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GUEST POST: A literary agent reflects “On Authors and Book Talks”

On Authors and Book Talks

By Debbie Carter of Waverly Place Literary Agency

Living in the hub of America’s book publishing capital, I see new books churned through New York’s publicity machine of readings and TV talk shows.  Every new book competes for a slot in bookstores, libraries, bars and colleges. It’s great having the selection of famous and emerging authors in fiction and nonfiction.

But with so many events happening at once, I have to make the difficult choice of choosing one book over another. You would think my appetite would be sated, but really, most of the time I’m disappointed. Or bored.

Same old, same old. The author reads an excerpt, making mistakes as if they’ve never read it before. They talk too fast, or choke, or apologize for not being better prepared because of a crisis at home that day.

Then they take questions, which are uninspired, because the author has set the standard.   Even a generous offering of wine and hors d’oeuvres, which are nice, won’t persuade me to buy a book. If the author is a drone, I won’t feel obligated.

Why are authors casual in the presentation of their books? Do they prepare? Are they nervous? The point of author appearances is to entice readers to buy the book.

The acting teacher Stella Adler said that if actors insist on becoming casual, they will become uncaring. Acting students in Russia stand up when a teacher enters a room. They preserve a formality about themselves, dictated by tradition. When introduced to you, they bow over your hand. “When the visitor is singled out and made to feel special, the special nature of the theater is once again affirmed.”

In The Art of Acting she offers other advice on how to prepare for a role.  Actors, too, must cope with stage fright. Adler says actors prepare by building a relationship with the set; they imagine preparing the stage as a garden or they become familiar with the objects as though the set was their own bedroom. Props, too, are part of an actor’s character. Like hats.

The person who wears a high hat has to know how it lives. The high hat lives in a box, and that box gives you its nature and its value. Do you know how to brush this hat or put it down? Do you know you have to use both hands to put it on? It’s made to be worn straight. The person who wears it has a controlled speech, a controlled walk, a controlled mind. You must not bring your own out-of-control culture into the wearing the hat. In the society of that hat, the human being as well as the clothes were under strict control.

The Art of Actiing, p. 79

What if authors imagined themselves in hats?

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Stella Adler. Compiled and Edited by Howard Kissel. The Art of Acting. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. 2000.

 

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