Last month, I gave a talk about New England’s Colonial Inns & Taverns at the Thomas Crane Library in Quincy. I was worried that no one who show up. But the audience of 25 Quincy residents was delightful and they were eager to share their own New England travel experiences. One gentlemen talked about the difficulties of restoring older properties. Another spoke of growing up in the Bristol, Rhode Island area and his memories of Mount Hope Farm.
I have always had much admiration for those clever and funny authors that can hold forth a room. I am not one of them. Other than saying a few words at my kids’ graduation parties or giving an occasional toast at the dinner table, I’ve been able to avoid public speaking for most of my life.
But with this last book, I finally realized that maybe I should get serious about publicity. Like almost every writer that I know, I have mixed feelings about marketing my books. Lucky Elena Ferrante, the reclusive and anonymous author of the Neapolitan Novels including My Brilliant Friend, who has said of book promotion-
If the book is worth anything that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences if I’m invited.”
For this title I had traveled through New England for weeks, interviewing inn keepers and tavern owners. The long, slow process of writing took many months. And in the final weeks of editing I sent hundreds of emails bugging the inn and tavern owners to send me high-res photos to accompany their stories.
So last year I decided to plan some book events. My first talk was in February at the Boston Globe Travel Show at the Seaport World Trade Center. I was the first presentation on the cultural stage that Saturday morning for a small audience of 20 friendly folks. I thought I was ready. I prepared a Power Point presentation with my best book photos. I had practiced out loud dozens of times as I walked around Crystal Lake on my morning stroll.
I certainly started out well enough. But after 5 minutes- just as I was talking about Boston’s Union Oyster House- I froze. For 2 interminable minutes my mind went blank. I wanted to flee. Somehow, I managed pull myself together and read a section of Discovering Vintage Boston without stuttering and stumbling too much. Then I talked through the slides and answered a few audience questions. When I was done, I slinked away from the stage without talking to anyone.
My good friend Marjorie was in the audience. Later she told me, “Everyone probably thought there was a technical problem with the slide show.” We’ve been friends for more than 30 years- and Marjorie is supportive like that.
From that not- so- terrific public speaking experience, I came back to the Seaport the next day to give the talk again. It went a lot better. And since then I have done a book launch and a book festival. In January, I will be speaking at Humanities Day at a local middle school.
And what do you know? I think that I am better at small talk. And I even speak up more in the adult education Italian class that I take at the high school. I’ll probably never relish standing up and speaking in front of a crowd, but with practice I know that I can only get better.