Presentation Skills for Introverts: 5 Easy Do’s and 5 Don’ts…plus 6 Bonus Extras

Public Speaking Tips for the Timid, Shy, or Panicked

Γειά Σου Hello GIF by Frances

If you’re an author, odds are you’re going to be giving some sort of presentation, whether it be a book signing or school visit or conference workshop.

And if you’re an author, odds are you’re an introvert.

Maybe you’re an extroverted introvert, the social type who’s often confused for an extrovert.

Heck, maybe you are an extrovert, you rare bird you.

Any way you label it, odds are you hate public speaking. Otherwise you’d be out drinking with your friends and not reading this blog post. Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is said to affect up to 75% of the population, and ranks higher than the fear of death. Over 15 million Americans suffer from some sort of social anxiety.* It’s amazing anyone gets out of bed.

You could study the reasoning behind the fear. You can work on specific exercises to lessen anxiety Watch video tutorials.

Or, say in bed.

But those speaking engagements are still there. They are going to “get your name out there,” build your brand, and sell your books. You can’t avoid them. Not if you want to sell books, that is.

I’m not trying to scare you off, but people are strikingly more likely to remember HOW you said something compared to WHAT you said. Think of a great speaker you saw. Now tell me what he or she said. You probably won’t remember most of the content, but you’ll remember the overall message or feeling they left you with. When it comes to remembering a speaker’s talk, a UCLA study showed that people tend to remember about 7% of what the presenter said (the words). That’s it. The rest, 93%, is the nonverbal impression the speaker made on the attendee. The good news is 93% of what attendees walk away with is all under your control. Gestures account for 55%, tone 38% of the opinion/memory. You can affect that. Relatively easily (honest–I’ll show you). Another study by Management Science showed people are more likely influenced by the likability of a speaker that the quality of the speaker’s arguments. So…not to add to your stress, but instead of spending all that time on content, you need to spend time on delivery too. Good thing you’re a peach.

Image from Society6
image from Society6

I’m going to give you some solid ways to make sure your presentation stands out from the crowd, no matter how shy or nervous or a beginner you are. These 5 DOs and 5 DON’Ts will ease your mind and take you from a panicked mess to a well-informed presenter. I’ve also included 3 extra of each, for the advanced presenter who wants to crank it up to eleven.

If you take it seriously and do your homework, you’re gonna do great. Realistically you might not hit a home run your next time at bat (sorry but IRL there are no shortcuts or instant successes, this isn’t a Hallmark movie), but you’ll get on base at least. You got this. Honest.

Or, you can, if you try.

DON’Ts

  • 1. DON’T Confuse your agenda with theirs

You are there to give a presentation, right? Wrong.

You are there to share information, right? Wrong.

You are there to make them a better speaker/reader/person. You are taking your expertise and sharing it with them so they can implement it and improve their lives/careers and therefore they can improve the lives/careers of others.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Not:“I’m here to talk about…” But: “Today you will learn…”

It may seem like a subtle difference but that change in perspective makes all the difference in the world. (OK, not the world, but big.)

Don’t be a writer but instead be writing

Faulkner, 1958
  • 2. DON’T Peddle your wares

No one likes a sales pitch. It’s icky. You’re not starring in an infomercial. Have your book(s) standing up on a table off to the side, and unless someone asks directly or you are quoting from them, don’t even acknowledge your titles. Let them speak for themselves. (It’s perfectly OK to point to them in your intro as you mention you are an author, tho.) If your presentation goes well they will be flocking over to buy or ask about them. Even if you think you’re being cute, the second you start hawking your stuff you lose credibility–as well as your audience.

  • 3. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT NOT REHEARSING. Out loud. Repeatedly.

How do you become a decent presenter? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice practice. While most audiences will decide within seconds whether or not they deem a speaker credible, writer-ly crowds are rooting for you, so don’t sweat it too hard at writing conferences. You still have to practice; just know they aren’t out to judge you harshly–they really want to learn. Give them reasons to pay attention to you instead of reasons to doodle or switch sessions midstream.

There is no way around this: you HAVE to practice your talk. Out loud. In front of people. More than once. Your audience isn’t expecting a TED Talk, but they want to know you didn’t wake up this morning and crank the presentation out on your way to the conference hall. And they deserve your best efforts. I’ve heard presenters say “When I was working on this on the plane” and “Last night when I wrote the page” and it’s flat out insulting. You’re a professional getting paid to do this. Act like it.

Yes, you will feel awkward talking to yourself as you rehearse. But you have to say it out loud. The first “dry run” will give you an idea on timing: how long is it? Do you need more material or do you need to cut some stuff out? The second time you’ll be more likely to notice where you repeat yourself or where things are out of order. The third and fourth time you’ll get more comfortable and more familiar with the material, with what’s coming next, so you can focus more on the HOW you’re presenting instead of the WHAT. (You wrote it, how hard can it be to remember it?) You’ll get more comfortable walking around as you talk. [Repeat after me: I am not sitting or standing in one place the whole time. I am not a boring robot.] The more comfortable you are with the material, the more comfortable you will be onstage presenting it.

  • 4. DON’T START OUT APOLOGIZING. Or apologize mid-talk.

Never start out with an apology. You only get one change to make a first impression, right? Start out strong. If the projector isn’t working, stop and quietly go over to your handler or whoever is in charge to get help. No need to announce “Oh this isn’t working, let me get help.” We know it’s not working. We are in the room. If a table is in the way, walk over and move it, without saying a word. Control the room.

Don’t make eye contact with the audience until you have things under control and are ready to go.

That’s not to say you don’t own up to anything if you have made a mistake (“Oh, sorry, I thought you said beaches”). I’m referring to if something technical/mechanical goes wrong during your talk.

