Handling author Q&As to ensure a more positive experience #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Handling author Q&As to ensure a more positive experience

As a frequenter of book readings and author workshops, I’ve sometimes noticed a moment when the author loses part of their audience, the part that cares about how the author is reacting to questions. Perhaps the author becomes dismissive, defensive, passive-aggressive, or skirts a question entirely. Whatever the case, there’s an invisible shift in the room, that of readers mentally downgrading the author from their auto-buy columns. Below is a list of common question types with example answers that can leave an aftermath of negativity as well as alternatives to keep audience members in that book-buying zone.

SCENARIO 1: Someone raises their hand before the author is ready to answer questions.

NEGATIVE: “If you/everyone could please hold your questions until the Q&A.”

This is polite, I guess, except the question-asker usually ends up looking like they would prefer if their chair swallowed them whole, like back in grade school when Teacher disciplined them in front of the whole class.

BETTER: “Yours will be the first question I answer when we get to the Q&A, and in case I forget, raise your hand extra high for me.” This signals to the group that all questions can wait, and the question-asker feels acknowledged and even prioritized, not disciplined.

SCENARIO 2: “But in my story, I do this,” an audience member comments.

NEGATIVE: “I recommend doing it this way,” the author responds.

Again, the response isn’t impolite, but it translates to, you’re wrong. The question-asker may not even absorb the author’s advice, because they’re too busy processing how embarrassed they are.

BETTER: “That’s a super interesting approach/perspective. However, have you considered…” or, “I see the logic in that. I wonder if melding the two ideas might work for you.” Now the question-asker feels like their ideas have been validated.

SCENARIO 3: “I wasn’t a big fan of this thing you did in your book,” an audience member comments.

NEGATIVE: “Well, too bad,” or, “Well, that’s the way I wrote it,” responds the author, laughing to try to ease the tension.

Audience members are allowed to be negative, but mirroring that negativity won’t sell books. There are times when the, “Too bad,” or, “We’ll have to agree to disagree,” response may be more appropriate, but in a lot of cases, it is possible to find a more positive response.

BETTER: In most such situations, it may save time to acknowledge the opinion and move on (see scenario 8 for exceptions.) “I value your opinion,” or, “Thank you. It’s important for me to have feedback. It’s one of the main ways I grow as an author.” You could explain your reasoning for doing something a certain way if you feel the situation calls for it, but beware asking, “Does that make sense?” afterward, because if they say no, then you’re stuck in a circular conversation for a chunk of your Q&A.

SCENARIO 4: Someone asks something off topic or that the author doesn’t know the answer to.

NEGATIVE: The author either A) shifts the question to subject matter they’d rather discuss, or B) says, “I don’t know,” and moves on, or C) worse case scenario, they fudge their knowledge, just so they can get an answer out.

In the case of A, they come off like a politician. For B, they come off as dismissive and a little lazy. For C, they’ve lost my trust.

BETTER: Depending on the situation, “That’s such a great question, but a little outside my area of expertise unfortunately,” or, “That’s out of my area of expertise, but my best guess is,” or, “I don’t know, but I can find out,” or, “Let me think about that and get back to you,” or, “I’m not sure, but what I’ll do is pass around a sheet (preferably with a signup option for your e-newsletter), and I’ll send everyone answers within the next week.”

SCENARIO 5: An audience member either states something as fact or says they read/heard different information from what the author is stating as fact.

NEGATIVE: “I don’t know why you think that, but it’s incorrect.”

BETTER: “Do you remember where you read or heard that? It’s contrary to most of what I’ve read. If I give you my email, could you send me the article?”

SCENARIO 6: Someone asks a question that will take too long to answer.

“That’s a great question, though, I think we’ll cut into the next speaker’s time for the complete answer, but what I can tell you right now is…” or, “That’s a great question. Because we’re short on time, may I suggest checking out this website to see what they have to say about it?”

SCENARIO 7: Someone asks a question that doesn’t make sense.

NEGATIVE: “I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.”

The author is shifting all the blame for not understanding the question on the question-asker. It may be the question-asker’s fault, but the author doesn’t have to make the question-asker feel like it is.

BETTER: Try to suss out what the question-asker is trying to ask by asking them a follow-up question or questions. “Can you give me an example of that?” or, “Do you mean…”

Handling author Q&As to ensure a more positive experienceSCENARIO 8: An audience member layers something into their question that lets the author know the question-asker is, for instance, racist.

In this situation, I respond well to an author invalidating an audience member’s question, and no, I don’t believe that the answer should always be, “I respect your opinion, but…” or, “I respect your right to express your opinion,” because these imply the author thinks it’s okay to A) be racist and/or B) express that racism, which I don’t. I would be equally fine with a more aggressive, “Your opinion is offensive,” as I would be with an attempt at diffusing, “I acknowledge your opinion, but I come from a different place than you,” though, option B, to diffuse, is probably the best route for continued book sales.

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

Are you the type who asks questions at events? Are there any scenarios that I haven’t addressed? Chat with me in the comments.

Thank you to Freepik for the image I used in this post.

