(No, I’m not engaged, but if I were, I could get married at Sixth & I for free. Just part of our benefits package.)
To ask, or not to ask, that is the question. It’s a rare opportunity to ask someone, who is otherwise inaccessible, a question face-to-face. An author concludes his/her remarks, the crowd goes wild, and then the floor is open, town hall style, for the audience to ask questions of the bookish guest.
I’ve seen questions that have sparked some of the funniest moments of an event, like when someone asked Tina Fey, “If you could party anywhere in the world with Beyonce and Jay-Z, where would you go?” Her response: Stonehenge. Again, the crowd went wild.
I’ve seen questions that have infused the room with a good dose of nostalgia, like this past October when one of Jeffrey Eugenides’ high school teachers asked him a question, bridging a relationship that started 33 years earlier. (I got teary-eyed.)
But not all questions go so well, so as a follow-up to my recent book signing faux pas post, I’m drawing upon my author event experience once again to share six things (our favorite number around here) you should avoid during the audience Q&A portion, lest you anger fellow attendees, myself, or (gasp!) the author.
1. Don’t precede your question with an opinionated monologue. If the first sentence out of your mouth doesn’t end in a question mark, you’re breaking the cardinal rule of Q&A. For those eager for a captive audience, asking a question is not part of your 15 minutes of fame. Your time will come. Yes, I’m confident that it will.
(In this scenario, many an author will display their impatience by saying, “Could you get on with your question.” Note that this is stated, not asked. No one wants to be chided publicly by the object of their literary affection.)
2. Don’t let the first words out of your mouth be, “I have two questions.” Unless you bought two tickets for yourself, you’re only entitled to one burning question. Nine times out of ten, there are more people lined up for Q&A than time will allow for so, when the line is cut, you are reviled by the rest of the audience for being an author hog (not kosher) for asking two questions when other people didn’t even have a chance to ask one. You’ll be forgiven, but still, just don’t.
3. Building on the above inquisitive no-no, once the Q&A line has been cut (By me. Fun job, lemme tell ya), and you find yourself behind the cut-off point and are politely told to return to your seat, please don’t turn into a curmudgeon and give me a dirty look.
Sometimes people behind the cut-off point refuse to sit down. Don’t be that person; I have enough stress in my life.
4. If the author is a chef, don’t ask where they are going out to eat after the event. They won’t tell you because even if you don’t plan on showing up at the restaurant, someone else will and no one wants an uninvited guest at their Michel Richard table.
5. Don’t make a personal announcement of life cycle events (“I recently had a baby” or “I just got engaged last week”) that has nothing to do with the book at hand or your question. It’s wonderful, and Sixth & I would be happy to host your baby naming, bris, or wedding, but such commentary breaks the first rule of this post.
6. Don’t ask authors about things they can’t speak to. For example, don’t ask a Supreme Court Justice his opinion on a pending case.
When Elizabeth Gilbert spoke about her book Committed, someone asked, and I’m paraphrasing, “I’ve been dating a guy from South America for awhile now, and I can’t decide if we’re right for each other, and since you married someone from South America, I wanted to ask if you thought I should marry my boyfriend and if marrying someone from South America is a good idea?” Gilbert replied that she’s baffled why people ask her for relationship advice given the relationship pitfalls she detailed in Eat, Pray, Love.
So there you have it. Any questions?