  • Not: “Oh, wait, this needs to, um, let me fix, er, move this, bum-dee-bum, hi, oh sorry, I hate this, hang on while I juggle some furniture around, doot-de-doot-doo, almost there, one mooooore sec, OK, now we can get started.” Nope. Not: “Wait, that page isn’t supposed to be here, I thought I fixed that, hang on while I–dang it, I paged back too far, now I have to…doot-doot, bear with me here, folks…” No. Shut your trap and make it right. Without a sound. Without eye contact. You might think you’re making it less awkward or being charming by narrating, but what you’re doing is calling attention to the fact something is wrong. Or that you don’t have your act together. No sense announcing it. Fix it. If it’s a dreaded typo, don’t fawn over it, simply state “oh, that’s spelled wrong” and move on. If you can’t fix what’s wrong, calmly move on, talk from your notes instead of slides, or jump to Q&A. To me, this is the #1 way to tell a beginner speaker from a seasoned one.
  • Not: Sorry I’m late But: Thanks for waiting
  • Not: I was going to have handouts but… But: I’m passing around a sign-up sheet; I’ll be emailing you a summary/worksheet/handout tomorrow
  • Not: Sorry it’s so cold in here But: Thanks for bearing through this arctic room temp

On a related note, never throw anyone under the bus. Even if, say Thomas is to blame for the typo/missing docs/cold temp/etc, never call him out (“Ack, I told Tom to fix that”). You’ll look like a jerk, even if it was Tom’s fault. It’s your presentation. Blame no one.

Silence while you correct it, on the spot, like a boss.

  • 5. DON’T GO LONG

Ending on time proves you rehearsed, are fully aware how much time you were given, and knew how to use it effectively. It also shows you respect the audience’s time.

DOs

  • 1. DO Start BY ANSWERING ‘WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?’

In addition to starting with who you are and why you’re qualified to be speaking either on the topic or at that event, tell the audience what they will learn (not “what I will talk about!”), and how it will make them a better writer/editor/artist/person–i.e., what’s in it for them.

  1. Greeting followed by your name, spoken slowly and clearly
  2. Two or three reference points on why you are the content expert and maybe a fun fact about yourself
  3. Specifics on what people are going to learn/walk away knowing
  4. Why they need this important information, if possible

“Hello! I’m Bitsy Kemper. I’m author of 21 books and have taught presentation skills for years, from beginners up to corporate vice presidents (talk about a tough crowd). Today you’re going to learn how YOU, you sweet introverts, can make your next author visit or book presentation shine, even if you hate giving presentations. How does that sound?”

Or: “By the time you finish reading this blog post, you will learn ways to make your author presentation better, in both content and presentation skills. As introverted as most authors are, these tips will not only ease the stress of future book signings or conference speeches, but give you insight into how to make talks successful regardless of how comfortable you feel in front of a crowd. Your future audiences will walk away with a positive impression of both you and your session.”

You don’t want to include background on yourself that isn’t relevant to that particular setting. In the first example above I stated I’m an author because I’m talking to authors. If it was a corporate setting, I know they are a tougher sell so would have started with “I spent 13 years in the computer industry, then consulted on marketing and branding for small businesses, have been on CNN/movies/TV, and as author of 21 books giving presentations across the country, now focus on helping others–like you–write and present. Today you’re going to learn how to take your presentations to the next level, whether you hate giving presentations or think you’re already pretty darn good. Who’s ready to start learning some secret intel?” In that case I gave some corporate experience so they know we have a common thread, gave quick acting nod as that always helps a presenter’s cred, and used being an author as my most relevant experience explaining why/how I know about giving presentations.

No humble brags. More of a brief resume recap that’s targeted to the audience. And speaking of audience…

  • 2. DO Know your audience!

Who are you talking to? Are they fifth graders? PreK? PreK all the way through 5th grade? Teaching staff? Just like you wouldn’t write a book for fifth graders in the same way you’d write it for four year olds, you need to know who you’re talking to and adjust accordingly.

Your message won’t change, but how you get it across will.

There are times you won’t know in advance–whether the people that hired you never told you, or they don’t know themselves (hello, book tour!). There are times the info changes (“…there was a K/1 field trip today so we’re sending you to third grade instead”). I mean, how many of you have ever signed up for a session at a conference and then switched once you got there? It happens.

Even if you were told who they are–CONFIRM. After that great intro you just gave–ask some questions to get a feel for the room. Start with a questions they can answer yes to. It gets buy-in from the get-go. “We’ve got writers in the crowd, yes?” Then narrow things down. “How many are published? YA writers? Picture book? Any illustrators?” Don’t spend too much time here, though, or you’ll come off as unprepared. View this as confirmation of who you think is there, not a panicked blank stare. You know everyone there is there to hear what you have to say on the topic, so it’s not like a random crowd rounded up from the street. A few clarifying Qs should handle it.

  • 3. DO Spend time on content

As much as you’ll want to practice HOW you’re saying it, you need to make sure WHAT you’re saying is a) factually correct, b) what they hired you to talk about c) WHAT WAS ADVERTISED (if you are at a conference, triple check this; almost nothing upsets a crowd more than a speaker talking about a subject that differs from the title or program summary. They will blame you, not the conference coordinators.)

  • 4. DO Radiate

Be confident knowing you are a content expert. You are up there presenting because you know what you are talking about. Everyone has felt the pangs of Imposter Syndrome; don’t let it get to you. Sure, there will always be someone who knows more than you on the subject. Does mean that you don’t know enough, or are unqualified? Not at all. You were asked to present (or in some cases, did the asking) because you know what you are talking about. So let that shine through. Remember that statistic on importance of being likable?

If you’re not a confident person in general, pretend, just for today, that you are, and act like one. That’s why you are there. That’s why they booked YOU. They could have asked anyone, and they chose you. Own it.

