Bella Stander on "What Not to Do at a Book Festival or Writers Conference"

(picture, courtesy of VABook Fest)


Greetings Shewriters - Get out your highlighters for some sound advice!


Bella Stander is the proprietor of Book Promotion 101 and publisher of Bella Terra Publishing. For the past dozen years she’s worked with the Virginia Festival of the Book, where she gave a workshop and moderated two panels last week. She has also participated in panels, whether as moderator or speaker, at various writer's conferences. The following is based on painful personal experience.


What NOT to do at a Book Festival or Writers Conference


Panel Moderator:

1.      Wait to contact panelists till two days before the event—or not at all.

2.      Be unfamiliar with panelists’ work: Not read author’s book (at least the first few chapters and website); not know who the literary agent represents; not know titles the editor has worked on.

3.      Have no agenda for the panel, or a vague one, e.g., “I will read brief introductions, and each of you should speak for 12-15 minutes. Then we will take a few questions.”

4.      Let panelists talk for so long that there’s no time for audience Q&A. (This happened with the panel in #3.)

5.      Talk a lot about yourself or read from your own book. Your job is to help the panelists shine. If they look brilliant, so will you.



1.      Cancel at the last minute because you just realized that the finances won’t work for you. Or cancel due to “family reasons”—but keep the plane ticket the organizers paid for.

2.      Author: Leave book at home, or not have a reading figured out—and practiced!—beforehand. Agent/editor: Leave business cards at home.

3.      Read for 15 minutes when you’re asked to read for 5.

4.      Monopolize the conversation and/or interrupt other panelists.

5.      Belittle the moderator (“If you’d read my book…"), other panelists (“I can’t believe you’d say such a stupid thing!”) or audience members (“If you’d been listening, you wouldn’t need to ask that question.”)



1.      Leave your cell phone ringer on.

2.      Give copies of your manuscript or self-published book to panelists.

3.      Pitch your book during Q&A session.

4.      Ask self-serving questions instead of general ones. (“Why didn’t you answer the query I sent you six months ago?” vs. “What should a writer do if an agent hasn’t responded to their query after six months?”)

5.      Engage a panelist in lengthy conversation afterwards, when there’s a line of people waiting behind you.


Do you have another experience of "what not to do?"  Reply with it!

Thank you, Bella!

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Comment by Janet McAdams on March 31, 2012 at 2:47pm

Panelists: Nervous fidgeting while another panelist is speaking, especially pen-clicking, paper rustling (as you so obviously prepare your own presentation you didn't bother to prepare before the panel), making inside jokes, name-dropping.

Audience: Hit on panelists, ask a panelist "Where can I find your books?", engage panelist with lengthy discourse of how you, too have a border collie/ love history/ are also from the South & don't you wish everyone else in the country had Southern manners?

Comment by Elisabeth Kinsey on March 31, 2012 at 9:42am

Thanks for all your awesome comments!

Comment by Melanie Jackson on March 30, 2012 at 1:30pm

This was funny as well as informative. Thank you, Elisabeth! The one about reading for 15 minutes instead of five is something an author occasionally has done at one of the group children's-book launches I've been part of. Instead of being interested in what they're reading, you start fuming. Everyone else keeps to the limited-time rule; why can't they? The result: they spoil their attempt at promoting their book.

Comment by Bonnie McCune on March 30, 2012 at 12:34pm

Hi from Denver, Bella.  As an audience member, I don't like to see too much emphasis on one panelist.  I do like interaction and discussion among panelists and the audience.  And, unless the panel is specifically on their books, I don't like too much marketing about their books.  By the way, the LLL is still going strong.  Bonnie McCune, author, "A Saint Comes Stumbling In"

Comment by Rachel Unkefer on March 30, 2012 at 10:14am

Moderator: Forget that BOOKS are being offered for purchase and signing, and neglect to allow time at the end before the audience has to run off to the next event. That's what the authors are here for, after all.

Bookseller or event coordinator: Neglect to verify that all the authors' books have been ordered and received and will be available at their appearances.

Event Organizers: Schedule popular authors for tiny venues


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