I have reviewed Punch by Barbara Henderson for the blogtour in another post today but she has also written a guest post about authors taking part in live events. It is so interesting that I felt it deserved its own separate post. As I am hoping to see her at Waterstones in Princes Street, Edinburgh on 4th November, I was particularly keen to hear about what kind of ideas she has for promoting Punch.
The Author as a performer…
That’s a tricky concept, isn’t it? Most authors I know love writing. They love losing themselves in the alternate universe of their imaginations, hidden away and solitary. But nowadays there is just a little hitch!
That sort of thing doesn’t sell books. It really, really doesn’t.
A writer I really respect once told me: ‘As a writer, your biggest enemy is obscurity.’
I reflected on this: Beat obscurity and you’ve won the battle. Take your book to the people, get out there! Just do it! Unless you are the type of techno-whizz-kid who can make something go viral (I’m not), events are the way.
Events are THE WAY.
Now one thing is completely certain: The skills needed for writing a compelling book are not the same skills as entertaining a live audience. Now, I’m probably lucky: As a Drama teacher and former puppeteer, I can do some of the things involved. I can project my voice without too much trouble, for example, and I know the adrenaline of a live performance will generally get me through, even if things don’t go according to plan. But filling an hour with book-related entertainment, and generating something people will actually come to – sometimes PAY to come to – that is still quite a challenge.
Variety is the life-blood of being a children’s author. I am in the middle of devising an event routine for Punch at the moment, my new novel which is out from 23rd October. There is plenty of potential, but it’s hard to know what will work until I’ve gone through the trial-and-error process, as I did with Fir for Luck, my first novel. Generally, my audiences are school children, which adds a whole new layer to what you can and cannot do. It has to be interactive (and ideally, beyond colouring in and word searches)! Out come hearth chains, fir sprigs to wind in, dressing-up-galore to create dramatic freeze frames of key moments in the book, and a wide-game I devised just for that purpose. The really great thing is that these resources can double up as freebies to schools, too. You’ve put the effort in, after all, now get word out! I created a subsection in my blog: Here is how you play the Eviction Writ-Game (Fir for Luck is set during the Highland Clearances), here is how you create a freeze-frame comic, here is a book quiz to use, all free and based on my book. It gets word out and provides teachers with something they actually need: free, quality resources relevant to their learning context. Much more effective and less yawn-inducing than ‘Please buy my book, it’s great!’
What am I going to do for Punch? Well, I have a few ideas, involving dressing up (naturally), an inflatable club (J) and reams and reams of red-and-white stripy material. Puppets will feature too – after all, that is the authentic backdrop for my book. It has been surprisingly difficult to track down wooden-headed puppets for this, despite many happy and ultimately fruitless hours scouring through Ebay. I have to make some changes to my outfit too: something that screams Punch and Judy, with maybe a touch of Victorian sophistication. I’m working on it… My Fir for Luck dress with its subdued green tweed is certainly not what I’ll be looking for.
I do try hard to keep my eyes open for new event ideas. The Fir for Luck routine in schools is pretty slick now – I have done it plenty of times, but have also tried some new things which worked well and are going to be part the act permanently now. Two recent additions: I tried Highland Clearances shadow puppetry based on the prologue of Fir for Luck and performed that for the first time at Islay Book Festival. Kids, and their parents, really seemed to like it, so I suspect it won’t be the last time. Another brainwave I had was a Christmas tree-themed event: Both Fir for Luck and Punch have passing references to fir trees, and there are some lovely stories out there in myths and legends too. I pitched the event to a local garden centre and landed myself a Book Week Scotland booking on the spot.
Events are THE WAY. Hard as it is to earn money as a writer, events tend to pay. Events generate awareness, build connections with readers and often give you some sort of media coverage, too – even if it’s only a cool picture for your author blog. One thing I learned very quickly is that payment is a minefield (some will assume you’ll do it all for free – and sometimes you may, just to get exposure) You also really should play to your strengths. I am absolutely not a stand-up comedian (*cry*), but I can do calm, atmospheric storytelling, puppetry, a bit of live music, interactive games with kids – these are my comfort zone.
Find yours, and then get out there!