I’m not asking you to put on airs or suddenly become someone you’re not. We don’t want to see fakers. We still want the see the real you. Just a confident version of you. I mean, if you don’t believe in yourself or your material, why should I as an audience member? I want you to use your same voice, chose the same vocabulary, dress the same way (OK maybe a little nicer, please–see #5 below). And the only way to get that confidence level up is to practice, practice, practice. (See Don’t #3, above)

  • 5. DO Dress nicely

To use an industry expression, people DO judge books by their covers. Dressing up shows you are respecting the audience. Doesn’t have to be a three-piece suit. Doesn’t have to be high-heeled shoes. But it needs to be something that makes you stand out from the crowd, just a little bit. You’re not an attendee, you’re a guest of honor. Don something that shows you put effort into this. And be consistent, as it builds your brand. (“Oh, the guy in the bow ties” or “You know, the speaker who always wears polka dots”)

Let me caution away from three things. Please, nothing 1. way too low cut or 2. wildly LOOK AT THIS distracting. We want to look at your sweet face as you’re talking, not at your clothes (will there be a wardrobe malfunction?) or platform shoes (will she trip out of them at any second?). Also, 3. nothing brand new. You need to know how something feels and moves before you try it out in front of a crowd for the first time. You don’t want the itchies or to split a seam reaching for a visual aid. (I can, um, neither confirm nor deny any of the above things happening to me…)

Is that all? you’re asking yourself.

Image result for that was easy gif

If you’ve got all that down pat and are ready for more refinement, here are 3 bonus DOs and 3 bonus DON’Ts.

BONUS TIME

  • BONUS DON’T #7: DON’T TALK TO “EVERYBODY.” Be specific. Talk to ME.

Think of this as a one on one conversation. With every member of the crowd. If you start out with “Hi, everyone!” it feels impersonal. Cold. Corporate. Like I’m one of many. If you say “Hello Cherry Avenue fifth graders!” you’ve made every fifth grader at that school feel special. Plus their teacher <shout out to Mrs. Fox!>. The crowd knows you are there for THEM, not for any ol’ group of kids. It feels personal. There’s a reason the crowd goes wild every time a rock star says “Hello, [insert your hometown]!” We feel special. Seen.

  • BONUS DON’T 7: DON’T DISMISS Qs

“As seen on page 10…” or “As I mentioned earlier…” are not great ways to answer a question. If they knew the answer was on page 10, if they remembered what you said earlier, or if the answers given were clear, they wouldn’t be asking. Don’t be an arrogant jerk. Answer as if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. [Caveat: if the 4th first-grader in a row asks the same question, recognize they might not be capable of coming up with other/new questions and just want to be called on to make you happy. State the answer and end with “Are there questions not related to [xx]?” or simply end the Q&A. With a smile.]

On the flip side, there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” to a Q. If you truly can’t bring yourself to say those words, a) get some professional help and b) pause and answer with a genuine “Let me look into that. Other questions?”

  • BONUS DON’T #8 DON’T BRAG

State facts. Sure, tell us what went right. But include failure in your success story. We want to share in your humanness.

  • BONUS DO #6: DO ADD VISUALS

We like you. But we don’t wanna spend the entire time staring at your mug while you yammer on. Or listen to you read your slides word for word. Personally, I feel if a speaker doesn’t have a powerpoint-type presentation it means they didn’t take it seriously or didn’t put in enough effort. I really do. That’s my corporate background talking and I can’t shake it. If computer-generated presentations really aren’t your bag, baby, at least give me a few other things to look at. Think of it as Show & Tell. Any sort of visual will go a long way. Sprinkle them in, don’t give me one in your entire 90-minute session. Include, say, a prop. A sample product. Photos. A large flip chart. An audio or video clip. Artwork. Don’t pass anything around, though. If people are looking at something in their hands, or distracted by the rumble of it getting passed around, it means they aren’t listening to you. Speaking of passing it around…

  • BONUS DO #7: DO Bring a handout or giveaway of some sort

Yes, total suck-up move. But it works. People LOVE handouts–it’s like a follow up session with tangible information. It should have your name/logo/website on it, whether it’s a bookmark or session summary. Great branding opportunity! Wait until your talk is over before handing them out to keep the focus on you instead of the paper/trinket.

An example of an exception here is conferences or workshops for grown-ups. Maybe teenagers. To keep it interactive, often times I’ll bring a bag of candy (usually M&M Halloween-sized) and keep it hidden. The first time someone interrupts with a question, after I answer it I toss them a bag, thanking them for being bold enough to ask a question. I say it’s an incentive for the crowd to keep asking Qs, and toss one each time a Q is asked. They love it!

All handouts leave attendees with a positive impression, and a tangible piece of you. Win win.

  • BONUS DO #8: DO Ask your audience (yes) questions

Asking questions keeps them involved. It keeps them on their toes (“whoops, I wasn’t listening, what did she say? I need to focus back”). By asking questions they agree with, it gets them on your side. And it gets them invested in the outcome of the session. You can take it a step further by getting them active: “By a round of applause, who wants to get published?” [Ask a Q everyone will answer yes to, and therefore all applaud.] Applauding effects the brain. Happy people applaud. Happy people smile. When even one person smiles it makes everyone in the room feel better because they, consciously or unconsciously, are smiling with that smile-er. Smiling people set a positive tone for your presentation. A happy tone is a great start. Wouldn’t you say that’s worth clapping for? <—see what I did there? 🙂

I hope implementing these tips will help your next presentation be the best one yet. The links give a ton more help, in much more depth than one blog can offer, and are worth a quick click. There are plenty of tried-and-true classic books to review as well, by well-respected experts like Dale Carnegie and Decker Communications. Check back with me in a little bit. Let me know what you’ve improved on most.

