Authors get their best feedback from author events


Authors get their best feedback from author eventsJay Leno has commented a number of times in interviews that it’s important for stand-up comedians to continue their stand-up work even when they no longer have to. Getting in front of a small live audience is a valuable experience, because it keeps you sharp and provides an opportunity to understand what people like and don’t like about your work.

My books were published last year and I’m new to book marketing, but I’ve noticed that Jay Leno’s advice also applies to authors. The more I talk to readers about my books at events, the more I learn what they enjoy about my writing. It’s information I don’t get in a book review or an email. It’s real, instinctual feedback that they provide with their words, facial expressions, laughter, applause, and physical energy.

Last night at an event where I was one of five authors on a panel, I introduced new information about the way I write and discovered more than I could have imagined. This is what I shared:

  • My stories will always have a strong sense of place. The story’s location will be one of the characters. I want readers to connect to the story’s location via their senses, e.g., smell, touch, sight, etc. This comes from my love of travel.
  • I write fiction to communicate an idea. My book THE MEDIUM communicates: it’s comforting and healing to connect with someone you love on the Other Side. My book THE HERMIT BOOKSTORE communicates: there’s no such thing as a coincidence.
  • My story ideas and themes date back to my childhood when I first became interested in things most people can’t explain. For example,
    • when you walk into a room and can feel that something is wrong
    • a feeling of deja vu when you travel to a place you’ve never been but it feels familiar
    • receiving a sign from or connecting with someone on the Other Side
    • feeling the influence of a full moon
    • a coincidence that doesn’t feel like a coincidence, either when it happens or a few months later when you’re thinking about it
  • I refer to these events as “mysteries of the human experience”. We feel them. We experience them. We know they happen. But we can’t explain them. My stories will always include these types of events because they are part of being human (whether you notice them or not).
  • I think it’s important to write stories about these types of events, because it helps people validate their own experiences.

While sharing this information I learned that readers better understand the types of stories I write, and they enjoy reading about characters who have these experiences. It also adds a bit of mystery to the story, which everyone enjoys.

Eudora Welty explains why all short stories are not potential novels

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.53.10 PMIf you like Southern fiction, you may have read the book Conversations with Eudora Welty (I highly recommend it).

In an interview with Alice Walker (Summer of 1973), this was Welty’s reply when Walker asked if she thought all short stories were potential novels:

“No, they are two different things. I think that one of my faults as a novelist is that I don’t think as a novelist does. I think the short story is a sustained thing, all in one piece, and compact. You don’t have any of the expansion and scope that the novel can have. So any time I’ve made the mistake of writing a short story that became a novel I’ve had to go back and start at the beginning again. It’s like starting for the long jump or the short hop. You don’t have the same impulse.”

Based on my own experience, Welty is right as rain. When I wrote THE MEDIUM, a short story, and THE HERMIT BOOKSTORE, a novella, my mind’s eye naturally saw a tidy story, not a lingering show. Then this year, when I started to write my first novel, my mind’s eye saw something different — an expanded drama where the characters and story elements slowly unfold.

I enjoy reading all types of story lengths, but I especially admire writers who can pack a big story into a small space. Here are a few examples of wonderful stories packed into about 100 pages. Do you have any favorites?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde