Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BUILDING YOUR AUDIENCE—ELIZABETH CHADWICK



Today, I have the pleasure of having one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Elizabeth Chadwick, as my guest. I love her her stories and have read many of them. What draws me to Elizabeth's books is her love of history. To write good historical fiction one must first know the era well. It's the only way an author can truly open the door to the past and make it alive. It's not just a matter of knowing the clothes or hairstyles someone wore, or who was King or the barons of the land. It's knowing the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a particular time or place the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits. Elizabeth does it very well. Her characters live and breathe and it's a joy to read such a story.J 
Today's authors are very much involved with promoting their work. We tend to think of promotion in terms of online presence and, of course, that is one facet of promotion. Elizabeth shares another formpublic speaking. Meeting with audiences and readers can be quite daunting and she shares how she goes about it. 

One of the things I really enjoy doing as an author and that allows me to unfasten my chain from  from my desk, is talking to audiences and meeting and chatting to my readers over tea and biscuits or a glass of wine.  I've had some great days out and experiences – and I hope the readers have enjoyed the experience too.

When I first set out on this published author lark in 1990, I was a stay at home mother to two small boys.  I  had never done any public speaking  in my life and was terrified at the thought of doing so. I finally found my courage down to financial incentive!   My local arts council was running a series of talks and wanted to do an author discussion panel, where three writers would discuss their experience of publishing for about 15 minutes each, followed by a question and answer session. I was invited to be on the panel as a newly published author.  I was so tempted to hide my head in the sand and say no, but they were offering a fee of £80  ($120)  which was a pretty decent sum in 1990 for a 15 minute talk and a few words on the Q&A.   So I screwed up my courage and spent the next several weeks trying out things to say, practicing like crazy and biting my nails.
 
On the big day I was fine, I didn't fluff my lines or embarrass myself, but I was terrified before going up on that stage and if ever I was a candidate for a heart attack, that moment was it.  I don’t think my pulse rate has ever been so high! It wasn't even fight or flight, it was rabbit stuck in the headlights. For anyone, public speaking for the first time is a huge mountain to get over.
 
Once I had done the deed, there was that huge sense of relief that while it hadn't been a thing of polished beauty, neither was it a flop and I’d survived.  Nevertheless, I then had to face the fact that this wasn't the end of it and a career as an author meant that I’d have to go out and do more on a regular basis.  The local library asked me to do a talk on my own to a reading group, so that was the next hurdle to get over.  Again, I was terrified, and again I scrabbled through without mishap.  And on to the next and the next.  Somewhere along the line I lost my fear and it actually began to become enjoyable.  These days I can go out and give a talk off the cuff and be barely nervous at all.

There is no secret.  In my case familiarity bred an ability to take it as a norm and deal with it.  I also found that doing detailed preparation beforehand and knowing what I was going to talk about helped tremendously.  Doing that donkeywork meant I was ready.  I still have occasions when my brain just steps out of the room for a moment, and that is unnerving, but so far, if I pause for a drink of water,  it comes back in and I can pick up the thread.  It’s like anything; the more you do something, the less daunting it becomes.  Coping strategies of deep breathing and pretending you’re talking to one or two close friends also helps.  Also beforehand, visualizing the talk in a positive way will put you in a positive frame of mind.  Dressing to suit the occasion and to feel positive helps too.  I usually turn up in smart casual clothes with perhaps a statement piece of jewelry, and I usually get my hair done.  I do confess though to putting my nail varnish on in the car en route (I’m being driven!).  There’s an art to it…

Most authors will give readings from their work but I prefer not to and just tell the audience about the background to creating my novels – how I came to write them, and the research entailed.  I bring a case of items with me including examples of research works and replica items from my re-enactment resources, including replicas of a 12thc sword, shield and helmet from the 12th century!  I feel that the strategy of not giving a reading allows me more time to talk to readers about novel writing processes and about history, and they can read the books for themselves.  My aim is to whet their appetites and it certainly seems to work.  I know many authors do like to give readings, but my point is that it is not the only way, and that when giving a talk, a writer should do whatever feels the most comfortable for them.
            
After I've finished my talk, I make sure I’m available not only to sign books, but to hang around and speak to people and let them look at the things I've brought along.  Many readers enjoy staying to chat a little longer and it’s a great opportunity to exchange more stories and information. It’s another way too of building an audience.