*Yes, I did quote my own book. In this/that link you can find my (award-winning!) TEENS AND PHOBIAS book for as little as $5.95. I don’t profit from sales, so I’m not actually asking you to buy it. But it’s honestly very helpful for anyone, not just teens, with social anxiety or a phobia of any kind, especially ones they may be reluctant to admit.

Securing EIN vs SSN or TID for KDP. Wha? (NBD)

POD. KDP. EIN. SSN. TID. WTH? Ask NCPA.

image from blog.usejournal.com

Not everyone is comfortable sharing information online, even when it’s required.

If you’re self publishing and/or using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to print your books on demand (POD), you will notice that you have to hand over your social security number (SSN) or TID (Taxpayer Identification Number) in order to set up an account and get started. You also need to hand over your bank account info so they can pay you royalties (lots, hopefully!). In the age of cyber and identity theft, many people are uncomfortable sharing that precious information — as well they should be. Our friends over at the Northern California Publishers and Authors (NCPA), have suggestions.

EID: You don’t have to use your SSN, actually. What do you mean? you may ask. I have to give them a legal identifying number or I can’t sign up. Well, instead of using your SSN when you sign up for your Amazon KDP account, there is an option to provide an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. Do it. Use your EIN instead of your SSN or TID! It’s that easy.

But I don’t have an EIN, you might say.

Then get one!

Many people assume that to get or have an EIN you have to run a business or at a minimum, hire employees (hence the Employer part of the acronym). But no, you don’t have to be or have either. As a writer, you are a business. Gasp! And get this — it’s free to get an EIN directly through the IRS, online. Double gasp! Tell me more! Click here for the direct link on how to secure an EIN. You *will* have to give your SSN or TIN to sign up (they need some way to track you, it is the government after all)–but you’ll be giving it directly to the IRS.

Sharon Darrow, president of NCPA, cautions, “DO NOT waste time and money going through a third party, because they often charge and can take longer because your application has to be submitted through the IRS.” She finds the EIN page “clear as mud,” but it’s not too bad for government work (wow, two government burns, nice, Kemper). The app should take about 15 minutes to complete. And, Ms. Darrow feels, is worth it. “Using the EIN not only protects your privacy, but makes you look a little more professional.”

Uncomfortable with completing the form online? The bottom of the page has a form you can download to apply through the mail.

image from usbank

BANK ACCOUNT INFO: Kindle also requires your bank account. No, they aren’t being nosy, they need it in order to get you your moolah from book sales. Ms. Darrow has another suggestion that is “very simple and helpful for your tax records.” And I agree. “Set up a separate account for your writing business,” she says. “Even if you only have a handful of transactions a year, it protects your privacy and is more professional. Make sure you are getting an account with the bare minimum or no fees, and ask your banker if it’s connected to any of your other accounts in a way that an outsider could access. If you are especially worried, set up the writing account at a bank or credit union where you have no other accounts. This way, you can give the bank account information to Kindle with no worries.”

Image result for image thank you

Great advice. Thank you Ms. Darrow (https://www.sharonsdarrow.com) and NCPA (https://www.norcalpa.org/)!

True or False: SCBWI’S “The Book” Has Live Links [Hint: TRUE]

First let me say that SCBWI’s “The Book” is an online, members-only resource that I’ve always said is one of the single most valuable pieces of membership. You can also have it printed-on-demand and mailed to you, which I also recommend, as I’m tactile as well as visual and like being able to flip through it manually. But the online version IS WHERE IT’S AT! But recently I’ve realized many, many SCBWI members have no idea what the book is, what it offers, let alone how to use use it. Stick with me as I explain the #1 use most people DON’T KNOW, BUT NEED TO.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, for the most part it’s an up-to-date listing of kidlit editors and agents. It lists names of head honchos down to assistants along with how to get a hold of them, websites, policies, expected turnaround time, etc. More importantly, I think, it clarifies what each house wants and doesn’t want. It offers A TON of other stuff to (how to format a manuscript, write a query, etc), but for now, let’s focus on the list of editors and agents.

Here is an example of detail provided in the Market Survey portion for one house, redacted since the information is proprietary (Note: there are over a hundred pages of listings, each page with 5-6 house per page):

NAME OF PUBLISHER (An Imprint of NAME) PO Box XX TOWN, STATE ZIP (PHONE); FAX www.WEBSITE.com Publisher: <first and last name> ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER: <first and last name> Editorial Director: <f/l name> Editor: <f/l name> Associate Editors <names> Description: NAME OF PUBLISHING HOUSE publishes board books, picture books, and paperbacks that encourage young children to explore facts, examine ideas, and imagine new ways of understanding the world. XXXX imprints also include XXX, XXXX, and XX Digital, none of which are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Only XXX accepts submissions. Distribution via XXXX. QUERY LETTERS: Accepting. MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS: Accepting. UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS: Accepting for XXX and XXXX imprints. See full instructions at <specific URL given>. Send to <specific email addy>, typical response time 3 to 6 months. PAYMENT: Advance against royalty or flat fee, depending on project. ARTWORK INTEREST: Accepting. Send portfolios for consideration to <email addy diff than manuscript addy>. Will respond only if interested. ARTWORK PAYMENT: Flat fee or advance against royalty, depending on project.

It looks much better in The Book, lol.

Anyway, back to why I’m creating this post. I was recently surprised when I saw someone tweet about her frustration that The Book isn’t the greatest resource. She lamented that sure, there are lists of editors and agents, but it’s such a pain to have to cut and paste every agency’s URL to get more info, or reenter their posted email address. Another tweeter, from a different part of the country, agreed. They were/are both active members.

