Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Panel Etiquette

                                      This picture was yanked from my buddy P.J. Schnyder.

“Yes, panels.” 
“What are those?” 
“Things you should be doing.” 
“Because you are an author.”

It’s the truth.  So many authors think, “Okay, I wrote the book, I got it published, now I just need to sit back and collect royalties.”  Wrong.  Getting published is a very small step in a long list of things you need to do if you want to have a successful career as an author.  What do you need to do after you get published?  Sell yourself.  That’s right.  With the advent of e-publishing, self-publishing, and the YA boom, there are so many people who are published these days that promoting yourself is the only thing that will get you noticed.  What’s one of the ways to do that?

Be on a panel.
That means going to a convention and volunteering to be put up in front of a room full of people to talk about you, your writing, and everything that is related to your writing.  Usually you have other people up there with you.  Usually the people running the convention have designated someone to be the "moderator."  There might be a clock, there might be water, you may have to make your own fire and trap your own lizards.

Once you are put on a panel here are some things to think about.

1.  Make sure you show up.  Don't volunteer to do something and then cop out on it. ESPECIALLY if you are the moderator.  People are coming to see and hear YOU.  The other panelists might sit there waiting for YOU.  And if you show up, people are less likely to like YOU.

2.  Be on time.  Be there when the panel starts.  This might mean investigating where the room you are doing your panel in is BEFORE the panel starts.  Make sure the panel ends on time.  Panels that run over their designated time just make life harder for the next set of panelists.  Bring a watch with you to every convention!

3.  Take care of business before going in.  There is nothing worse for someone trying to concentrate on the panel than someone who is everywhere but.  Arrange your stuff ahead of time, bring a drink, go to the bathroom before coming in, turn off your phone.

4.  Go in with some idea of what the panel is about and how you feel about the topic.  If you are the moderator, make sure you have a clear idea of how you want to run the show.  Make a list of questions or comments that you could make to jump-start a stale conversation.  Often, I've seen moderators set up ground rules at the beginning of the panel.  This may sound childish, but people tend to let down there hair at cons and sometimes that lets their snakes lose too!

5.  Be polite and courteous to your fellow panelists and the people watching the panel.  Wait your turn to speak.  Don't get so passionate about how much you hate sparkly vampires that people make a point to avoid you in the future.

6.  Be professional.  Have your brand face and clothes on.  Treat people the way 'John Doe' the author would talk to people.

7.  Bring your outdoor voice.  I can't tell you how many time I've gone to watch a panel and can't hear the panelist over the heavy breathing of the guy sitting in front of me.

8.  Bring promotional material.  This could be a couple of copies of books, covers, bookmarks, business cards.  Anything people can pick up and take home is good -- preferably it has some way for them to connect to your social networking sites.

9.  Plug yourself.  This is not just fun times talking about your favorite horror scenes.  This is a chance for you to make an impact in the buying habits of those 10-50 people watching you.  Have some kind of mini-pitch lined up.  Usually a moderator will ask panelist to introduce themselves, make sure you introduce your work along with yourself.  Also, try your best to plug your work as you are speaking about the topic.  Don't go overboard by continually picking up your book and saying "buy this."  You want to say things like, "The horror scene in movie X was great because ABC, I wanted to capture that in this particular scene in this particular book.  These are the issues I had."  This type of dialogue is much more interesting and far more likely to get someone curious about your work because it shows you CARE about the work itself, not just selling it.

10.  No matter how much 'that guy' bothers you, don't make it obvious to the onlookers.  There's always that one person who either goes on forever or can't seem to make a point or just argues for the sake of it.  Often you and everyone else in the room want to clobber him, but try to look cool and patient.

11.  On the flip side, don't BE that guy.  Try to give everyone a chance to speak and don't speak until you know what you're trying to say.

12.  Handle jerks in the most diplomatic way possible.  Sometimes people butt heads, it's inevitable.  How you handle yourself in one of these tough situations will be how people remember you in the future.

13.  Give the audience some love.  The people are coming because they are interested in the topic.  Don't forget to let them ask questions or add valuable commentary.  Just because someone gave you a seat at the front doesn't mean you're King of the Panel.

14.  With #14 in mind, stay on topic.  You're all in the same room for a reason.  It's to talk about the panel topic.  Keeping on topic is the moderator's job, BUT if you find the discussion getting off topic and no one is doing anything about it, try to gently steer it back in the right direction.

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