When People Ask About Your Story, Don’t Panic

It happened to me again. I went to out to lunch yesterday, and someone asked me about my books. Here’s more or less how the conversation went:

“Hey, you teach English at the university, right?”
“No, I teach biology.”
“Really? Someone told me they were pretty sure you taught English….”
“No, I’m pretty sure I teach biology….”
“But you’re a writer?”
“Yes, I’m a writer….”
“What are your books about?”

There were more questions, and to be honest, I probably answered them just fine. But I have the hardest time talking about my own stories. If you send me questions for an interview and ask me to send back the answers, great. If you ask me to do a reading where I get to pick out a passage that speaks for itself, even better. But if you bump into me on the street and ask me to talk about my books, cue mild panic.

I once went to a writers’ dinner where I knew about half of the people there, and we took turns going around the table and stated what we write. The icebreaker activity started on the opposite end of the table, leaving plenty of time for that mild panic to rear its ugly head. But it never had a chance to fully surface because the woman sitting next to me said something to me before it was my turn to speak. She told me three things, and they are things that I’ve tried to carry with me ever since:

  1. She’d read and enjoyed my books. *cue happy flailing*
  2. She noticed that whenever I talk about my books, I always looked down at my hands and didn’t talk them up nearly as much as I should.
  3. I needed to cut that out. Right now.

I could have hugged her. When it came time for me to say something during those dinnertime introductions, I looked everyone in the eye and told them what I wrote. We chatted about books and laughed a lot, and panic never made an appearance that evening.

Most writers that I know say that self-promotion is their least favorite aspect of publishing. However, we also need to be proud of our stories and speak for them. We pour our heart and souls into these words for the world to read. We make our characters go through so many trials in order to grow and earn those happily ever afters. But I believe that we also need to balance that confidence with humility. My very best experiences at author events have not come from trying to sell myself or push my book onto readers. They’ve been at ones where I could sit and chat with people about books and writing, just like at that writers’ dinner. And I haven’t panicked.


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about Helen at http://www.helenboswell.com.