Even if they weren’t, well, this Book needs a better PR agent! 🙂

To start with, ALL THE URLS AND EMAILS ARE LIVE HYPERLINKS!! There are soooo many websites and emails in there that The Book couldn’t possibly bold or underline each one. It would look a mess. But they are live all the same. There might be a few here or there that have been missed (I mean, there are literally thousands of them in the 322-page document) but I think a solid 98% are good to go. What a timesaver! A thing of beauty!

the pointer will help you narrow down your search for links as you scroll
When it turns to a hand –YES! — it’s a hyperlink!

Here’s how you know if a website is hyperlinked: hover your pointer over the URL or website. Your pointer should change from the arrow to a hand (at least, that’s what my laptop defaults to). Tap or click the words/phrase that the hand is hovering over and VIOLA! you are taken directly to that site, no highlighting and opening another tab and cutting and pasting and hitting enter needed. If someone’s complete email address is given, and you click or tap the provided email address, your computer will automatically open a new window and create a new email with that address in the “To” or “Send” section, from you. No highlighting the address, copying and pasting, opening up your email account, composing a new email, pasting the name into Sender, etc…. *trumpets sound, confetti is thrown* Yes, it really is that easy.

There are soooo many other ways The Book can make your writing life easier. But for now, soak that up. Explore. Enjoy. Click away.

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image from vectorstock.com

I’ll highlight some other sections later.

Wasting Time Interviewing Wrong Agent?

Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

I was presenting at a workshop where they held agent pitch appointments, also called Agent Meet & Greets. Several attendees ended up disgruntled. And they shouldn’t have been.

Let me take a step back.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

What’s an “agent meet and greet,” you may ask? At this one, attendees paid a certain amount of money for 10 glorious minutes of face time with any or all of the agents that were attending the one-day conference. Writers weren’t allowed to hand over their manuscript directly, but could:

  • ask about the agent (are you editorial–do you give feedback on manuscripts or do you only submit as is? how many clients are you actively subbing right now? what kinds of stories do you like and tend to submit: humor, sci fi, YA, etc)
  • ask about the agency (how long has it been around? where is it headquartered and is that where you are located? how many are in the office? [<–technically they should have already looked up that info but I digress] are you autonomous or does the Director play a strong role?)
  • ask about the industry (do you see many historical fictions these days? are picture books selling well?)

Mostly, though, (smart) writers were there to use the 10 minutes to talk about their manuscript and ask for feedback. If we’re going to call a spade a spade, mostly people were hoping that after discussing the manuscript, the agent would say “sounds interesting, send it my way, I’ll have a look.” They were there to pitch their story to the agent in hopes of getting representation. And that’s fair–nothing wrong with that. Agents know that coming in–in fact, that’s why there are there too! They are looking for new talent/work. Win win.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

But as in every potential relationship, not all work out. Even when they were SURE this one would.

Several people lamented to me that their agent meetings “didn’t go well” because the agent didn’t like the manuscript, or didn’t ask for them to send it in. They felt they wasted their time and their money. But that’s not true!! That meeting still went well. In fact, it almost went better than if they asked for the entire manuscript to be sent in.

Almost.

Listen. If the agent wasn’t a fan of your submitted work/idea, or if you didn’t get the feels, THEN SHE ISN’T THE AGENT FOR YOU! You 100% still had a good meeting. How? You now know that agent isn’t for you. The last thing you want is someone not committed to you or work work, or a contract with someone you don’t get along with. An agent is someone you’re going to be working with for a long time–you want a good working relationship based on mutual trust and effort. If she isn’t into you or your work, it’s GREAT that she let you know (and I’m sure it was a gentle let down). It’s now a confirmed data point vs an unknown. 

This applies to interviewing almost anyone for anything–once you’ve said or heard no to/from that person, you are that much closer to saying yes to the right one. This “No thanks” was time well spent. In the case of the writing world, you aren’t getting your hopes up by emailing a proposal or query or manuscript to someone that on paper looked perfect only to wait six months to get a form rejection letter back. You already know this isn’t the agent. Seriously, that is good information. In other industries and situations, you can confidently say, “we avoided making a mistake by hiring that one.” It’s not idle effort. The important thing is that you’re getting yourself out there, seeking.

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

I once had a dream agent that I found out about, read all I could about her, practically memorized the agency website as well as her bio page, and followed on her on Twitter. She was hilarious. We had the same sense of humor. I KNEW we’d be a great match. I couldn’t wait to meet her at a conference. But once I met her in person…wow. Does. Not. Equal. We were sooo not a match. While she was a great agent for others, there was no way I wanted to work with her. And I never would have known for sure had I not met her in person. It was not a waste of time. It saved me time.

Think of if this way: now you can get moving focusing on someone else to grow old with. The right someone else.

Photo by Rubén Bagüés on Unsplash

To Write or Not to Write

Inevitable? My friend made me this to remind me to keep at it.

I’ve had a long slump. I’m IN a slump. One long train of rejections that keeps chugging by, practically waving in my face as it passes…

I told a friend of mine last week that if I didn’t hear back from a certain house by Friday, that I was done. I had shopped this particular manuscript around with fast and early interest rapidly fizzling into radio silence. That glowing promise, I think, is what has stung the hardest. Because after what I was certain was a sure thing, it’s gone nowhere. I’ve received the highest level of feedback I’ve ever heard on this one, and yet also received the fastest rate of rejections. I don’t get it. And I’ve. Had. Enough.

I’ve been frustrated for months. “Nothing of mine has been picked up for a few years now,” I told my friend. “I’ve had a good run…21 books. But I’ve got to face the new facts. I’m not cutting it. I need to move on. It’s okay, no hard feelings. No regrets.”

She didn’t say a thing. So I continued:

“I don’t get it. This sh*t is good. Borderline great. I mean, quite frankly it’s my best work,” I bragged lamented. “Agents and editors have flat out told me! Yet for one reason or another, it’s ‘not the right one for them.’ ARRRGGGH.” (I may have shaken my fists to the sky in a trite manner before toning it down a wee bit.) (OK, fine, I may also have let a few swear words fly before caching my breath.) (But I did not punch her, or the wall, or the poor guy walking by with fear in his eyes as he gave wide berth.) “I can’t control others, I can only control myself,” I said, sorta calmly. “So if I don’t hear back from [said house that I’d been really optimistic about] by Friday, I’m done. I’m getting off this train. I’ve submitted dozens of new manuscripts this year alone.” I scrunched my face and self corrected. “Tens? Well, at least five. Some better than others, I can admit. This last one can be my swan song. Time to jump ship. Or long-waving train car, whatever.”

“Everyone has a slump. That doesn’t mean you abandon ship. Shut up–I know you’re gonna say train. You know what I mean. What’s your problem? Why now?”

“The problem is, nothing that I’ve felt with my heart and soul as NEEDS TO BE TOLD has gone anywhere. My older stuff I’ve let go of, it’s crap, but some of this stuff I haven’t been able to abandon because I’ve truly thought they’re worthy. Yet guess what–after years and years of trying, they aren’t published. I’ve got to see that for what it is and recognize maybe my work is just not good enough. I need to move on. It’s okay, I’ve really thought it through. Been thinking about it for years, actually, and only now have the nerve to do it. I’ve made peace with it. ”

“Can you, though?” she asked, her question boring through my heart like a fire-heated rod.

“Can you really give up writing?”

My friends, has anyone ever asked you a question that stopped you in your tracks? One that called you out and showed you who you are? One that perhaps caught you off guard because you thought you already thought through all the ramifications and possible outcomes and were fine with all of them, but that one question made you realize you were just PRETENDING to be okay with said decision?

That’s what this question did to me.

Especially because this decision was based on an arbitrary if not fake deadline, with all hope pointing to a house actually getting back to me by said fake deadline, because I really wanted to hear back from them so I could continue writing. I mean, if I wanted to quit, I’d quite, right? None of this “starting tomorrow” business. If I wanted to stop swearing (HAH!) then I’d take it seriously and quit–not starting next week as long as no one pissed me off before then. I guess it’s like an addiction?

Swearing Writing is part of who I am. It’s what I do.

So no dumb, fake deadline is gonna make me quit.

Spoiler alert: As you may have guessed, that house hasn’t gotten back to me. It might never get back to me. Yet here I am. Writing. I’m still looking, still pounding the pavement, still pandering, still waving my LOOK OVER HERE flag. I’ve chosen another house to send to–three in fact. (I never said I was exclusive in the submission and unless requested, these days most assume you aren’t. I’d really like that first one. But tick tock, I ain’t got all day to hear no, lol. I can retract my submission to the others if that one signs me. Wouldn’t that be a great problem to have?)

So, yeah, here I am, writing again.

Does it feel good?

Better than not writing, that’s for sure.

Gift from my sisters to encourage the ongoing warrior in me. I share it with the ongoing warrior in you!

Thanks for joining me on this writing journey. I bet you’ve got “I’m done” stories too. Let me hear about them!

Iceland: Facts for Fiction

If you’re considering Iceland as a setting for your next book, I highly recommend, it. As one friend put it, it’s “otherworldly.” It’s known for amazingly beautiful, natural underground hot springs like Blue Lagoon. Fantastically colorful cityscapes. Volcanoes. A geyser (Geysir) from which all other geysers are named. The spot where European and North American continents split (tectonic plates). Waterfall after waterfall. Some great music. Black sand beaches. And sure, where Game of Thrones has filmed.

Unfiltered photo from my camera! Copyright Bitsy Kemper

Having recently spent a week there, I want to share some ways this landscape can make for an interesting background–if not supporting character–in your next book. Here are some random facts as told to me by historians and locals (that I backed up by other sources):

