the legendary Stonewall Inn.
The bar itself is kind of a dive, to be honest, and always has been, but its significance in the history of the LGBT rights movement cannot be denied. This was the site, after all, of the famous riots that gave rise to the modern LGBT rights movement. So when I was offered the opportunity to read from my gay romance there, I jumped at it. But that’s kind of just a fun beside the point.
So readings. There seem to be some truths universally acknowledged about them. Pretty much everyone asked me if I was nervous or dreading it. I think that’s kind of expected now, huh? Writers are reclusive introverts, right? Now we’re asked to get on a stage in front of a room full of people? The horror!
Well, no. I will admit, the very first time I ever read, I was so nervous, my hands shook through most of it. But my fear was more of screwing up because I’m a perfectionist, not so much a fear of public speaking per se. Since then? It’s not so bad. It’s kind of fun, actually.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m no stranger to standing in front of people and talking. I was on debate teams in high school and college, and later taught debate classes. So I learned at a young age to improvise speeches in front of judges with score sheets. Reading published text is nothing in comparison. Also, as a violinist, I’ve had to play solos and do recitals, and I swear, nothing is more nerve-wracking. I’m the sort of musician who would rather be in an orchestra, to blend in.
So for this reading, in which I was reading from a book I’ve read from before, I wasn’t really nervous. I did have a brief moment of panic when I realized the lights in my face were so bright I couldn’t see the audience and I wondered if one of my friends had made it back from the bathroom in time, and also if a T. rex had been coming at me, I would not have noticed, and that made it a little tricky to breathe for a second. I tend to zone out when I’m reading, though. That’s an old debate trick, actually; if you read without thinking about what you’re reading, you’re less likely to stumble, so I kind of go into autopilot when I’ve got text in front of me to read aloud. (I circle words that I mean to emphasize in my hard copy—also an old debate trick—so my brain knows what to do there, too.)
Anyway. My point is that readings, while not exactly no sweat, are not too traumatic for me, so I like to do them, just like I like doing conferences because I like talking to people. It’s kind of a manner of framing. I find that so much advice to authors is “how to survive this…” as if attending a conference were walking into a war zone.
The thing with any kind of promotion be it in person or online, is that if you’re doing something you actively hate doing, it’s going to be clear to everyone. If reading in front of people is unbearable, it’s not the right promotional opportunity for you. Readings can be great. I’ve bought books at events like Lady Jane’s Salon by authors I was unfamiliar with before-hand because the reading knocked my socks off.
If reading in front of people is not one of your strengths, there are many other avenues for promotion. I’m not exactly saying, “Don’t do it!” There are ways to triumph over nerves at a reading. Practicing helps a lot. But if, for example, you’re the sort of author who is socially phobic enough to spend most of a conference in your hotel room, you’re probably not getting the most bang for your buck. No offense to those with social anxiety, which is a real issue a lot of people face, but if you have to put yourself through trauma for the sake of promoting a book? It might be time to find another promotional avenue.
I like doing promotion in person and am less good at the Internet. I update my blog and Twitter sporadically and rarely post to Facebook. (I actively hate Facebook, in fact.) Your mileage may vary. If you’re better at online promotion, that is certainly a most excellent way to meet readers, without even changing out of your pajamas. If getting near social media gives you hives, there are other avenues—maybe a long-form blog is something you’re better suited for. Maybe you want to reach readers with a newsletter. But online, too, the same advice applies: if social media is something you have to survive, it’s probably not the best medium for you.
I think of it this way. I don’t just want to survive. I want to thrive as an author and businesswoman. That means, in order to conquer the promotional mountain, I pick things I’m good at doing. I play to my strengths. I like Twitter and think it’s fun, so I put the bulk of my social media energy there; likewise, if you’re a Facebook addict, parlay that into book promotion. I’m not the best at posting to my blog regularly, but I am great at conferences and I love doing panels and readings. Pick something you like and are good at, and promotion will feel
like less of a slog.
Doing promotional work you like will also help you keep the message upbeat and positive. You want to celebrate your work, not give the impression you’re pushing your book on the unwilling masses. I think we, and women in particular, tend to feel like we should be quiet and not crowing about our achievements too much.
There’s also a tendency to go negative, especially online when you can’t see the faces of the people you’re talking to. But hey, you wrote a book! That’s awesome. And there are people out there who want to read it. So find effective ways to tell them about it.♥
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She’s currently serving as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.