Sunday, June 8, 2014

Don't Be THAT Writer - Five Do's and Donts for Panelists

A friend in Minneapolis-St.Paul sent me this photo from her local book store last night. Pretty damn thrilling for me, to see my book right next to Guy Gavriel Kay, longtime literary hero and favored author. I don't know Nate Kenyon, but it seems we should be friends, huh?

We could be a panel right there, the three of us sitting up at the table at the front of the room. In this case, I imagine our topic would be "Why are two fantasy novels and an alternate history listed under 'New in Science Fiction'?"

Not that any of us would care to look this gift horse in the mouth, but genre marketing and bookshelving discussions always make for lively conversation, which make for good panels.

Which, my friends, is the point.

Panels are, to my mind, the most fun publicity event I can engage in. I love doing panels, mainly because I get to talk about my favorite subjects with other people who also love the topic of conversation. A good panel is a directed, hour-long (usually) discussion that brings out new insights. I come away from a great panel feeling energized and excited.

Unless, THAT writer is involved.

You know the one I mean.

THAT writer has an unholy addiction to the sound of his own voice. THAT writer seems to think that the panel is there to showcase her. He isn't there to participate in a conversation. She's there for one reason only. Everything he or she says comes back to one concept: ME ME ME.

Don't be THAT writer.

And, because a lot of us lose our heads in the moment and can start babbling on in a frenzy, here's a few tips to remember the next time you get to be on a panel.

  1. Don't mention your books. Seriously. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. After all, the whole point of going to conventions and putting yourself out there is to sell books, right? The thing is, everyone in that room will know who you are. It's on the sign by the door, it's in the program. They were mentioned when the moderator introduced you. Everybody already knows about your books. Everybody there - including your fellow panelists - wants to hear what else you have to say. Having thoughtful things to say about the panel topic is what will get people interested in you and thus in your books. If you HAVE to reference one of your books, keep it minimal, along the lines of "in my Covenant of Thorns books, the fae do x, y and z." Bam. Done.
  2. Do a little research, okay? I know, I know - prepping for cons is a flurry. So much to do to get your act together, get the writing done that you know you won't do there, clearing the decks so things won't collapse too badly at home while you're gone. But take some time to think about the panel topic. Be a good participant and check out your fellow panelists books. Why are they on the panel? If you were in the audience, what would you ask your fellow panelists. Because, you know, conversation.
  3. Don't be the first person to grab the mic. If you have a good moderator, you'll know when it's your turn to talk. Be aware of that and don't speak out of that turn. If a question is thrown out to the whole group, give your fellow authors a chance to speak first. Almost always they'll give you the same courtesy and it's pretty easy to decide who will jump in. If there's a problem panelist, see Number 5.
  4. Do express your opinion. Believe it or not, you do have interesting things to say. You were put on that panel because at least one person figured you'd spent time working and thinking about the topic in question. Even if you'd never thought about it before, you really DO have ideas about it. All those long, quiet hours spent writing and thinking? Yes, those thoughts are in there. Dig them out and share. For example, I just found out I'll be on a panel at Boubonicon on "Why are so many Southwestern writers drawn to SF and Fantasy?" It's something that never occurred to me to ask, but it's a fine question. I'm looking forward to the discussion.
  5. Insist on Moderation. This is my thing, but the moderator should be doing their job. If someone on the panel is being THAT writer, the moderator is the person who should handle it. I'd love to see this: the next time someone on the panel is being THAT writer, I'd love for someone on the panel or the audience to step in, say "I have a question for the moderator: Do you plan to moderate this panel?" Maybe that's a little extreme and you guys can think of a nicer way to do it. But, seriously, I strongly believe we need to hold our moderators to that standard. And if you are assigned to be a moderator, that's your Main Job. Most people worry about keeping the conversation going. That's rarely a problem.
Moderation in all things! 

(See what I did there? :D)


  1. I encountered THAT writer at WFC... Still shudder when I see his name somewhere.

    1. I remember you telling that story! But i forget now who it was. You'll have to DM me his name. :-)

  2. YES! I've recently started doing panels at cons and one of my first had THAT writer. It was about self publishing and the question was about how and where to publish. She had this stack of papers of all the free resources on the whole internet (I'm exaggerating) and don't pay anyone for help. She was shaking with passion for this topic and interrupted anyone asked a question to say "I have a free resource right here!" holding her stack of papers. It was kind of scary... the wife of a panelist was in the audience and in a teacher's voice said "we all know you have a list of resources, but I would like to hear what the others have to say. Thank you." It was fabulous :)

    1. Ha! We need that woman at EVERY panel! Maybe she can give workshops??

  3. I LOVE doing panels. I've done hundreds of panels at big and small cons alike...and you got it all right.

    My sum up for advice to new panelists is this:
    Be funny and if you can't be funny then for f*ck sake be brief.

  4. When I'm the moderator for panels I encourage my panelists to do 30 second intros of themselves at the very start and then I make it clear I'm the moderator and encourage everyone (by name if I must) and the audience to participate. When I'm not the moderator I'll even call out other panelists by name if they seem particularly quiet. I never let another panelist talk over me but then I'm a bit in your face so I can feel comfortable doing that.

    1. That sounds like a great way to moderate, TammyJo! I like this suggestion of self-introductions.