Tuesday, September 27, 2011


A Writer Comes out of the Basement

I was shocked and appalled when I discovered that an author--even a successful author--was expected to promote his/her own novel. I'd always pictured writing as something I would do at my computer in the basement, clacking away until I could send my words off into the magical publishing world--a place where readers just bought your work because it was on the bookshelf.

But ten years ago, as I watched an author read in front of a large crowd, it dawned on me that I would have to do this one day. Oh, oh! I suffer from major stage fright. I was the camera trainee who used to stutter and flub his way through the slates, terrified that the lead actor or the director would criticize how the sticks came together. Where they too loud? Did they hear the terror in my voice--the stress?

Of course I got over that fear when I realized that no one on set was paying any attention to me. I could have called, "Mary had a little lamb, take two!" and no one except the editor would've noticed or cared, and the editor's not on set.

So I decided to overcome my fear of self-promotion by jumping straight into it. Since I got over my slating phobia by clapping hundreds of slates, I decided I could get over my stage fright by going on stage as often as possible. The first panel I managed to squeeze onto was at Bloody Words 2007, and our fantastic moderator, Vicki Cameron, helped me through that ordeal. But I didn't stop there. Since then I've been on about two panels per year, and I've done several readings.

But a special self-promotional art can be practiced once a year at Word on the Street: the art of the two minute book pitch. Yesterday the Crime Writers of Canada had the biggest booth we've ever had at WOTS thanks to the efforts of Catherine Astolfo. Four writers each hour had their books in front of them, ready to sell to the crowds. For the seven hour day that allowed me to witness twenty-eight writers make their pitch.

So I couldn't help comparing the different styles of the authors to see what worked and what didn't. Here are my humble tips for writers at a booth.

One: Stand up. Don't sit in a chair looking inferior and bored. Meet your adoring public eye-to-eye, and smile.

Two: Don't let people walk by without trying to engage them. My first year at WOTS I volunteered to flog CWC memberships, and I did it by holding out brochures to people passing by and saying, "Brochures are free." It was like fishing. Most people would take the brochure because they knew it wasn't going to cost them anything, and then I'd reel them in with the draw for the books.

Third: Don't scowl if they aren't interested. I saw this happen at a few booths this year, and it stunned me to see such unprofessional behavior. Just because someone isn't interested in what your selling doesn't mean you've been personally insulted.

Finally: smile and chat with your fellow authors. That's the easy part. If people believe you're enjoying yourself, they'll want to join the fun. They'll come over, and now you can practice your two-minute novel pitch.

It turned out to be easier to come out of the basement than I feared, and it's actually been a lot of fun. I think I even like the self-promotion part of writing now.

Michael Andre McPherson has worked in film and television, construction and web production. He's visited pretty much every country with a "stan" in the suffix of its name, including Afghanistan, although long before the Canadian Army's visit, and long before it was a fashionable destination. A dozen of Mike's short stories have been published with several receiving awards. His latest adventure has been e-publishing his previously published short stories into an anthology: Summer of Bridges. He has also published a young adult novel: Vampire Road. Mike is the regional vice-president in Toronto for the Crime Writers of Canada. Find out more at http://www.beyondtheslushpile.com


  1. Very good post, Michael. Thanks very much. I too have found it very important not to remain sitting very long at a signing if you want to engage people. It's the same technique trainers use in the world of adult learning: don't let the desk at the front of the classroom become a barrier between yourself and your audience. I like to circulate a bit and offer free bookmarks. If a person takes one, I tell them where they can find me if they'd like to chat.

  2. Thanks for the compliment, Mike, but you know it was the team effort that made Word on the Street such a success for Crime Writers of Canada this year! I can really relate to this post, too. I find marketing CWC and other writers easier than marketing me! I'm going to have get over that, it's clear. Vicki Delany is my hero, too. She does a great pitch.

  3. It is a wonderful opportunity to observe fellow writers flog their books, for many reasons:
    A) It's very intimidating to do it yourself as a newbie. B) You can 'practice' your pitch and ask for a critique when starting out when you're under the wing of a veteran author. C) You can adapt the many styles you encounter to suit your own personality and "product". In the Ottawa area, we have been blessed with the tutelage of the members of the Ladies Killing Circle. Susan