The subtitle of John's bestselling memoir is "My Life with Asperger's." He has Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties with emotional expression and appropriate communication, and thus with interpersonal relationships. A salient symptom is not looking people in the eye when speaking or being spoken to; hence the book's title.
Through force of will, John has overcome many of his problems. (He used the phrase, "I taught myself to think that..." which I haven't encountered anywhere other than in Anthony Trollope's novels.) John still doesn't look people in the eyes much, but WOW, can he ever give a great presentation! He's a terrific raconteur and, as I noted in my post BEA Serendipity, he sure can close a sale. All of which had the audience of at least 60 eating out of his hand. See Karen DeGroot Carter's excellent account of the event on BEYOND Understanding; scroll down to "Beyond FINESSE: John Elder Robison" (Nov 16).
Agent Kristin also posted about the event on Pub Rants; scroll down to "More Than Just a Signing" (Nov 16). She wrote:
...John’s terrific presentation just reinforced again for me how important it is for an author to be a good presenter—to make the event more than just a book signing.An anonymous commenter wrote this:
John didn’t just read from his memoir and open the floor to questions. He engaged us in his passion... it was very powerful and in doing so, made everyone in that room a lot more interested in buying the book right then and there....
...John didn’t let [Asperger's] stop him and he got savvy at public speaking because he was determined to share his story and his passion...
I can’t stress it enough. If you are an author, master this skill because you never know when you might be presented with many opportunities to share your book, your passion, and your vision with the world.
For novelists, it's a plus, not a must. There are plenty of novelists who loathe speaking in public...and let their books speak for them....don't freak out about public speaking if it's something that terrifies you. It's not crucial to success as an author...it's a plus, not a must.I couldn't disagree more, and so was most happy when John responded (better than I could):
I don't know if I agree with the comment "speaking is a plus, not a must."
I think it depends on how far you want your writing to take you. If you want to sell 500 copies of your book, then fine, let your book do the talking. If you can get someone to pick it up.
With all due respect, how far do most books get when "they do the talking?"
In today's world, you are not going to get significant, timely book sales without promotion of some kind. It's hard to set up promotion for authors that are not presentable in public.
With every passing day, the importance of public speaking and mass media are becoming more and more apparent to me. Any aspiring author should have his/her eyes on both those targets, as both are essential for almost any significant success in the publishing world of today....