What a wonderful event was the book launch of my memoir Blotto last Saturday night in Ojai. Leading up to the event, which featured a reading by yours truly of excerpts from Blotto and then a question and answer session, I had mixed emotions - 25% excitement and 75% dread, the latter feeling due to a lifetime of severe performance anxiety. Starting with discomfort speaking in kindergarten, then later fainting twice at lecterns while speaking in front of large audiences, I’ve gone way out of my way throughout my life to avoid public speaking.
Extremely reluctant at first, I eventually became convinced by family and friends that a public reading of my book was an essential part of the marketing process. This process, in which I found myself so often way out of my comfort zone, involved learning and using social media, (which I had always avoided like the plague), becoming familiar with all sorts of strange new technology…and now performing. When I first had the idea of writing a book, I naively figured that all I would have to do is write, and somehow my book would be magically thrust out into the universe. How wrong I was. I have now devoted more time to marketing than writing.
In preparation for the reading, I determined that I would read for approximately 20 minutes, which translated into 5 excerpts, chosen from 63 chapters. I spent a good deal of time reviewing the book and selecting the excerpts, wanting the reading to touch on my entire life’s experience, with a premium on passages that would be the most entertaining. I wrote and memorized brief spoken bits that would connect the excerpts. And then I practiced.
Ojai is a small town but over 30 people showed up at our home for the launch. My wife created a warm and welcoming holiday party ambiance. For the first hour it was just a lovely party, with everyone drinking, and me wishing I could. Finally, it was time to face the music. When I started to read aloud, I discovered to my amazement that, almost immediately, a total calm and confidence settled over me. The absence of anxiety was thrilling. Reading to people the personal stories that I had kept to myself for years was truly liberating.
The Q&A session was a real highlight of the night, with the folks in attendance getting involved and participating enthusiastically. Their questions reflected a real interest in my book and the adventure of writing it. There were too many hands raised to ever answer them all. In the end, I sold a few books, and an actor I have great respect for said he’d like to use the book’s first chapter as an audition piece.
I came away from the book launch with the feeling that this was not just a marketing exercise but a profoundly meaningful and fulfilling experience.