Friday, October 06, 2006

Overkill – Bouchercon Panels & What Not To Do...

…but first, I suppose Alexander McCall Smith is entitled to make fun of Ian Rankin when he’s speaking. Poor Ian, no chance to defend himself. :) But what I really want to talk about is all the things to think about when you’re speaking.

Last night, we make the 77 km journey to downtown Calgary to hear AMS. I was actually looking forward to it, because I’ve heard Sandy speak before. Give the man a microphone and a stage and he’s a fantastic speaker. Completely engaging.

And I’m thinking that, despite the fact that he doesn’t know me and nor is he ever likely to, it’s just a small way of showing support for people in this community to show up when they have local events.

Really is a shame that it sucked.

Part of me wonders how the hell they were recording this for the CBC and were so inept as to not check the microphones before they started. Then I think about it and shut up.

So, we were packed in like sardines and I could just strain enough to hear Sandy, but the interviewer was impossible. It was about 30 minutes in before someone stopped them and relayed that the microphones weren’t working well enough for everyone to hear. Now, I was okay with Sandy myself – I could follow him, but as Kevin put it, when you’re surrounded by the fossil brigade, it’s no surprise that everyone else was having trouble.

I mean, sorry, but a) know your audience and b) check your equipment.

There was one other thing about this Wordfest event that blew chunks, and that was that the interviewer kept hammering for an answer to something Sandy had very carefully and diplomatically avoided. She finally buttonholed him on it, and he had to refuse to answer it, but in a most polite fashion.

Talk about amateur hour.

And I can say all this because the local festivals don’t give a shit about local authors. I’m looking at the events they have Mark Billingham slotted for next week and wondering if they’ll mess them up as well. I hope not – I’ve been to the venue he’s at before and it’s much better than the location they used last night. And Mark is dead entertaining all on his own, so if the rest of the panelists aren’t up to it he’ll just look better.

But is it only in Canada where they actually bring people from half way around the world and ask them to sit in front of a crowd and read their book? Because I have to say, it would be cheaper to record a CD and listen to that. You could even have repeat performances.

This leads me right into a bit of Bouchercon panel recap. I’ll start with the first panel I attended and work my way through.

X-treme Writing, with Allan Guthrie, Chris Knopt, Russel McLean, Michael Robotham, Duane Swierczynski

I’ve already said this was my favourite panel. So I know Duane, Russel and Al – every guy on this panel was funny and engaging. I could hear them and they didn’t just talk about themselves incessantly.

Plus, we got the pussy snorkel t-shirt explanation.

The Crime Lab Project with Meg Chittenden, Jan Burke and Laura Lippman

These tremendous ladies managed to take a serious topic and still be funny and engaging and this was wonderful. The Killer Year members attending left asking, “What can we do?”

If I could get away with it – crimes I’ve enjoyed imagining just a wee bit too much with Jan Burke, John Connolly, David Corbett, Chris Grabenstein and Laurie R. King

I blogged about this one last Friday. Incredibly funny. And John might need professional help. Certainly, keep him away from duct tape.

The New Wave with Rick Blechta, Rob Gregory Browne, Lori Lake, John Rickards and moi

Moving right along...

The Changing Face of Gay and Lesbian Mysteries with Anthony Bidulka, Alex Brett, Neil Plakcy, Caro Soles, Mark Zubro

A panel I really enjoyed. I had met Neil the night before, and Alex Brett had come to my panel, but I also got to meet Anthony. We’re getting together next month when he’s in Calgary. A lot of open, honest talk here about the trends in the business and the challenges these talented writers face.

Reviewer Ethics with Sarah Weinman, Jen Jordan, Larry Gandle, Sarah Byrne and Oline Cogdill

“I’ve panned really nice people and praised raging assholes.” Oline Cogdill

This was one of my favourite panels, simply because each person brought honesty and experience to their perspective, and I struggle with some of these issues. Sarah did a fantastic job moderating it, and it was standing room only.

The Butler Didn’t Do It – Creating Thrilling Villains with Val McDermid, Giles Blunt, Denise Mina, John Lutz and Carl Brookins

The rule is, always attend one panel Val McDermid is one, and damn, Denise Mina too. Funny, engaging, as always. And I had an opportunity to meet Giles Blunt afterwards and really enjoyed that. I’d love to talk to him more about the dilemmas of the Canadian setting in the future.

