What I'm reading: Evil Without a Face, by Jordan Dane
What I'm working on: SleuthFest panels.
Continuing with the SleuthFest topic this week….
I'm used to doing workshops or solo presentations, so the panel format at SleuthFest creates a whole new set of preparation anxieties. In a panel, the speakers are at the mercy of a moderator and the kindness of the other panelists. I'm keeping that in mind as I deal with the two panels I'm on, plus the third that I'm moderating.
A good moderator can set the tone for the entire session. The job: introduce the panelists. My take: There's a bio of every speaker in the program. The attendees can read. The moderators who simply parrot that back lose points in my book. I've asked my panelists to provide at least one or two tidbits that are new.
In addition to discussing a writing topic, the other—albeit it unspoken—function of the workshops is to give authors a little face time to showcase their books. So, the moderator needs to give each panelist a moment or two for the dreaded BSP. The good panelists will work their books into their presentations rather than do commercials.
Next, the moderator is expected to keep things moving according to the schedule. At SleuthFest, things run tight, with fifty-minute sessions. Moderators need to watch the clock, allow time for questions, AND make sure the speakers can exit because this conference schedules ten minute book-signings of panelists during the breaks between sessions. It's one of the few things I'm not fond of, because ten minutes isn't really long enough to participate and get to the next session on time. However, they also have an end-of-the-day signing for all speakers, which helps.
Moderators have to keep things 'fair.' This might mean having to cut off a Big Name to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. Some moderators will ask a single question, then run down the panel for everyone's response. Others will ask specific questions of specific panelists. Some start joining into the discussion themselves.
I'm sure it's no surprise that the panelists are aware of the questions beforehand. The panel I'm moderating is on the Young Adult mystery market. (Not exactly my area of expertise). The interesting aspect of the panel, and its challenge, is that I've got 3 speakers. One is a multi-published YA author. Another has written numerous books but also has an editing business. The third is an agent. Each will have a very different slant to the topic.
Which leads to one of my little peeves about the format. The workshops have titles, and very little description in the program. So the attendees have to base their choices of which workshop to attend on the name, which is often more clever than informative. At least for the panel I'm moderating, "The Kid Sleuth" seems clear enough. However, it's my job to make sure the panelists remain true to the "writing a YA mystery" aspect of the panel and don't stray too far afield, no matter how valuable the information might be, because there's nothing more frustrating at a conference than to sit in on a session that isn't what you expected, or wanted. Odds are, you passed up another one that looked equally promising.
Tomorrow – Detective Mark Hussey is back, talking about the time he found himself on the cutting edge of setting new policy.