Two New York Times best-selling southern women authors recently visited Quail Ridge Books, my local Indie bookstore. I high-tailed into town first to hear first Dorothea Benton Frank and then Margaret Maron a few weeks later. Both women have tons of writing and publishing cred.
I wanted to enjoy them as a reader; however, I was also curious as an author, who wanted to learn firsthand about author events. Read on about my experience as a reader and the five elements of a successful author talk I discovered as a Kid Lit writer.
Dorothea Benton Frank
"Dottie Frank's books have the fizz of a gin and tonic, the hilarity of a night out at a comedy club and the warmth of a South Carolina sun. Dip in, dive in, but no matter how you go, you'll love her.”
Dorothea Benton Frank (or Dottie, as she is introduced to us) first appeared on my radar in 2000. Our lives intersected as I wandered through a bookstore in Charleston, SC, one steamy summer evening, seeking relief from the city's merciless heat and a good book to read on the flight home to North Carolina. After facilitating a weeklong leadership team meeting, I needed something smart, frothy, and energizing.
Frank's then just-published debut novel, Sullivan's Island (the first of her Low Country Tales series), appealed to me when I spotted it on a display of books by local authors. I felt a connection with its South Carolina setting in just coming off my stay in Charleston. I purchased the book and devoured it during my flight. For years, I kept Sullivan's Island in the guest bedroom for visitors to enjoy until the book was worn and beyond readable.
Fifteen books and as many years later, I bump into Dottie again, this time in person as she tours for her latest release, All the Single Ladies.
Frank does not wait for the scheduled start of her event. She mingles with the crowd of a few hundred adoring fans for several minutes beforehand. She's with her daughter, a professional chef and Benton's younger mirror image, who prompts us to hold up mom's book. With Frank merrily positioned in the middle of eager readers clasping copies of her book, daughter fires off photos to post on social media.
Once the Indie bookshop owner introduces Dottie, the writer goes straight to Q and As. She does not do a reading. Her audience is already warmed up and eager. She talks about starting her writing career as a single mother and preferring to write about smart, strong and sassy Southern women. She has an easy manner. "I love you, baby. Keep buying my books! " she croons after one reader shouts how much she adores Frank's writing.
I envy Dottie’s daily writing schedule that starts at 9am and ends at 1pm. Good to leave time in the day to rejuvenate and do other things. I was buoyed knowing that she, too, struggled as a new writer with book tours, wondering if anyone would show up.
On one of her first author outings, the bookstore didn't realize she was appearing because its events manager left and never posted publicity about her reading. No one showed up. Frank tried to convince an elderly couple hovering nearby to join her. However, she could not even coax them to take a free copy of her book. They were moving out of town and only came into the bookstore to wait for their movers to finish.
Even as an established writer today, Dottie still wrestles with marketing. For instance, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, a southerner’s top sweet treat, figures prominently in her new book.
Frank called the Krispy Kreme company to ask if it would donate doughnuts for her current book tour. The account manager she spoke with had no idea who she was and turned down the request. A second call through her publisher brought results. Frank served Krispy Kreme Doughnuts AND iced coffee for guests at all her tour stops.
"Maron's finely crafted novels about an ever-urbanizing North Carolina are like gathering around one of those legendary storytellers of the South as they spin story after story."
Some weeks later, I hear Margaret Maron, author of the Judge Knott Series, gentle mysteries set in a fictional version of the real North Carolina county located just south of mine.
A true home-town author, I discovered Maron years earlier, when she was on our local library talk circuit and before becoming a best-selling author. Her quick wit, charm and soft southern drawl is still reflected in her author talks and throughout the subsequent 20 books she penned. And full disclosure: I am beyond tickled when Maron writes of places I actually know or have visited, especially when she mentions the community college where I worked as a writing coach.
Yes, Maron is definitely a local: she has known the bookstore owner forever and arrives with her posse, most of whom are friends still residing in the area. They helped her over the years as beta readers for her books. She is grateful to them and other local readers for providing the insider gossip and realistic details she incorporates into her fictional Colleton County to make its setting so authentic.
Like Frank, Maron knows how to work a crowd. After thanking the audience, she tells us this is her final installment in the Judge Knott Series. She’s written all she could into the character, and it’s time to move on. We sigh. We love Judge Knott and hate to see her go. She tells us not to fret. She’ll write more of her Detective Sigrid Harald, NYPD, character next.
Whereas Frank focuses on audience questions, Maron shares writing secrets and digs into her latest book, Long Upon the Land, a backstory for her Judge Knott Series. The audience is grateful she ties up plot points and brings a satisfying conclusion to this beloved series.
Maron also lets us know how pleased she is to finally have convinced her publisher to narrate the audiobook edition herself. A true insider’s secret! We clap in delight. She’s letting us into the inner circle of her writing life!
Maron is a master facilitator. I appreciate her repeating a reader’s question before responding. So often, it’s hard to hear what is asked beyond the front row, and most in the audience have no idea what sparks the dialogue.
Maron also brings treats: a yummy sheet cake with a sugared version of her new book cover revealed in the icing of the cake top. Bit hit with the audience!
Five Things I learned from Author Readings
I love being in the audience as a reader to learn more about these talented women and their writing. But I also listen as an author.
I discovered these five key points about successful author readings:
Please join the conversation in the comment section.
As a reader, what do you look for in an author talk for adults or children?
As a writer, how do you create a successful author appearance?
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