Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Author Visits by Skype

Can we writers stay abreast of technology? Not alone, we can’t. We’re too busy keeping up with that other huge demand on our time. What was it? Oh yeah—our writing. But if we each learn a little something, then network, we can help each other along.

In that spirit of sharing, New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry (The WolfmanPatient ZeroRot & Ruin) gave me permission to post a fun application of technology I picked up from him at his monthly Writers Coffeehouse held near Philadelphia, PA: author talks by Skype.

Used for almost a decade by geographically challenged families as a work-around for long distance charges, this video conferencing application is now inspiring authors (among more than 660 million other registered users) to explore its uses. Last year I participated in an author reading in Connecticut alongside the real-time visages of Skyped authors reading from Israel, India, and California. I recently learned of another cool application for this free software: author visits.

With book tours rarely funded by publishers, gas prices prohibitive, and a new era of online self-promotion well underway, Skype allows authors to use the primary tool of their trade—their personal computer—to interact with fans around the globe.

Jonathan, who has books out in many genres (paranormal suspense, thriller, YA, and comic books) has used Skype to meet with community and school groups while taking only a half-hour break from his writing. The software can be a tad finicky, though. These are some of Jonathan’s tips for success.

Strengthen the signal. Anything from solar flares to lightning storms to a sudden hatching of butterflies can interrupt the signal, so make sure it’s as strong as possible. To facilitate this:
  • Physically connect your computer to the router—do not rely upon a wireless connection.
  • Make sure you have no other programs running. 
  • If other people share your network, make sure none of them are online, stealing precious band-width. 

Run a test connection. No more than a half hour before your visit is scheduled, arrange to connect with the event host to make sure all is well. That will give you some time to troubleshoot any time-specific issues. If you have problems, try rebooting your computer and restarting Skype.

Suppress distractions. Turn off your cell and landline ringers, and any noise-making alarms on your computer or in the house. Unless they are an integral part of your book's message, shut the dog and cat and kids far away from your computer’s microphone pick-up.

Assess the delay. There will be a delay between what you say and what your audience hears. During your test run, make note of the delay so you know how to compensate for it. You can do this by saying “1-2-3-4” after asking your host to wave when she hears “1.”

Adjust lighting. Watch for backlighting that might create a halo or other disturbing aura around your head. Check that your face is well lit, and bring in additional lights if need be.

Make the best use of this great opportunity. Try these ideas:
  • Well ahead of time, send your host a packet of signed bookmarks or bookplates he can hand out near the end of your Skype chat (if possible, get an advance list of attendees and personalize them).
  • Be prepared for silences. There’s nothing worse than that long, painful silence after the facilitator asks, “Does anyone have a question for our guest?” It can be even worse over an online connection. Have a few questions ready to prime the pump, if need be, such as, “Often I’m asked if my characters are based on anyone I know”—then launch into the answer as if someone else had asked it. Here’s your chance to ask your audience questions, too, such as, “What are you all reading, and what gets you excited about it?” Not only will researching your own fans help target your writing, but once they’re talking about the books they love, the questions will start to flow.

Consider other visuals that might make a surprise entrance. You need not be the only visual on your end. Since Jonathan writes zombie tales, he keeps a fake brain just outside the frame to retrieve and nibble from when things get quiet, to the glee of the kids on the other end. Have copies of your books to hold up.

Besides the short commute, the second-best part about using Skype for your author talks: it’s free. Want to give it a try? Go to the Skype site and download your copy now!

Have any of you used Skype for author talks or readings? Please share your experience!

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

Bookmark and Share 


  1. Thanks for sharing this idea, Kathryn. Some excellent tips here. Now to find a brain or skull or some other prop and work out how to incorporate it... ;-)

  2. Did I read the word 'free'? Now, if I could only find someone to listen on the other end.

  3. Thanks -- I haven't Skyped in years, but I'm going to be taking part in a Podcast in the near future, and since I live in a remote area, your reminders are well received.

    Terry's Place

  4. Great tips. I'm not published yet, but live overseas and have wondered about doing school visits this way. Will have to bookmark your post for when that one day dream comes true. ;)

  5. MaDonna: That's what I do, too—Bookmark! There's so much to learn in order to succeed as a modern author that at time it makes sense to save some of it for later, when necessity becomes the best motivator.

    Terry: Yes, remote can be great for writing, but not so great for connecting. Making sure a relative isn't running an international team on World of Warcraft in another room can help greatly.

    Chris: offer up a Skype talk for free and you might just get someone listening!

    Elle: I hear you. Not all of our writing inspires such fanciful props!

  6. I'm watching a websemiar tomorrow. In order to make sure I can get into it (time isn't an issue, since I have no obligations all day), I'm making sure my siblings give me my laptop during the day. Maybe I'll plug it into the router too.

  7. An author presentation over Skype? Sounds a lot less intimidating than standing in front of a group and trying to keep my wits about me. I can even have my notes (or prompts) just out of range of the camera. This could be a winning idea. Thanks for the suggestion, Kathryn.

  8. Linda: You can even read your notes from the computer—I've seen others do this, although it does lead to some odd-looking eye movements. People tend to look at the screen, which shows the people on the other end, instead of the camera, so their eyes always do look a little downcast.

  9. Excellent information. After my last computer crash, I didn't even re-hook up my Skype. I probably need to do that!

  10. This is another one of those tech things I haven't tried yet--still balking at the thought of someone seeing me in robe and bed-hair, I guess! But I can see that it would be an excellent way to "attend" book clubs or give a webinar or something like that. Thanks for this, Kathryn

  11. Thanks for reading, Helen.

    Heidi, I was introduced to Skype as a way of staying in touch with my brother in Denmark, and then my step-daughter in Hungary. When it's working it's a science fiction marvel (remember the cartoon The Jetsons?)—but it can be finicky. I was glad Jonathan shared his tips for success.

  12. Coming in late, but great post, Kathryn! This is important information for publishers, too. They are often on the coordinating and training end of these sorts of promotions.

  13. Hi thanks for your post. I am an Australian author and have my first classroom skype booked for March 2013. As a luddite...this is a bit worrying. Is it possible to incorporate powerpoint in a skype presentation. Any tips on how to do so would be much appreciated.

    Chrissie Keighery


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook