As a theater major at Florida State (Go, ‘Noles!), a storyteller, freelance writer and aspiring mystery writer, the phrase “always keep your audience in mind” has been in my brain for nearly my whole life. That idea is why debut mysteries have the body on the first page (or at least in the first couple of pages) because mystery readers—including agents and editors—have expectations. It’s why “if it bleeds it leads” became the mantra for television news. Someone decided that’s what the audience wanted. And it’s why authors at a book talk-book signing shouldn’t let their child take over the presentation.
Recently I went to a book signing at an independent bookstore near my house. I like the bookstore. The owner is friendly, knowledgeable and supportive of local and regional authors. This was a pay-to-attend event, not much at $5, but still. I didn’t mind spending the money to hear an author I’ve enjoyed. Author’s books are funny, so I had high hopes that Author would be, too.
But Author wasn’t. In fact, Author was unprofessional. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like kids, a lot. Sometimes more than adults. However, when I have paid $5 to hear an author speak, I don’t want an eight-year-old, no matter how cute and precocious, taking over the discussion.
Author, who was obviously completely distracted by the very loquacious child, nevertheless did nothing to stop the chatter. Author allowed the child to tell stories, answer questions that Author was asked by audience members, and whisper in Author’s ear several times as the two stood before 20-25 people who had paid $5 each (not to mention those who had already paid for Author’s books—in hardback, no less) to hear Author speak.
After 20 minutes or so of what felt like eavesdropping on a private parent-child conversation, I was relieved when Author gave up on the speaking portion of the evening, though moving to the book signing didn’t mean the end of the child’s performance. Author let us know that child also wanted to sign books, if we didn’t mind. (The child is mentioned in the book, which is non-fiction.)
Chris (my husband) and I left without buying a book, which I would have done if I’d enjoyed Author’s talk. If I’d enjoyed the talk, I’d likely have gone to hear Author again or maybe signed up for one of Author’s workshops, because I’ve heard good things about them. But I won’t now. Author broke the first rule of entertainment, which is what Author’s books and book talks are: Always keep your audience in mind.
Feel free to leave a comment about book signings you’ve attended—good or bad. Or let me know if you think I overreacted. (Though I have to say, Chris felt the same way, and he has way more patience than I do.)