  1. Names: Besides being crazy long with letters that look like a fly got stuck on the page, there are some things you need to know before you name your Icelandic character:
    • Parents who want to give their child a name that’s never been used in the country before have to get it approved by a governing Icelandic Naming Committee. Really.[https://www.island.is/en/icelandic-names/] I’ve heard they are pretty easy going, as long at it’s not disparaging or derogatory (or, I’m guessing, something like Moon Unit [sorry Frank Zappa] or YouTube). Imagine the fun you’d have with the backstory of the first person named Jane or Pepe!
    • Brothers and sisters have different last names. That’s because the child takes the FIRST name of the dad and adds -son if it’s a boy and -dóttir (daughter) if it’s a girl. A family might have kids named Christopher Vincentson, George Vincentson, and Carolyn Vincentdóttir. (Of course their names wouldn’t be so Anglicized but you get the idea.) The mom can choose to not acknowledge the father and use only her name, although it’s not very common. In that case they’d be Christopher Elisabethson, George Elisabethson, and Caroyln Elizabethdóttir. Rarely, the child can use both names…Christopher Vincentson Elizabethson. [https://wsimag.com/culture/2248-the-peculiarities-of-icelandic-naming]
    • Phonebooks list names alphabetically by first name! Wouldn’t that be a great nugget to sneak into your novel? Well…assuming it’s in a time period when phonebooks were still commonly used…
  2. Space: The population of the ENTIRE COUNTRY is about 340,000, of which about 220,000 live in the capital area of Reykjavik. Think about that…there are fewer living in all of Iceland than in the city of Raleigh, NC; the capital has about as many people as Chesapeake, VA. Average capital city commute time? 11 minutes. (Not a typo. Eleven minutes, door to door. Can you imagine the luxury?) [https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/iceland-population/,
    http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/reykjavik-population/,
    https://www.icelandreview.com/news/commuting-takes-an-average-11-6-minutes/]
  3. Capital: The city looks more like a town with homes that have been there for generations, with many of the same families living in them since they were hand built. Although there is a (small by US standards) industrial area with high rises, the main part of town has homes and historic buildings side by side everything else. Everything is accessible. Even the Prime Minister’s office is smack in the middle of town, a lovely but nondescript two-story building with no guards or parking lot, that anyone can walk up to. (Due to the high wind, almost no buildings in the main downtown are taller than a few stories.) But even though the capital city is lovely and beautiful and the only “real” city on the island, do you really want to write out “Reykjavik” 600 times? Consider picking a smaller town outside the capital so you don’t have to spell it over and over–or force your reader into trying to read and pronounce it in their head over and over. (FWIW “ray-kuh-vek” is the simplified way to say it…RECK or REYK-ya-vek or REYK-ja-vick with a very soft/minor j sound is how I’ve heard locals say it.) Just know almost all towns have equally awkward names, spellings, and pronunciations, at least by American standards. Maybe make up your own city name. Your call. P.S. The cathedral in the center of the capital city is a landmark that seems to be one many people recognize, and is a common tourist meeting place since it can be seen from far distances and is easy to find while walking from almost any point around town. The church was built in an art deco style of the New York Chrysler Building and is supposed to resemble their famous erupting geysir. P.P.S. The city, and well, island, is pretty darn windy, no bad hair jokes!
  4. Weather: beware of stereotyping.
    • You picture a vast snow-covered land, right? Well surprisingly, there is very little snowfall! And even less accumulation. Reykjavik only gets an average of two to three inches of snow per month in the winter. Due to the natural warm springs resting underground, most snow melts soon after it lands, making for little need to shovel driveways or pave roads. Compare that to Alaska, that might get two feet in January! Virtually no snow May to Oct. Note: it rains often throughout the year in Iceland. Precipitation numbers will be different from snowfall. [https://weatherspark.com/y/31501/Average-Weather-in-Reykjav%C3%ADk-Iceland-Year-Round]
    • Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” Since it does rain at least a little bit almost every day–or at least it seems like it, that doesn’t mean it’s a hard rain. It might be a light mist while cloudy or while sunny. Or ten minutes of hard rain that fades out like nothing ever happened. Given the year-round island wind (told you it was windy!), no one but a tourist carries an umbrella, as it’ll just be blown inside out or down the street. I like that a variety of same-day weather might make for a fun backdrop, especially if your character is wishywashy or their future uncertain.
  5. Landscape:
    • There are 600 different types of moss covering land and rocks. [https://grapevine.is/mag/articles/2017/12/07/the-life-and-death-of-icelandic-mosses/] They’ve been around since the Ice Age. Some take 100-150 years to regrow if disturbed, kids are told, so they are taught at a young age to respect and stay away from it. Don’t have characters running off the beaten path. Or if they do, it’s has to be hugely significant.
    • There’s a saying that if you ever get lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. 🙂 The Norse deforested most of the original land when they arrived a thousand years ago, using trees for ships, warmth, housing, etc. Around 1950 a plan was put into place to start replanting. Most trees are relatively new to the island, and therefore not very tall. So don’t create any dense forest scenes! Hmm, actually, a pre- and post-1950s landscape might make for some interesting comparisons in character growth.
      [https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/the-forests-of-iceland]
    • You’ll find one of the biggest glaciers in Europe on the island.
      [https://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/nature/glaciers/vatnajokull] (Honestly makes me wonder how many European glaciers can there be to compare it to?) Great place for a character that leads expeditions, ice hikes, or conservation efforts, wouldn’t you say?
  6. Drinking: How’s this for a fun fact? Beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989. Seriously. [https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31622038] Overall, I found Icelanders to not be big drinkers. Or drinkers at all. Stats agree; studies show they drink less than other cultures: in 2014 there was a reported lifetime abstinence for 14.1% of the drinking age population, and 32.1% of not drinking in the past 12 months, compared to, say, Denmark that had 4.5% and 11.4%. [https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_2.pdf?ua=1] Any bar scenes you put in might need to have a larger percentage of visitors with the local beer (say, Gull–pronounced sorta like ‘gulsh’) or vodka (say, Reyka) in their hands. Don’t ask me how I know, lol. Drinking age is 20.
  7. Prices and food: Ah, gee, don’t get me started. Prices are out of control.
    • A pint of that draft Gull beer? $12-$15 (1450-1800 krona). FOR ONE. Mojito? That’ll be $24, please. I got a vodka soda and was charged the equivalent of $22 for the vodka, and an additional $5 for the cute little bottle of seltzer. Dinner meals will cost a solid $40 each for nothing too fancy. Chinese food, Italian, Mexican, etc, all available. And all AT LEAST $25 a meal; most closer to $35. If you’re itching for just a burger and hit a version of a TGIFridays, you’ll get a pretty good burger and fries (only served medium/medium rare) for $25. Iced tea (no refills) $3-$5. I bought a large bottle of Icelandic water in California before I left, for $2, and the exact same one IN ICELAND was almost $4. Explain that to me? But I digress.
    • Their economy seems to be doing well, although some still understandably complain about inflation. <No political discussion will be had here!>
    • Their meal staples are lamb (pretty gamey I hear, since they are only fed a clean diet of grasses) and lots of fish dishes. They are vegan and vegetarian friendly, but are quick to make jokes about the lifestyle (as are the rest of the world, it appears!). Lots of farming generations there…sheep and cows…so the older generations are slower to warm up to meat-free diets.
    • Also they breed special Icelandic horses too but not for eating! It’s a pretty big exporting business; the horses can fetch upwards of $8,000-$20,000 each (told you everything there is more expensive!). They are smaller than other horses but have a unique gait.
  8. Oh–and one more set of random interesting facts: Taco Bell and Dominos are there. McDonalds is not. Nor is Uber. Both are banned.
  9. Ack, I could go on and on but I started this three weeks ago and keep thinking of new things to add. You get the picture, right? If not, see below 🙂 I think this is good enough for now. I hope you do too. Time to hit the PUBLISH key.

