Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pitching the books

The biggest book promotion problem a deaf author faces is how to reach a wide audience with "deaf speech." My breathy elocution is usually understandable to a stranger if he listens carefully but often goes right past the average person with part of his mind on something else.

In the past I tried all sorts of MacGyverish tricks to overcome that, one of them using an overhead projector to display a printed talk, line by line, the rest of the page hidden by two clumsily manipulated sheets of paper. That was like chewing tobacco while riding an unstable motorcycle.

But dispensing with the two shrouding sheets of paper caused audiences to squirm impatiently if they read the entire page long before I finished speaking the words.

Later on, "CART" -- Computer Assisted Real-time Translation -- worked very well with large audiences composed both of the hearing and what quaintly was called the "hearing impaired." As I droned on, an expert court reporter would (often with the help of a printed copy of my talk) keyboard the speech into a laptop attached to a digital projector. When everything went smoothly, my words would appear on the screen at the same instant I spoke them.

But this technology is expensive and is suited mostly to large audiences. I needed something cheap and effective for small groups, such as those at bookstore autographings (and, believe me, they can be very small -- two or three patrons).

And so now I use a Macbook laptop, a portable screen and a small digital projector to deliver my pitch by means of an Apple Keynote (PowerPoint to PC users) slide show. My words are superimposed on photographs that make up the individual slides, as in the picture above. I speak the words as I show each slide, letting each slide linger just (I hope) long enough for audiences to appreciate it.

From time to time during each presentation the Lady Friend, a retired librarian and elementary school teacher with a dulcet speaking voice, reads selections from my novels while I stand by.

That aids greatly with the biggest problem of Keynote and PowerPoint presentations: They can be excruciatingly boring. Listening to spoken words that also appear on a screen is a kind of visual waterboarding many people just can't endure.

Using simple and short sentences for text helps a great deal.

So does the use of striking photographs for backgrounds, to engage another part of the mind. (Army boot camp instructors used to salt their filmstrip lessons with pictures of nude women, keeping the recruits on their toes.) Fortunately, being an eager if not always skillful amateur photographer, I have a large portfolio of suitable pictures of my bucolic subjects. And there is always the Internet commons to harvest.

I've been working on a talk that will be delivered June 18 to the Ontonagon County Historical Society way up here in farthest Upper Michigan. The subject is how a regional mystery novelist uses location, history and culture to create a sense of place. Part of the task has been to go out and find good pictorial subjects for slides, and that's been great fun.

There's always more than one way to skin a cat.


  1. First you talk about pawcuffing a raccoon and tapping it with a baton, then about skinning a cat. Does the ASPCA know about you? What do you do with the wildlife after you photograph them? Hit them with a flamethrower?

  2. Disingenuous, are we now, Mike? You know perfectly well that "skinning a cat" is just another way of saying "solving a problem." You must be one of those cat lover people.

    How can you ask what I do with the wildlife after I photograph them? Of course I let them go, then go straight to the medicine cabinet for Band-Aids, field dressings and iodine to minister to the wounds from talons, teeth and claws . . .