I’ve been very lucky, in my debut year as an author, that I’ve been invited to appear at some seriously spectacular events. From Hay Literary Festival, to YALC at LFCC, right up to Edinburgh Book Festival, I’ve had an amazing year – with many more events to come; YA Shot at Hillingdon, author panels at Waterstones, and more to be announced soon.
So I thought, given my experience in this, that I’d offer some of my top tips of how to behave at festivals and events.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is Melinda Salisbury’s Top Five Things NOT To Do At Events.
Don’t threaten to set fire to all men.
At Nine Worlds a few weeks back I was lucky enough to sit on a panel talking about the roles of female characters in YA, and what needed to happen to ensure that female characters were given the depth and range of characteristics that male characters were allowed to have. My answer: Burn all the men currently running the world and making it difficult for real-world women to be treated as well-rounded humans, and the growth of fictional women will follow. It was fine in the context of the panel, very impassioned. In the bar afterwards when I hissed it in author Den Patrick’s face, it took on a less empowered, and more sociopathic vibe. I don’t think we’re going to be friends.
Don’t tell everyone you got your agent because you summoned Satan.
This was at YALC, at LFCC, when an audience member asked how we all got started in publishing. I don’t know what happened here. I don’t know how those words came out of my mouth. It’s not even like I was the last person to answer so I had to come up with something good. They just fell out of my mouth.
… Like Satan had put them there…
Don’t proudly announce to a full house “What’s worse than incest? THIS BOOK!” whilst holding a copy of your debut novel.
See above. Also at YALC. I can’t explain this either. But I implore you not to do it. Please.
Don’t misspell someone’s name in a signing, then insist they take your chair and sit down, mortified, while you send your editor to buy them a new copy of the book.
YALC again. Despite the gems that came out of my mouth during the panel, I somehow wound up with a pretty long signing queue. And by and large it was going really well until I accidentally misspelled a reader’s name. She was fine with it, but no, that wasn’t enough for me.
First I tried to leave the signing to go and buy her a new copy, only to be talked down by my editor, who insisted she go instead (so I could, you know, sign stuff).
Realising the girl and her sister would have to wait until Emily returned with a new copy, I stood up, grabbed some chairs from behind the tables and brought them to the front of the queue, forcing the poor girl and her sister to sit down and wait while I got on with signing, interspersed with sporadic grovelling. So they had to sit there, in full view of everyone, until lovely Emily brought me a new book over, so they could go through the rigmarole of actually getting it signed.
I later realised the girl had marked the page she was up to in the copy I mutilated. Which I didn’t even offer to give back to her.
Don’t wander the aisles with the chocolates left for you and your fellow panellists at events.
At Hay Festival, we had to sit onstage and wait for people to arrive and I got really nervous watching the room fill up. When we’d first arrived, the sound engineer had miked us up and told us to help ourselves to the chocolates on the table. So, whilst waiting for the audience to finish coming in, I had the brainwave of taking the chocolates around the audience and thanking them for coming, leaving Cat Doyle and Katherine Woodfine staring helplessly after me. I got halfway around the room before the sound engineer stopped me, confiscating the chocolates and scowling “We get to eat those if you don’t.”
At the end, when he was taking the mic off of me, he muttered “I knew you’d be trouble.”
I can only assume this was because I also spent the entire panel wearing a pair of ram horns and at no point explained why. For the record, it was a dare. A reader named Nicole who was attending dared me to wear them in return for some Welsh Cakes. Guess who had Welsh Cakes for supper that night? This ram.
I could offer some other advice, like don’t shame your brother when he’s the only person in the audience who hasn’t read your book. Don’t announce at your launch that you’re ‘a bit peasanty’. Don’t share with the audience at an event that you violently threw up before you came onstage because you were so nervous. Or offer to do an interpretive dance of your book, rather than reading from it. But I think you get the gist. Don’t be me.