I could kick your ass – or my character could, with Brett Battles, Michael A Black, John McFetridge, JD Rhoades and Kevin Burton Smith

I blogged about this on Tuesday. A hell of a lot of fun.

Ken Bruen and Four Kickass Writers, with Zoe Sharp, Cornelia Read, Laura Lippman and Alafair Burke

I blogged about this one Wednesday at Killer Year. An absolutely fantastic way to end Bouchercon.

Now, this is what I learned about speaking on panels. If anyone takes it personally, it’s on them – these are just the rules I’ve decided on for me.

1. Never put piles of gimmicky stuff in front of you when you’re on a panel. For one thing, John Connolly has interesting fantasies about torturing those people. For another, it’s distracting and takes the emphasis off the speakers and the content.
2. Never put papers out on the chairs. So much garbage.
3. People don’t come to panels to hear people beg for them to pick up their bookmark, bookplate, wall calendar, spy kit… They come to hear you talk on a topic. And did you see all the stuff we got in those bags, and stuff being handed out at every panel? You know what? I wasn’t looking for one more damn thing to carry. I make notes and use my head and decide who’s interesting and that’s how I choose books to buy. And talking about paraphernalia isn’t interesting.
4. Talk into the microphone! There is nothing worse than someone on a panel you can’t hear.
5. A good moderator is worth their weight in gold and deserves much beer afterwards. My moderator isn’t drinking these days, though…*** This sounds bad. He's choosing not to drink, because he's 'pregnant.' Not that he was bad and I didn't offer a drink. I would have. Except he wouldn't have taken it.
6. Don’t be a walking advertisement for your book. The overkill some people went for was a huge turn-off, and it smacked of desperation. Sorry, just calling it like I see it…

Seriously, this was my first Bouchercon. Prior to this, I attended Harrogate in the UK, twice. And nobody at Harrrogate puts piles of stuff in front of them. Nobody asks people to pick up bookmarks. Nobody walks around with stacks of stuff to hand out or wearing cutesy costumes.

And you know what? This year, when George Pelecanos spoke, the bookstore sold out of every copy of every single book of his. Why? Because the man was engaging and interesting and a delight to listen to.

You are your own brand name. You want people to remember your name, not the name of one book, necessarily. Your name. Which is why the only thing you need in front of you on a panel is your name card.

Right, back to photos and such for the weekend. But really, honestly, think about it. When you go to hear a comedian or a musician or an author, what impresses you most? Because I could tell verbatim funny stories I’ve heard Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid etc. tell from the stage. But at the Harrogate quiz night this year I didn’t correctly identify the Rankin book cover, and my team gasped in shock and awe.

But I don’t need to see fancy book covers to buy the book. I just need to see the name. And if I went to see a band that only stood their holding CDs up talking about how good they are, I'd be ticked.

It’s how people have been getting on my radar for a while. I see their name around. If I think a person is intelligent and interesting, I start to look into their work.

And if I don’t think they’re intelligent and interesting, I don’t.

Really, it’s that simple. Build a body of work. With great writing and hard work at actually producing stories and producing books worthy of being read, you’ll find your audience.


JamesO said...

Great post(s) Sandra, as usual. I've only been to one con - Harrogate this year, but I agree wholeheartedly about what you should and shouldn't take to panels. The name is everything, and it's up to you to make people remember your name and think you interesting enough to look out your book. Everything else is too much push marketing.

Russel said...

You're right about much of this: except you can be honest about the wee moron on the end of the X-Treme panel. I was so lucky to have those other other guys on there. I only met Chris Knopf and Michael Robotham just before the panel but they were very cool indeed.

Anyway, point is that panels should be about engaging and entertaining the audience in some way. Show off your book and I'm likely to dismiss you as a piss-poor writer desparate for my life. Impress me with your personality (you can stutter or make a mess, long as you come off as in some way interesting or just a nice guy) and I may seek out your book. That's how I found so many of the authors I read now after last year's B'Con...

Evil Kev said...

To be accurate, I said "blue hairs and book worms".

My issue with this was a simple one. Twice I have seen a excellent author being constrainted by an interviewer who is more interested in trying to look clever than doing their job.

Ask questions the audience wants to hear the answers for.

No one came to see you, so get over yourself.