By Laurie Marr Wasmund
Please welcome my illustrious guest blogger this month, Laurie Marr Wasmund!
It’s what you’ve always dreamed of—a gaggle of dedicated readers who are eager to rain praises about your writing down upon your head, to fall at your feet lauding your brilliance, to honor you with the moniker “GOAT.” Yeah, right. Appearing at a book club can be terrifying. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the event.
- First, develop a persona and dress for your audience. Whether that means conservative or wildly bohemian depends on your vision of yourself as an author. You are your brand; your books are your product. I bill myself as a writer of highly researched, serious historical fiction. I also claim to write about social injustices in America. Luckily, I have a whole closet of “English teacher clothes” from my previous occupation, which reflects my chosen persona and my target audience of mostly middle-aged women very well.
- Exude confidence. Before every book appearance, I nervously ask my husband why I do this. (He rolls his eyes and says, “You love it, and you know it.”) By the time I arrive at the event, though, I’ve “clicked” into my persona and am ready to face a roomful of people who’ve read and loved (or not) my books. As Hemingway says in Midnight in Paris, “If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer.” Fortunately, Hemingway isn’t around to disagree with you.
- Be a social butterfly. Introduce yourself, mingle, learn names, and remember stories. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. It takes practice. I repeat names in my head over and over in order to remember them, and often, I do forget. A quick mea culpa and we’re back on track.
- Plan on talking rather than eating. Book clubs are social occasions as well as intellectual forays. Often, that means a meal or potluck during the discussion. Since I’m the “entertainment,” I usually find myself talking while everyone else eats. Once, my nearly untouched meal was scooped up by a busboy at a restaurant, leaving me both hungry and feeling guilty, since the book group was paying for my meal. Now I eat beforehand and order/take small portions. I’m also careful to partake of something that won’t get caught in my teeth or spill down my front. (Barbecued ribs are a poor choice.)
- Expect to direct the meeting yourself. The conversation at book clubs will sometimes lull or peter out or get off track. I keep a number of “aces up my sleeves” to reanimate the discussion. For example, after the Ludlow Massacre, John D. Rockefeller was forced to rebuild his public image by upping his philanthropy. If you visit New York City, you’ll hear how great he was. If you visit Trinidad, Colorado, you’ll hear how hated he is—even now, more than 100 years after the event. Offering tidbits about your writing process, how you create characters, the intricacies of your settings, etc., can be a lifesaver when “the silence hangs heavy.”
- Welcome questions—they are what your appearance is all about. Respond as fully and lucidly as you can, and if you get off track, admit it. If you don’t know something, admit that, too (an old teacher’s trick). If someone corrects you about a fact/incident in your work, say you’ll look into it. Most book club attendees are curious and engaged, and they view you (a real, live author!) as a bit of a novelty. I smile as much as I can, “talk” with my hands to keep eyes on me and try to refer back to stories members have told me about their grandparents who fought in the wars or great-grandparents who immigrated to America.
- Not all readers will enjoy your work, but don’t take that to heart. I once was invited to a book club where I was asked if members could rate the book on a scale of 1-5 during the meeting. When I arrived at the book club, I was told the rating had been delayed because not enough members had read my book. Was that true? I don’t know, but I was disappointed. Sometimes a skeptical or dissatisfied reader can enliven the discussion. Don’t defend your work—let those who enjoyed it do that for you.
- Don’t push book sales. I take along a box of books to every book club, and I let the discussion leader know so that they (not I) can announce it. Usually I sell books to members, but sometimes I don’t. I usually have a bounce in Amazon or Ingram sales after an appearance, meaning that someone changed their mind.
- Your mom told you this, but I’m telling you again: Send a thank you letter or email. Positivity, gratefulness, and good humor spread—often in the form of recommendations to other readers and other book clubs.
LAURIE MARR WASMUND is the author of My Heart Lies Here, a novel of the Ludlow Massacre; Clean Cut, A Romance of the Western Heart; and the White Winter Trilogy, which is set in Colorado during the Great War and the 1920s. The third book of the Trilogy, To Walk Humbly, was a 2020 finalist for the Mainstream/Literary book award from the Colorado Authors League. It also received a 2020 EVVY third place award in Historical Fiction from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. Visit her website at https://lostranchbooks.com/ or her Amazon Author Central page.