All About Author Panels: Tips and Suggestions (Plus, my SDCC Schedule!)
I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con tomorrow!! I am super excited. Last year I was pretty overwhelmed with the sheer size of it all, but this year I’m feeling like I have a much better handle on the schedule and what I want to do while I’m there.
Where to Find Me at San Diego Comic-Con
Friday, 11:00-12:00, MacKids Booth #1220: I’ll be signing Cinder and Scarlet and the first 20 people in line also get advance copies of CRESS.
The rest of Friday: Keep an eye out for Little Red Riding Hood (me!) and the Woodsman (my husband!) wandering the halls, and please say hello if you see me. I’ll have swag, too!
Saturday, 11:00-12:00, Room 23ABC: PANEL: WHEN GRRLS FALL IN LOVE: Romance and the YA Heroine.
I’ll be talking tough protagonists who can stay tough while falling in love. And holy cow, you guys, check out this line-up of authors!!
Holly Black – The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments series
Ally Condie – the Matched Series
Marissa Meyer – Scarlet
Lissa Price – Starters
Veronica Roth – Divergent series
Veronica Wolff – The Watchers series
Did I die a little bit when I saw my panel mates? Yes. Yes, I did.
I suspect the panel will be followed by another signing in the autographing area, but I don’t know that for sure. And there will not be CRESS ARCs at that one.
All About Author Panels
I’ve been meaning to blog about the somewhat obscure and can-be-intimidating aspects of author events lately, because I’ve met lots of debut authors in the past few months who are very nervous about the prospect of presenting their work to audiences (and understandably so!). So today I’m going to talk a little bit about author panels/group presentations, and next week I’ll talk about my experiences and advice for when you’re presenting solo.
So, what is an Author Panel?
A typical panel consists of a group of authors and a moderator presenting to an audience. The moderator might be another author, a blogger, a librarian, or a bookseller. Panels often take place at conventions, conferences, book festivals, schools, bookstores, and libraries.
I’ve been on panels with as few as three panelists and as many as ten, but I find that four or five panelists is just about perfect – it makes for good conversation while allowing everyone enough time to talk about their books and writing process. (That said, how many authors are on a panel usually isn’t up to us).
There’s often something that ties these specific authors together. They may all be from the same publisher (such as those featured on Macmillan’s Fierce Reads or Penguin’s Breathless Reads tours), or they may have books with a similar theme (such as the above mentioned tough-girls-in-love panel), or they may be part of a blogging group, or maybe they’re just friends who thought it would be fun to do an event together.
Most panels begin with introducing the authors and their work (either each author introduces themselves or the moderator introduces them), followed by the moderator asking questions and directing the conversation toward specific topics, followed by Q&A from the audience.
The Benefits of Author Panels
The first benefit is a personal one. In my opinion, author panels are a just a lot of fun to participate in. A great panel can feel like you’re sitting around a table chatting with old friends, even if you just met. You all have a love of books and writing in common, after all, and so many of us have common interests and subscribe to the same fandoms (Harry Potter, anyone?), that it’s usually pretty easy to forge connections with your panel mates.
From a sales/promotional perspective, author panels are great because you’re going to get fans from different authors in for the event, and hopefully they’ll hear you talk about your book and be intrigued enough to pick up a copy.
Preparing for an Author Panel
- If you can meet with the other panelists beforehand and discuss the format, that’s ideal. The more comfortable you are with each other, the better. I like to suggest to my fellow panelists that we keep the format conversational, and encourage everyone to comment on each other’s points and make jokes. It’s more fun for you and the audience that way, as opposed to a Question – Answer – Answer – Answer – Answer, Next Question format, which kind of drives me crazy.
But sometimes, if the panel is too large or you don’t have much chemistry, there’s just not much you can do to liven things up. Try your best.
- Practice summarizing your book.
- No, seriously. Practice summarizing your book.
Most panels begin by giving each author the chance to tell the audience what their book is about. Practice your short pitch beforehand, until it rolls naturally off your tongue. You should be able to give a basic synopsis of your book in under two minutes.
Why the emphasis here? Because I estimate about 30% of authors I meet really freak out when they have to summarize their books, but of all the things to be nervous about when it comes to presenting to an audience, this doesn’t have to be one of them. You wrote it, so you obviously know what it’s about! Read your query letter. Read the back cover copy. Read the synopsis posted on Amazon. Describe your protagonist and the problem their facing and leave the audience wanting to know more.
Just, please don’t say: “I’m so bad at this… I hate summarizing my book… I don’t know… it’s about a girl… who falls in love with this cute boy… and learns an important life lesson… it’s kind of coming-of-age story, I guess? And I think it’s kind of good and you’ll just have to read it if you want to know what it’s about.”
This convinces approximately no one to read your book. Don’t sell yourself, and your book, short like that.
- Sometimes the moderator will send you the questions before the event so you can be prepared. I rarely look at them because I prefer to wing it and hope for good conversation between the other panelists. But if knowing what to expect makes you more comfortable, by all means, read them and consider how you might respond to each one.
- If the panel revolves around a theme (i.e., strong female protagonists in YA fiction), consider some talking points you might want to make. Remember, you’re trying to entertain the audience, but you also want to pique their interest for your book. So if you can work in any intriguing tidbits about your own strong female protagonists, all the better.
- Familiarize yourself with your fellow panelists. I attempt to read at least one book from every author I present with, although lack of time sometimes means I only get to read a few chapters or the synopsis on Amazon. It happens. (That said, there isn’t an author in the world who doesn’t understand the lack of reading time in our schedules, so no one will hold it against you if you haven’t read their work.)
- Consider the etiquette of presenting with other authors. Try not to interrupt other people when they’re speaking, but also don’t be afraid to speak up if you have something to add. Try not to be all Me-Me-Me, but also recognize that there are members of the audience who want to hear from you, so don’t be the silent, shy author, either. Pick and choose which questions you answer—some questions you’ll have a great response for and you should certainly give it, but you don’t have to answer every question if you have nothing relevant or interesting to say.
- Relax! Make jokes! Let the audience see how enthusiastic you are about your book, and if you enjoyed the books from your fellow panelists, by all means, let the audience know that, too!
Author panels can be one of the great highlights of touring and promoting your book. It’s an opportunity to meet fantastic, talented people and talk shop with them for a little while. Plus, it gives readers a chance to see some fantastic, talented people interact and discuss the inner workings of writing and publishing. It’s a win-win! Smile and have fun.