Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Have a back-up plan

Among the presentations at Seton Hill University's "In Your Write Mind" conference this past weekend was Carmine Coco De Young's "Stage Time! Techniques for a Successful Author Visit." While her presentation concentrated on school visits, much of the information was applicable to any live author presentation (techniques for radio and television appearances were not included).

Two important take-away tid-bits: 1) Know your audience. 2) Have a back-up plan. Or two.

I learned both lessons the hard way a few years ago. I had been doing readings at science fiction conventions of short stories written and intended for mature audiences and the convention organizers had been promoting the readings as late-night, adults-only events.

Then I went to a convention that didn't bother to put the appropriate disclaimer in the promotional material or in the convention's schedule of events.

I found myself facing an audience ill-prepared for what I was about to read. And I had no other material with me. I tried to edit on-the-fly, cutting scenes and changing words as I read. Part of my audience let me know their displeasure by walking out. I learned what flopsweat feels like. It doesn't feel good.

Since then I've stopped doing readings that require disclaimers and I've always taken back-up material in case the horror audience I was expecting turns out to be a science fiction audience, or the romance audience I was expecting turns out to be a mystery audience.

I had the lesson repeated, though not so obviously, at the Texas Library Association convention earlier this year. I was one of a dozen or so mystery writers participating in a "speed dating" event where we spent 15 minutes at a table talking about our books before we moved to the next table.

I found myself surrounded by children's librarians at most of the tables. My mystery novels and short story collections are generally not appropriate for children. I shifted gears on the fly and talked about my young adult romance novel, Just in Time for Love.

And I had the lesson reinforced at Seton Hill University this weekend. I had prepared my talk expecting a typical writers conference mix in the audience. What I faced was an audience dominated by graduates of Seton Hill's master's program. In talking to other writers the day before and the morning of my presentation, I realized what I planned to say wasn't quite appropriate. I kept my introduction (which I posted here yesterday) and then winged it for the rest of the hour-and-a-half presentation. Lucky for me I've been around a long time so I had lots of stories to tell, examples to give, and names to drop.

So, props to Ms. De Young. Her presentation was timely and quite appropriate.

At least, it was for this member of her audience.

(To learn more about Ms. De Young, check out her Web site at http://www.ccocodeyoung.com.)

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