Elinor Lipman provides a guide to author anxieties

By Elinor Lipman
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thank you, book lovers, for even thinking about devoting your Saturday, in whole or in part, to a lit fest! You'll be rewarded with stimulating, painless and free fun. (Utterly up to you: the purchase of books that will help save our industry.) Not to be downplayed: the likelihood that persons to your left and to your right will be like-minded fellow readers of the opposite or same sex. Though no one guarantees that a literary festival is fertile social ground, the New York Times did once run a feature titled "Readings as an Opportunity for Romance." Although everything from your side of the podium will be unassailable and pure pleasure, we vain authors still worry about things that are out of our hands. Here, therefore, is a reader's guide to the traumas that may be fueling our overblown, lit-fest anxieties, plus optional sweet talk and authorial remedies:

Things that have gone wrong in the past:

1. The local newspaper prints the wrong day, time or location for your event. Or leaves you out completely. You flop. This befuddlement will forever taint the city in your small mind.

2. The night and hour of your reading coincide with a critical playoff game or the final episode of the decade's most popular sit-com. In my case, May of 2004: both "Friends" and "Frasier."

3. Always, no matter how scintillating you are, there's a snoozer in the audience. He wakes up during the Q&A in time to ask a question you've just answered at length.

4. In the program, where the little bios are printed, you've supplied the titles of your books and your hometown. Everyone else's bio quotes rave reviews and employs phrases such as "critically acclaimed," "prize-winning," "Iowa Writers' Workshop," "best-selling" and "Guggenheim fellowship." You remind yourself to add some adjectives and adverbs next time.

5. You stand poised, book in hand, smiling, waiting to be introduced, hoping the recent review calling you a cross between Barbara Pym and Kurt Vonnegut has come to the introducer's attention, especially after your publicist Fed-Exed her a copy. She approaches the mike and says, "You didn't come to hear me, so without further ado, please welcome X [mispronounced]."

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