46 thoughts on “Handling author Q&As to ensure a more positive experience #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. All good examples, Raimey. I’ve noticed the more well known the author, the more adept they are at answering and/or deflecting questions. I was very impressed when I heard John Hart speak last fall to a group of about 50 readers/writers. He had a way of taking the most trivial comments/questions and expanding them to make the person asking the question seem more knowledgeable.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I did synth and sound system/audio clinics for years. One should study the work of Myers-Briggs and any inclusive verbal methodology for public speaking and understand the makeup of the audience and develop a reliable rhetorical stance for YOUR position. Granted, being among people of a like interest reduces the chance of blatant or outright dislike, but nobody is going to be a 100% hit either. As such it is best to develop a rhetorical stance that puts YOUR position forward. There is never any reason to kiss anyone’s ass when it’s YOUR presentation. Find a story (parable if you like) to answer instead of always looking for an appropriate “answer.” One of the greatest teachers in history used it, and it seemed to work. Example – #2. “When I was about ten I asked someone how they did (whatever) and he/she said ‘We all have our bag of tricks and methods and that’s what makes us unique. The coolest part of what we do is that we can be unique in the way we approach (whatever) and still end up with (product).” And slightly reworded that works for all the rest. There is no need to dial up a wordier way to say something. If you offer engaging content and keep people engaged by staying in the game and letting them know from the get go that their questions are valuable, you are way better off. And be smart enough to realize there are other opinions and validate them by acknowlegement and be ready to explain your approach as how it works BETTER for YOU. Because that’s why you’re there. Do not be a reluctant or wishy washy rhetorician on your own behalf, be prepared to share your experience. Tell stories on yourself, the mistakes you’ve made getting to where you are. You need three things to sell yourself. Propriety, competency and commonality. And know this. A given percentage of people aren’t going to like you, regardless.
    If you don’t know? Own it. But what could be asked, in context, that you wouldn’t? One of those pocket protector questions like “how do you deal with gerunds?”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice 🙂
    The idea of public speaking worries me because I’m terrible at thinking up responses on the spot! (Email is far, far easier because I have time to think!)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I met Christopher Moore at the Portland, Oregon Writer’s Conference last year. I could tell he was a seasoned pro. Everything he said and did was positive. I remember at the very beginning someone in the audience had a bad headache and was a bit grumpy but wanted to meet him. Somehow in a sea of all those people he recognized the situation and spoke to her first.

    Looking back this is a great way to see a pro in action and to learn as well.

    Excellent article as always. Thanks!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wow, this gives me a lot to think about. Thanks! I’m hoping to one day soon participate in some sort of speaking event. It’s on my list of career goals, but I have to admit that the thought of speaking about my work in front of a group is still a little scary.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is great! I haven’t participated in any panels or events like this, but all of those scenarios sound like they happen frequently, and it’s good to have an idea of some more positive ways to respond! Thanks for sharing Raimey! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What an excellent post, Raimey. Thank you so much for giving us suggestions on how to deal with these types of questions. I’ve shared this post online. I hope one day to need something like this. All best to you!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. In the moment, it can be really tough to think of what to say or how to better word responses. Practicing beforehand with someone who can ask a variety of questions for different scenarios can help with this.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is great timing for me. I’m teaching a workshop in August, so I’ll mark this to reread before I do that. Once I had an audience get mad a me because of the way a teenager referred to her adoptive Mom in the book versus her birth Mom. She was quite mad about my view of adoption. I had to explain that it wasn’t my view but the character’s. She was so mad, someone else in the audience stepped in a said, ” You do understand the author isn’t the character, and the characters aren’t real.” The whole scene was tough.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post with some very common scenarios! I’ve only been to a few book readings, but I immediately recognized that invisible shift in the room when an author fails to treat a speed bump like an opportunity. As I cross my fingers, and hope for my own moment to awkwardly answer strangers’ questions, I appreciate the layout you’ve provided here. Great job!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Great examples. And answers. If I ever am in this position, would it be ok to use my age as an excuse for not having the answer. Such as, sorry but if I ever knew the answer to that, it flew away with my 75th birthday balloon.:)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I liked your examples and the way you broke down the possible answers to each. I’ve been to a few author Q&A’s and I’ve found that it’s sometimes easy for the author to react negatively if confronted with a question they’ve probably heard and had to answer multiple times (When’s the next book coming out? Why did you kill off X?) What do you think the best way to handle that situation would be?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Drew! I’ve been pondering this, and the second question, I can see it causing issues, but the response would have to be specific to the author. I say always go with honesty, and if you ever notice an author dodging this question, it’s probably because they either regret killing off a character (or which characters ended up together, for instance, as was the case with Harry Potter if memory serves, but which J.K. did admit to) but decide not to admit that, because it might affect future sales especially if it’s a series, or it was the editor/agent/publisher’s decision, and the other doesn’t want to admit they weren’t in control of such a big story decision. It could be other reasons, too, I suppose, but if they’re getting defensive, those are the reasons I would suspect first, and I wouldn’t know how to dig out of that hole. I will try not to ever be in this position, though. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks so much for sharing this. The last scenario in particular is so tricky to handle, and I personally am terrified of confrontation, and purely out of fear would probably end up saying something along the lines of “I value your opinion…” even when I don’t. But that’s my own shortcoming; I need to learn how to be more assertive.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. If I’m speaking, I usually say up-front whether I’ll take questions during the presentation, or whether I want listeners to wait until the Q&A. That gives me an easy out for Scenario 1!

    Over the years I’ve developed answers to most scenarios. The one I still have difficulty with is #8, or a variation – when you know there is some subtext behind the question, but don’t know what. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Author events are one of the scariest parts of becoming a published author for me because of exactly this! It’s so easy to accidentally alienate your readers or potential readers by responding badly to a comment or question, but these tips are brilliant Raimey. Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to bookmark this page for when I’m published! (Did you see I said when and not if? Confidence is key 😉 )

    Liked by 1 person

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