2 Simple Keys to Survive a Book Event

bull's eyeAre you shy? Are you an introvert? If so, you understand the horror that is public speaking. As a child you pretended to study the book on your desk so the teacher wouldn’t call on you in class (even though you already knew the answer). You stammered or stuttered or sweated your way through the dreaded oral presentation – and you still do.

I am one of those writers who would happily spend my days holed up in my dark, cozy cave, stories streaming from my fingers onto the keyboard, only coming out for chocolate and Mountain Dew. That’s my idea of a perfect writing life. No public speaking for me. No selling myself. But if a writer’s goal is to be published, she must satisfy some requirements and re-enter the light every now and then.

One of those requirements is a book event – in the case of my first one of a few weeks ago, that meant a discussion, a reading, and a book signing. (Just so you know, merely thinking of doing another one makes my hands shake and my stomach turn.)

I had done my research and knew how to prepare for the practical aspects of it: make notes and study what to say, bake goodies to share (brownies and cake), gather pens (for signing, just in case), as well as a bottle of water, bookmarks and business cards. I even showered and put on clean clothes – living in a cave can leave one dusty and rumpled.

But how does a shy, introverted cave-dwelling writer stand up in front of a group of strangers and sell herself and her book? The answer is…she doesn’t!

In my search for peace in this process, for a way to make it through the horror, I discovered two simple keys to survive a book event:

1.  Don’t make it about yourself: Make it about the audience.

If you were in the audience, what would you want to know about a book and its author? Keep this in mind as you plan the talk.

  • Include a brief introduction about yourself, where you’re from, how or why you started on your writing journey. The audience is made up of regular people (just like you, right?) and they want to identify with you.
  • Talk about why you wrote this particular book. Out of all the stories you could have written, why did this one grab hold of you and not let go? Don’t be afraid to show your passion for the project.
  • Many readers are also writers or they aspire to be. Explain what your process was like as you wrote this book – your day-to-day routine, research, the cycle of editing, your challenges and victories, how you put it all together. (My audience was especially interested in the fact that I color-coded the chapter outline of This New Mountain, cut it in sections, and laid the pieces out on the floor to decide what chapters went where.)
  • In choosing what to read, what excerpt most exemplifies your writing but would also most hold the audience’s attention? Whatever you decide, keep it short.

2.  Don’t make it about selling your book: It’s as simple as that.

  • Selling a book would be great, but focusing on that could turn you into one of those sleazy car salesmen. You know, the ones with the fake smiles who circle round and round like vultures. Don’t go there, don’t even try – giving yourself permission to let go of this is enough to make a shy introvert dance in the streets (not really).

If I were to summarize what I learned from my first book event, it would be to respect your audience. Two simple keys helped shift my focus from myself to those who really mattered – the people who took the time out of their day to drive across town to hear an unknown author speak. And that made all the difference in my ability to handle the situation.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with public speaking. What is your advice to get past the “horror” of it all?

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Bullying: You Are the Boss of You

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 As long as there are people who enjoy being cruel and have a need to dominate and control others, there will be bullies. Unfortunately, that also means there will be those who are the recipients of their physical and/or emotional aggression. Years ago, only two options were usually offered a child suffering from being bullied: fight back or ignore it. Adults tended to think it was a normal part of childhood. Nowadays, awareness of the extreme result of bullying (such as suicide) has caused parents, teachers, and school systems to take a more active role in preventing and dealing with schoolyard bullies through special programs and education.

There is also an abundance of books and movies for kids and young adults that deal with this issue. Books for parents and teachers, such as The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso give understanding and guidance regarding bullying – with insight into the role that a bystander (active or not) plays in supporting such behavior. In the book, suggestions are given on how to raise a child to have the compassion and strength of character to act on what is right if they find themselves as a bystander “even at great cost to himself.”

Eventually we all grow up and leave school behind, but schoolyard bullies often grow into adult bullies. This kind of behavior is less in-your-face physical and more subtle, but still just as harmful. It can manifest itself in its simplest form in a relationship where one person continually takes advantage of another through manipulation, often using the friendship (and the possible loss of it) as a weapon.

We can try to understand bullies. Most have a need to control because they have little control over their own lives – and those they perceive as weak or different become easy targets. Many are raised by dominating, controlling parents, and bullying can become a natural path. But no amount of understanding can excuse this behavior. Whatever the reasons, a bully chooses to treat people a certain way, just like the rest of us do.

As adults, we have choices that children may not have or may not know they have, or don’t have the strength to make. We can choose not to be bullied, deciding instead to avoid or ignore those kinds of people without harm to our once-fragile childhood hearts. We can end an unhealthy relationship with a controlling partner or friend. The power to change a situation that we’re unhappy with is within each of us.

The trick is remembering that change is as easy as you make it. The trick is remembering that you are the boss of you. ~ A.S. King

But things become more complicated when encountering bullying in the workplace. Our job might depend on getting along with that awful person giving us the stink-eye from the desk across the room. And if it’s your demanding supervisor…that’s an even tougher situation. We still have choices, whether it’s being nice to the person to keep the peace, confronting the person in an assertive but non-aggressive way, or taking the problem through the chain of command. If bullying turns into outright harassment, most workplaces have rules in place to deal with it. In any case, moving on might just save your physical and mental health.

But no matter what, keeping in mind where the fault lies is key. You do not deserve to be treated with scorn or disrespect. No one else is the boss of you, but you.

October is National Bullying Prevention month. What do you think is the best way to handle or prevent bullying?

Live More, Fear Less: Survival Instinct

Let’s be kind to ourselves. 

Many of our fears are connected to the possibility of being hurt or losing our lives. The physical changes that happen to us when we’re afraid – dilation of pupils, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, a rise in blood sugar, tensing of muscles – are meant to help us survive, to get us ready to fight or flee.

Some kinds of fear are a result of conditioning – circumstances in our past that create fear in us. Being bit by a dog can develop into a fear of dogs, even cute, little docile breeds. Being trapped in a closet could lead to claustrophobia. Falling into deep water and not being able to swim might even make a person fearful when looking at a photo of the ocean.

Fear might also be rooted in our natural survival instinct. It’s possible that people who are afraid of snakes, spiders, rats, etc have a stronger survival instinct than others who don’t share this same fear. Ages ago, when the bite of these creeping creatures killed humans on a much more regular basis than they do today, running away meant staying alive. Those that survived might have passed on this specific tendency in their genes.

Even those social fears that many of us have might also be related to our survival instinct. Take the fear of public speaking – what if you make mistakes/sound stupid/freeze up/vomit all over everyone? This fear could stem from being laughed at one too many times. Or maybe it comes from somewhere deep in our genetic makeup – an instinct to avoid the one-versus-many scenario (as in lynch mob).

Fear is a natural response to real or perceived threats to our physical or emotional beings, whether we’re conscious of them or not. Our fears are real, no matter their roots. And everyone is afraid of something.

So be kind to yourself. The next time you’re tempted to beat yourself up over a “silly” fear, try to remember that your response to those things you’re afraid of may very well have kept you (and your ancestors) alive.

Has your response in a fearful situation ever saved your life?