There was a time when authors didn’t have to ‘do publicity’. Anthony Berkeley published his first crime novel anonymously. When he used the name Francis Iles, it was two years before people realised he’d written the books – though actually, that was quite a good publicity gimmick, because there was a lot of debate about Iles’ identity. Agatha Christie was famously shy and I know other authors who hate promoting themselves.
But in the modern age, publishers expect authors to do their bit to promote their books. The vast majority of crime writers don’t have massive publicity budgets, so it’s a matter of doing what one can. And this sometimes involves public speaking, something I used to hate. This might seem odd, given that as a lawyer, I’d done plenty of advocacy. But that is rather different.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at the Nottingham Readers' Day, doing a talk I'd never done before - on Golden Age fiction (hence my current flurry of posts on this subject!) I decided not to over-prepare, but simply to focus on conveying my enthusiasm for the topic, and this seemed to go down pretty well. An added bonus was the chance to meet Gordon Griffin at last - he has read many of my audio books, and done it really well. An example of an enjoyable semi-promotional experience.
Elizabeth Spann Craig’s marvellous blog often has very helpful tips on promotion, and it repays reading by anyone who is uncertain about this area. For my part, early on, radio interviews used to worry me a good deal. So did my first appearances at Bouchercon. I remember reading an extract from my first novel at Toronto in front of an audience including the great Reginald Hill (who had kindly come to offer moral support) and I can still recall how nervous I felt. To make matters worse, I’m naturally quietly spoken, so it’s easy to become inaudible.
But practice does help a lot. I find that I don’t worry about public speaking in the same way now, simply because I have done a good deal of it, and I think I’ve improved my performance from very uncertain beginnings. I’ve also decided that if I can cope with the potential humiliation of appearing on a ‘Mastermind’ panel, maybe I can cope with most public arenas. If public speaking bothers you, I do urge you not to give up on it. Audiences want you to do well, not to fail. If you remember they start out on your side, that is half the battle.