One stereotypical and broad-sweeping comment I will make is that I found the Icelandic people to be truly kind and nice and open. While once a secluded country, it’s slowly getting more diverse with people from all over the world moving in and finding a happy home, whether it’s in the fishing industry, aluminum, retail, educational, tourism, whatever. So if you’re looking for a unique main or supporting character you don’t have to limit yourself to the “typical” Icelander. Because just like with every other country in the world, there isn’t one.

There are plenty of ways to make your characters and setting stand out. Iceland just might be one of the better ways.

Let me know if you do!

Getting Conference-Ready: 10 Conference Tips for the Introvert, Beginner, and Beginner Introvert

Whether you’re headed to your first conference or your fifth, you’re gonna want to plan ahead. Most writers are introverts, and panic at the thought of being in a room with strangers. Relax! You’re going to be fine. The children’s book industry is wonderfully welcoming and supportive. (I’ve attended and presented at conferences across the U.S., from local to international events, and never cease to be amazed at the kindness.) To help maximize your precious time, and all that coin you’ve already dropped on the event, here are some tips I’ve found most helpful:

image from luckylittlelearners

Conference tips:

  1. Have an overall goal in mind. This might change for every conference. Most people assume they are they are there to get published. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’re not going to get a contract at the conference (seriously, toss that thought right now). Be realistic. Let’s assume you’re there to figure out how to get published. Try to break that down into measurable steps.
    • Maybe your goal for that one conference is to find an agent, or to find out how to get an agent, or simply bust out of your comfort zone. OK. Can you make it even more specific? If you’re looking for in an agent, for example, what qualities or skills are important to you? Figure that out before you go so you know what to look for in the agents that are there, and you’ll be able to better size up and decide if anyone there is right for you. No sense submitting to an agent you don’t want to work with, right? If you want to break out of your comfort zone, list out two or three specific actions–like initiate a conversation with two strangers, attend that awards banquet by yourself, and/or refuse to sit in your room doing email every night.
    • Center all your time/schedule decisions around that one overall goal. Attend only those sessions that fit your goal, for example. It will help you manage your time AND challenge yourself to achieve that specific goal. (Next conference you can attend the other sessions that sounded equally good–odds are you’ll have a difference goal by then.)
  2. Get ready to smile and say hey. I hate the slimy connotations of the word networking, but conferences are really about the people. Otherwise you’d stay at home. What I mean by that is don’t just focus on the workshop topics, look at who’s teaching them. Read their bios. Try to read the book of the keynote speaker and/or whoever you’re taking classes from beforehand, so you know their background and you’re not coming in cold. That’s how you feel like a insider! By doing your homework you’ll feel like you already have an edge. Odds are you’ll be eager to meet the presenters. When else will you have the chance to meet them, and see what they’re really like? You can take just about any class online these days, but meeting these professionals in person? That’s why you’re there.
  3. Have your “elevator pitch” ready! You’ll be using it throughout the conference, that is, if you’re taking the conference seriously and are out there meeting people. (Here’s a good primer to get yours shiny.)
  4. Pack with a theme in mind. Not as in 1800s or hippy, but something that is consistent. It not only helps make packing easier, but makes it much easier for people to find and remember you every day, as well as afterwards. “I’m the one in polka dots” or “I was the one with pink striped hair.” You won’t be in the same thing everyday but people will start to recognize you by how you dress.
  5. Get your class act together. Speaking of clothes…at writer’s conferences you don’t have to dress to impress, but c’mon, this isn’t your mom’s basement. Make an effort. Dress like you’re going out to eat, not like you just woke up. If you look like you’re taking this seriously–others will take you seriously too. (But skip the heels, ladies, that’s one fashion item that’s just silly at a conference.)
  6. A simple trick: stick business cards (people still use them!) in your badge holder, so they’re handy. Make sure your website and whatever social media handles/hashtags you use are included–if not, write them in with pen. Consider adding a QR code to your card that allows a cell phone to take people directly to your contact info, including your website URL, without them ever having to type a thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS7jdYZomu0 tells you how to create a free vcard. https://blog.4colorprint.com/great-designs-for-business-card-layout-inspiration has ideas for unique looking biz cards. [Note: I have no affiliation with either of them whatsoever]
  7. You never know who you’ll be sitting next to so be nice to everyone you meet. Author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi has some great conference tips on “making the first move” – you need to suck it up and introduce yourself around! Remember the part abut people being the reason you’re there? [See more of Debbie’s advice, including charming comics about being an introvert, at her website here.] Since most of us will be attending the conference alone (even if we traveled with a friend), it can get nerve racking. Wracking even. Take some “survive attending a conference alone” tips from themuse.com here. [Again, no affiliation]
  8. Be open to learning. If you’ve attended a hundred conferences before and find yourself saying “I already know this” at every session/workshop, then you’re preventing yourself from learning anything new. I mean, if you already know everything, why are you there? (<— remind me of this one, ok? I’m always the one rolling my eyes saying I knew that, when, hmm, maybe I didn’t)
  9. Prepare ahead of time. Review the schedule. Figure out why the keynoters are keynoters and not session presenters. Plan your day(s). Choose your workshops carefully so it’s not a last-minute choice made in haste. (They need to support your goal, remember?)
  10. Speaking of preparing…if you’re a true beginner, and are looking for basic tips on writing your first children’s book so you don’t feel out of place at your first conference, check out a video I made for the beginning picture book writer. It’s fun. Really. https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/179/

I joke about lotion-ing up so you’re not remembered as the hand shaker with the rough skin. But bottom line: do your homework. And get ready to smile. You’re going to have a great time!

He’s following me, isn’t he?