The SFX Weekender saw me moderating an SF convention panel for the first time. With that in mind, this list is presented not as my own attempts at sage wisdom, but as good advice belatedly gathered from the real experts (most of which I didn't learn in time, dernit).
Please add your own tips & tricks in the comments below.
1. The audience is not there to listen to you. The key part of being the moderator is that you moderate - you stand outside the panel, not on it. Granted, sometimes this is a crying shame: the moderator generally may be (and often is) an acknowledged expert in the subject area. It still doesn't matter. Your role is to make it all about the other members of the panel: they're the guests.
"Aziraphale collected books. If he were totally honest with himself, he would have to have admitted that his bookshop was simply somewhere to store them. He was not unusual in this. In order to maintain his cover as a typical second-hand bookseller, he used every means short of actual physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours - he was incredibly good at it." -- Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
The not-so-secret cabal gathered to discuss one of our pet peeves: terrible panel moderators. (The same applies to interviewers).
Too often it feels like an event or venue scores the famous author and then calls it a day. Why worry about the moderator? Who couldn't interview Stephen King? Or get a good quote out of China Mieville? Shockingly, a lot of people can't.
There's nothing worse than getting hyped up to see a favorite author, only to have the experience ruined by a lazy, ill-prepared or just-plain-bad moderator. And we've seen some appalling ones in action.
Not to belittle the effort: moderating a panel or interviewing a guest is very, very difficult. Which is why it should be taken seriously, and not left to chance and/or the intern. In devising our tips, we've combined fan experience and professional experience, so, for once, we're not just completely making shit up.
So, without further ado, 10 tips for those in the nerve-wracking position of moderating the panel or interviewing a guest author....
We did some more thinking about the rules for book readings posted by Gail Carriger. Which, incidentally, is an absolute must-read for fans and authors alike.
From the audience perspective, here are six more tips for authors (we've got advice for organizers as well, but those can wait...):
1) No poetry. The tiny minority of fans that want to hear your verse is thoroughly outnumbered by the rest of the audience, who are dying inside. The one, possible, exception, would be something short and humorous. And even then, err on the side of caution.
2) Don't read the ending. It seems obvious, but there are authors that spoil their own books. (My favorite example of this was John Irving, reading the climactic reveal of Until I Find You. That's 800 pages I'll never read.)
Gail Carriger, who we seem to name-check daily, just shared a brilliant column: Advice for Hosting an Author Event, with an emphasis on genre writers. Brilliantly timed for us, as the Pornokitsch team are stepping off the sidelines and throwing our first launch party in May. (No, not our book, but it is a proper book from a properly-published proper author. Consider this foreshadowing.)
You are disrespecting the authors and presenters (if you're a fan) and the fans (if you're an author), not to mention all the other important individuals who have arranged for and attended the event (con organizers, editors, agents, producers, actors). Most importantly, you are shaming yourself and the SF/F industry as a whole. Yes you are. Suck. It. Up.
It isn't all vitriol and shame - she offers tips & links to snazzy, geeky fashion advice. We all don't have to look like Lord Akeldama, but, as she points out, there's still no excuse for an 'untended beard'.
With the British International Comics Show on the horizon (see you there!), here are a few more tips - carefully gathered from the geek community. I got most of these from die-hard collectors, interviewed while they were standing in line at comic conventions (MCM and BICS).
Although familiar with the conventions of book signings (pun intentioned), the different rules for comic book signings & artist sketches took me by surprise.
More tips to share? Suggestions? Disagreements? Horror stories?