Go Forth and Be Terrible!

By J.J. Hensley

Writers are awful.  No chapter we ever write is good enough.  No character deep enough.  No description is adequately precise. We take another look at the manuscript we somehow created and decide that we have constructed stories that are too complex, yet somehow overly simplistic. In the mirror you see yourself for what you really are: a semi-literate McGuyver attempting to hold a storyline together with duct tape and bubblegum.  If only we could all have McGuyver’s hair.

None of it is right.  Nothing.

Now, the mess of the book you created is out there and it is time to step up the marketing.  Naturally, this causes us a good deal of anxiety.  Many writers have a standing reservation at Cafe Introverted and shy away from public speaking.  The anxiety we feel is completely understandable.  There are plenty of valid concerns we have when it comes to addressing a live audience.   Some of the more common are:

What if I describe my book and everyone thinks it’s stupid?

What if I misspeak and say something dumb?

What if I trip?  Spill water down my shirt?  Or do both at the same time?

What if nobody shows up?

What if EVERYBODY shows up?

Let’s address each of these concerns one by one.

What if I describe my book and everyone thinks it’s stupid?

This one is easy.  I have great some great news for you. The chances are your book is available online and possibly on the shelves of many bookstores.  The book description is readily available to anyone who has Internet access or can make his or her way into the local book retailer to read your book jacket.  So congratulations!  If your book description is dumb, it’s already out there!  In fact when you are an author in the United States, your incompetence goes on file permanently with the Library of Congress.  Our insecurities are immortalized!  Yay.

Look, as an author you are likely to be overly critical when it comes to anything you’ve written, so why should this be any different?  Get up there and own it!  People usually don’t show up at a book event by accident, so the odds are the audience members have already read the description and THEY STILL SHOWED UP. 

What if I misspeak and say something dumb?

To most people, writing a book is a mystery in itself.  To many, the entire concept of piecing together a manuscript and seeing it through to publication is foreign and fascinating.  Live events are a wonderful way for readers to put a human face on a business that can seem impersonal. Readers want the human perspective.  Humans are imperfect and nobody expects you to be any different.  Be prepared and professional, but do not worry about being perfect.

What if I trip?  Or spill water down my shirt?  Or do both at the same time?

Writers all over the world hold unmemorable events every day.  A blunder might make your event stand out! If you physically stumble, claim crime fiction writers trip over imaginary dead bodies all the time.  If you spill water, compare yourself to the many famous crime writers who had drinking problems.  If you trip while dousing yourself with water… try to refrain from breaking into “Maniac” and re-enacting that scene from Flashdance – as tempting as it may be. 

What if only a few people show up?

Then, how bad can it be? If you mess up, nobody will be there to see it.  Consider it a practice session for when you are speaking to 200 people because you’re the biggest thing since Lee Child.

What if EVERYBODY shows up?

Ha!  You aren’t Lee Child yet so don’t worry about it.  However, if you do happen to be speaking to a large audience then don’t stress out.  I was at an event one time when an author who was scheduled to speak was shocked to find a sizeable crowd had assembled.  The visibly nervous writer turned to me and said, “There are a lot of people out there.  I wasn’t expecting that many.  What do I do now?”  I thought for a moment before I said, “Speak louder, so they can hear you in the back rows.”  Because what else can you do?

The speaking component of the writing business can be intimidating, but it can be conquered.  As writers, we can be sensitive to criticism and understandably so. 

Simon7893 is going to post a one-star review about your book because UPS left box that contained it in the rain.  Ethel at the local book club is going to tell you she hated your book because the font was too small.  MysteryReader987 is going to blast you on his blog because he didn’t like the way the narrator sounded on the audiobook edition of your novel.  It’s okay.  Relish the fact that at some point you started with a blank page and ended up writing a book.  Celebrate those moments when you get to share your experiences.  And don’t worry about your performance.  You’re an author!  No matter how well you do, you’re not going to think it’s good enough.  So, get out there and take the bull by the horns!  At least you’ll have a front row seat if you happen to get gored.

J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  He graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University. Hensley’s works include the novels MEASURE TWICE and RESOLVE; the latter was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was a finalist for Best First Novel at the 2014 Thriller Awards.