I've been invited to join a Beach Reads panel in July, where with a number of other Sisters in Crime (from New England) I'll talk about two books to enjoy over the summer. As soon as I was asked, I headed to the library (my favorite place) to browse through the new books section. It always looks like most of the fiction is crime fiction, so I had lots of choices. I picked one, then two, then realized I had five books in hand and I hadn't even gotten through the letter B, so I kept going and found five more before I got to letter E. Really, I could just move into the library and be happy. I began putting the books back and tried to be more discerning--or at least less greedy. I wanted to read everything.
And that was the point. The panelists are expected to talk about the books they've selected, so members of the audience will be able to make appropriate choices. So we're expected to read the books too. Seems obvious?
Being a good panelist is about more than just showing up on time, though that's certainly part of it. The good panelist comes prepared. If I'm invited to be on a panel, I want to have an idea of what it's going to be about so I can respond appropriately. Some moderators send out questions in advance, and others just give a vague idea for topics to be covered. No matter how it's done, anyone who is going to be on a panel should come prepared.
First, know the topic and even if it's vague (Where do you characters come from? Where do you get your ideas?), think about what you will say and have a few stories in mind that will illustrate your position. Don't count on inspiration striking just as you're sitting down at the table or heading to the microphone.
Second, get to know your fellow panelists. If you're on a panel with other writers whose names and books are unfamiliar to you, head to the library or Google and learn about your fellow panelists. Do you share a love for cozies or cats or hiking? Do you come from the same part of the country, or have similar day jobs? The more you know about your fellow panelists, the greater the likelihood that conversation among panelists will have greater depth.
Third, let the moderator moderate. I've only been on one panel that I can recall where the moderator dropped the ball repeatedly by failing to ask obvious questions or direct questions from the audience to the appropriate panelist. Most moderators take their tasks very seriously and prepare questions, read the panelists' books, and come ready to move the event along.
Fourth, remember that you are one of a group. No matter how scintillating your stories, no matter how much your agent is pushing you to get out there, no matter how wonderful your voice sounds over the microphone, you are one of a group and everyone should get the same amount of time and attention. I recently attended a talk by two writers--one older and well established, and nationally known, and the second a newcomer who was very competent but very young. The younger one talked and talked and talked, and the older one listened attentively. Her graciousness won me over (even if her writing hadn't done so already), and I will remember her as one of the most generous writers I've encountered. She even read a passage by the younger writer to illustrate a point she wanted to make.
Panels are fun, and they're especially satisfying when each panelist comes away feeling they've been well treated by the moderator and other panelists, and that comes from everyone doing his or her homework. I'm starting mine this weekend, reading the two books I've selected for the Beach Reads panel in July in Newburyport. Which books did I pick? I chose two:
Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron
A Double Death on the Black Isle by A. D. Scott
And, of course, I get to promote my new book: The Wrath of Shiva: An Anita Ray Mystery.