Friday, 23 February 2018

One Is the Loneliest Number by Lev Butts


As any independently or mid-level traditionally published author will tell you, unless your first name is Neil or Stephen or J. K. and your last name is King or Rowling or Gaiman, you are going to spend a goodly portion of your time attending various conventions to promote your work. This is especially true if you are writing genre fiction.

If you are traditionally published and lucky, your publisher may foot the bill for your hotel, and the convention planners may buy a few copies of your books for you to sign and sell throughout the weekend. If you are and independently published author or a traditionally published author and unlucky, you are going to be footing the bills for these things and setting them up yourself.

Results may vary.
You will still do it, though, because it's part of getting your work out there and building your own name recognition.

However, regardless of how much you plan and prepare, every once in a while, things will turn out much differently than you pictured them.

Last weekend, I attended a local steampunk convention, Atlanta's own Anachrocon, to promote my Guns of the Waste Land series as well as my upcoming critical edition of H. P. Lovecraft's work (I finally found a publisher for it). Neither of these really qualify as steampunk, but there is enough of an overlap, that I have managed to get invited to the convention for last three years. My panels are generally fairly well attended, and I usually sell five to ten copies of each of my books when I go.

This year, however, one of my panels brought in a whopping zero attendees, unless you count my wife, and our two friends (one, a fellow writer we had been eating with just before the panel was supposed to start). Also, about fifteen minutes before the panel ended, the wife and husband team who made up the next panel showed up. However, no one who was actually not a personal acquaintance through blood or friendship or not directly involved with the convention showed up.

No one.

Artist's rendition. Note the yawning abyss through the windows.
So what do you do in this situation?


Yep, you give the damned thing anyway. Honestly, even if your family and friends aren't there, and it's just you and the big empty, you give the presentation to an empty room because there are more benefits than doing nothing at all. 

1. Gain Practice

This will not be the last time you ever have to speak on this topic barring some unforeseen circumstance. Take the opportunity to practice the performance under conditions closer than anything else you can find to giving it to a live audience at a convention. Say what you want about practicing alone in your room beforehand. Nothing beats practicing alone in the conference room for authenticity.

Except, maybe, speaking in front of a packed conference room full of folks who pre-ordered your book.

2. Build Confidence

It is certainly a blow to your confidence to walk into what you hope will be a packed room and expect to be a room of about five or ten folks, and find an empty room. No doubt about that.

The only way to build that confidence back is to show them jerkholes that stood you up that you don't need their pissant presence to give a kickass speech. You stand up there and give that presentation anyway.

Seriously, though, doing this really will build your confidence, especially if, like me, you find it even more awkward to speak to yourself than to complete strangers. If you can give the presentation with the same energy and motivation to an empty room that you would have to a full house, no other presentation will ever have the same level of anxiety associated with it. Ever.

I mean, unless these guys are the audience. If so, good luck, dude.
3. Lure Others

A lot of people sneak in and out of convention presentations, especially when the convention offers concurrent panels. There may be two equally interesting panels and a patron may want to see the first bit of one and the last bit of another. Others may leave a panel from boredom. Still others may just be wandering the halls until something catches their fancy.

These are your audience. 

If you sit alone and silently in a conference room, or worse yet, leave it when no one shows up, you have lost the opportunity to gain this new audience. However, if you give your presentation anyway, with enough energy that it grabs a passer-by's attention, you have created an audience, and hopefully a new fan. Once you have one person listening, it will be easier to continue and possibly get another.

Of course, your room may end as empty as it began, too, but you will have still gotten more out of the experience if you give the presentation anyway than if you simply leave and get a drink at the bar.

The bar will be there when your hour is over; the practice, confidence, and possible new audience will not be.

Also, when it's all said and done and you post the pictures on your social media,
no one has to know it was just you and a roomful of  empty chairs.


3 comments:

Andrew Crofts said...

Your courage does you credit, Lev. One of the great joys of ghostwriting is you get to do the writing, you bank the cheque and some other poor soul has to take the risk of facing an empty room.

Lydia Bennet said...

This kind of thing happens to poets with monotonous regularity! Good for you, for powering through and not being too downcast by the audience dearth.

Fran B said...

Thanks for that. I feel a whole lot better about some disastrous selling events and signings I have done (or not done) in the past. I admire your thick skin and your determined, Pollyanna personality!