We can argue about whether writers choose their craft or if it chooses them. But there’s no debate about paying bills and buying groceries. It’s got to be done. When Twain said, “Write without pay until someone offers to pay,” he was probably already being paid plenty. If you’re going to make it as a writer, you need to be as creative with marketing as you are with words. This includes personal appearances and public speaking, neither of which aligns naturally with the sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful solitude and discipline required to weave words into stories.
Nervousness can spring from several sources. Your book is done. You’re proud but wonder who besides friends and family will come to your reading. Or, you get to the reading and there are 85 people waiting to hear you speak. You start and falter. You turn to a page and stare at words you wrote and rewrote and anguished over a dozen times, and they look absurd. Mae West’s famous line crowds into your skull. “I speak two languages: Body and English.” You suddenly speak none.
The first thing to remember is that anxiety rises from unfamiliar situations and new experiences. Of course you’re going to be nervous. Remember that you know your subject. In fact, you wrote the book.
Second, put together a catchy answer to the most important question you’ll be asked: What’s the book about? You shouldn’t need more than two sentences. While you’re at it, add two more quick points you want to make. Short of a sale, what do you want folks to remember about you and your story when they walk away? When you nail these items, put some time into rehearsal, preferably in front of a mirror. Be brutally honest. Maybe you need to sharpen your pitch some more, as in these examples:
Yawn: Bella is about the journey of a widow who loses her husband under mysterious circumstances in the midst of war in Afghanistan. The military tells her he died in battle, but an anonymous caller says he was accidentally killed by a fellow soldier. Bella enlists the help of a Washington journalist to find the truth. During the investigation, they learn far more than they expected.
Yay: Isabel Moss knew she could lose her husband when he went off to war. When the call came, she was almost ready. What stopped her cold was the second call…
Third, remember you’re a likeable character. If you’re not, don’t forget you’re a writer, so write yourself some good lines. Be enthusiastic and confident; smile and make eye contact; stay focused on your core messages, and, if the occasion arises, toss in a colorful metaphor. John Nance Garner was America’s 32nd vice president. He said once, “The vice-presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.”
That’s worth a smile. Call it up as needed.