                                                   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Nothing worthwhile is easy. Not becoming a knight. Not when you don't fit in anywhere.

Brunin Fitzwarin knows this better than anyone. Lost in his own home, he's now a knight-in-training to the Lord of Ludlow—and still utterly alone. That is, until the youngest daughter of the house befriends him.

But England is in turmoil, and Brunin must fight with his lord to support King Stephen for the English crown.

As the war rages on and his particularly close to home, Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and take on the mantle of knight, confronting the future head on.

A rich tale of coming of age in a world where chivalry is a luxury few can afford. Shadows and Strongholds is a tale of earning your place and finding your way home. Excerpt

                                                                                                          


Elizabeth Chadwick lives in a 200 year old beamed cottage in the English countryside not far from Nottingham with her husband and their three terriers.   She has been telling stories since she was little and went from an ordinary life stacking supermarket shelves to help make ends meet, to having her first novel win an award that was presented to her by HRH Prince Charles.  Many of her other historical novels are award nominees and winners too.  She is currently engaged in writing a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Did you know that Elizabeth creates musical soundtracks of popular songs when she writes? I didn't either--but they do fit the story.

12 comments:

Empty Nest Insider said...

It sounds like you mastered your fear of public speaking! I like your creative "show and tell" approach instead of reading from your books. Best of luck with Shadows and Strongholds! Sia, thanks for hosting Elizabeth!

Julie

Anne Gallagher said...

Just getting ready to give my first speaking engagement, I've been flopping about giving a reading. I really don't want to because I think my books should be read with an English accent. And I'm a Yankee with a bad Brahmin. So thanks for the vote to say no.

I like the idea of the sword and helmet instead. I guess I should look for a corset.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Julie, it's my pleasure to host Elizabeth, I assure you! I love her books.

@Anne--I thought using a *treasure* chest was a great idea. If you're not writing historicals a writer could still have interesting tid-bits about the story to share.

And I'll be perfectly honest, I'm not enamored with book readings. I can read the book. I much prefer an author that shares something about themselves, or the story process, something fun about the research they did for the story. In other words,the author creates a *story* to tell the audience. Much more fun.

Johanna Garth said...

So inspiring. The thought of speaking in public still terrifies me.

Melissa Bradley said...

I love Elizabeth as well and this post was just incredible. So interesting and informative. I can't wait to read her Eleanor stories.

James Rafferty said...

Hi Elizabeth. Your early public speaking experience sounds like the ones I had. Pure terror at first, but a positive reaction did a lot to get me out there until I was much more comfortable. Thanks for sharing your coping strategies with us.

Jill Lynn said...

Great blog post, Sia and Elizabeth, and I also enjoyed the side trip to the novel-writing soundtrack. Much enjoyed.

Michael Di Gesu said...

HI, Sia, Hi, Elizabeth,

It's always a pleasure to meet new writers. Anglo historical novels are always interesting. I will look forward to reading yours, Elizabeth. It's been a while, and since I write and read mostly y/a this will be a real treat for me.

Sia, thanks for featuring Elizabeth and for dropping by my blog and leaving such nice comments.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

How interesting! I'm going to check on her music soundtracks, too! Happy Spring my friend!

Jo said...

Difficult to overcome the sheer fright of talking to a crowd, I know, I have done some too. Glad you managed it.

JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Thank you to Sia for inviting me and I'm enjoying reading your comments. It IS daunting doing that first talk, but it truly does get easier. I have given readings if specifically asked, or if I need to illustrate a point about how I do something, but mostly I don't and it works very well.
I gave one in a Waterstones book sellers a couple of months ago while the store was still open and they'd given me a corner to talk in. Nearby I had the distraction of a slightly odd customer 'galloping' round the bookshelves in circles and chewing caramel sweets (he left the wrappers behind when eventually he left). Hopefully no one will have anything like that happen to them!

lauren sylvan said...

I love it that you use props, Elizabeth! I learned that from my friend the kindergarten teacher, after a disastrous mess of a talk where the slide machine failed. (this was in medieval times, before powerpoint.) Since then, I bring a collection of bits and pieces to hold up and pass around, so it keeps the attention focused on me and what I am saying, not some screen. Plus no tech glitches!