Whether you’re at a bookstore or a conference, you’ll likely find yourself on stage as part of an author panel at some point in your career. In this article, we’ll dig into how to prepare for the experience.
Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
At some point during almost every panel appearance, you’re going to have to talk about your book. As with any publicity event, you should have a pitch ready—and it’s helpful to have multiple pitches of different lengths prepared. If you’re on a panel with three authors, you’ll probably have more time to talk about your book than if you were on a panel with nine, so preparing short (about thirty-second) pitches alongside three-minute summaries will get you far.
For a larger breakdown on how to pitch your book to anyone, check out this helpful article from 2017! Above all else, be flexible. If you get the sense that this audience cares less about the synopsis and more about the characters or your research, be ready to pivot.
The Obligatory Questions
Usually, a panel will have one moderator asking questions, who could be a reporter, another author, a publishing professional, or a bookseller. The moderator is in this role solely to keep the conversation going, and you can help by giving full but well-timed responses to questions. Often, moderators will send example questions beforehand, but if not, don’t worry. Here are some questions to keep in mind, as they’re very common across the board:
- What was the inspiration for your book?
- What kind of research did you do?
- Elaborate on your writing process.
- What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
- What’s next for you?
- What books have you recently read and loved?
- What other books would you recommend to fans of your work?
Chances are you’ve already answered some of these questions in interviews or just in casual conversation, and if you haven’t, you most likely will. So preparing answers to them will never be a waste of your time!
Take, and Share, the Spotlight
Remember, you were invited to this panel because the event organizer thought your book and your perspective would be interesting to the attendees. When you’re asked a question, there’s no need to be bashful! Take your time in the spotlight, answer the question fully, then pass the mic to the next author.
If you feel like you aren’t participating enough, you can insert yourself into the conversation when you see an opportunity. While you don’t want to interrupt or steal the spotlight from other authors, panels work best when a natural conversation happens among all the panelists, so speak up!
Get to Know Your Fellow Panelists
In an ideal world, all panelists would have read one another’s books. That’s not always possible, but it is always possible to research your fellow panelists so you know them and their work better ahead of time. What books have they written? How long have they been writing? How does their work fit in with the panel’s theme, if there is one?
You can learn a lot by simply following them on social media and listening to what they say. You’ll get a feel for who they are as people and as authors, and with any luck, this will give you plenty of talking points once you get on that stage.
When possible, arrive at the event early and chat with your fellow panelists beforehand. You might have some pre-panel jitters, but getting more familiar with the authors you’ll be speaking with can be massively helpful. After all, you and your fellow panelists are in this together, to give a great experience to your readers!
Get Comfortable with Public Speaking
Very few of us are natural public speakers. That’s where preparation and practice come into play! Develop a few short and powerful quotes about your experience that you can pepper throughout your answers. When you get the urge to ramble in response to a question, pivot to a decisive end point.
Practice answering the sample questions above with a friend or family member. Even better? Record yourself as you respond to them. It might be painful to watch yourself speak—that’s hard for even the most seasoned speakers!—but you’ll start to know where you hesitate, where your answers go awry, where you rush, and where you stall. Make note of these things, but also keep in mind that no one’s looking for perfection. In the end, your authentic self will resonate most with readers. Prepare as much as you can, then mentally plan to let go and have the answers flow naturally. Have fun with it, and your readers will too!
The PRH Speakers Bureau offers tips on how to prepare for speaking events, and many of these apply to panels as well.
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms, for Penguin Random House