Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Evening of Literacy and Learning

(April 16, 2009)

Tonight I attended a local authors' event sponsored by the county literacy council at the Hastings store in town. Eighteen authors participated, representing all different genres. Each author was given five or so minutes to make a presentation, and I was curious to see how they would handle them. From my observation, I've drawn several conclusions about what to do when I finally am involved in an authors' event as an author.

1) Be prepared. There were a couple of the authors who admitted, first thing, that they had problems with their vision, and then proceeded to read with their noses in the book or to stumble their way through the selection. My thoughts on that? If you KNOW you have an event coming up, and you KNOW you have issues with something like vision, then you ought to take steps to be ready. Print out your selection in a larger font so you can see it well; practice reading it aloud ahead of time. Do whatever it takes to avoid looking like an unprepared amateur.

2) It's not about you. Several of the authors started off by telling us when they first knew they wanted to be a writer. The first time through, that was mildly interesting, but by the time you've heard four or five people say they have been writing since they were (fill in the blank) years old, you begin to start wondering what's on the magazine rack you're sitting against. The best presentations were the ones that focused on something related to the book or that the audience could relate to. One woman, whose book was a novel based in the Civil War, told a couple of stories of Civil War events in the local area. Another woman, who had written a children's book about fire safety, had a testimonial from a little girl who said what she learned from the book helped her get herself and her father out their home when it caught on fire. The last speaker, a man who had written an "automythography," was very wise - he made a joke about "being all that stood between the audience and their pajamas" and then gave a very concise overview of his book. It makes me think of one of the principles I teach in speech class: "Consideration of the audience is important at every stage of speech preparation and delivery."

3) Don't be pretentious. Two of the authors mentioned comments by reviewers. One said his work had been compared favorably to Orwell's Animal Farm, and the other said a review said his work is a combination of the National Enquirer and the Bagadavita. I guess if you've got reviews, you want to use them for all they're worth, but somehow those comments just seemed out of place in a Hastings store in front of small-town people on a Thursday night when you're part of a panel that includes a children's book and a manual on how to pitch.

4) Don't look cheap. I've heard people say if you're going to have a website, you need to cough up the money to buy your own domain name, and now I know why. One woman gave her web address as "www.freesites/something," and that word "free" just really jumped out.

5) Look like you're having fun. One of my favorite presentations for the night was from a high school maintenance man who had written a book of poetry. He gave the audience genuine smiles, and he performed a couple of poems with some enthusiasm. He seemed genuinely glad that we were there to hear his poetry. Other authors just seemed sort of uncomfortable and treated the audience like "customers" there to maybe buy a book.

I know it's easy to sit in front of the magazine rack and listen instead of being one of the presenters. But I hope I can take what I learned from my observations this evening and put them to good use if I ever DO find myself behind the presenter's table.

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