Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch

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Drawing of young ladies at a traditional tea

If you live in a smaller city and you have even a speck of success as a writer, chances are at some point you’ll be tapped for what I call “The Ladies Who Lunch Literati.” Sometimes they might be fans of your work; in my case they are often people who my mother puts in touch with me (I don’t have to pimp myself out since my mom is happy to do it for me). Since joining the Ploughshares blog, I’ve talked to book clubs, given readings, and even taught a slapdash course in memoir writing. In most of these instances, the participants have been primarily ladies, often retired.

Though I initially worried that some blogging, a newspaper column, and a smattering of publications didn’t really qualify me for these types of events, I’ve come to enjoy them. So for the rest of you who are still in small ponds, I encourage you to hang with the Ladies Who Lunch Literati, being mindful of a few simple guidelines.

1. Give Them What They Want

Before you agree to these types of events, clarify what is expected. Asking what types of things have been done before, how much time you will have, what equipment is available, and any special topics that might be of interest can not only help you prepare, but can ensure that the group does not feel disappointed.

2. Don’t do it for the cash.

I have never accepted an invitation to speak, read, or give a seminar assuming I would be paid. Imagine my delight when on one occasion I was presented with a check at the end of the session. (The instance where I was paid in cupcakes and strawberries wasn’t too shabby either.)

While some writers argue that you are essentially giving away your time and should not do things for free, I honestly don’t think I’m even close to the level where I can demand cash for appearances. If you really cannot afford to show up without being paid, then just politely say no. Don’t mention it’s because they can’t afford you.

3. Don’t Underestimate Your Audience.

Last August I was honored to be the featured speaker at a book review group luncheon. Although I did not have a novel for them to review, they made an exception to hear me speak about my Literary Cowboy series. As I was sitting at lunch, listening to the ladies chat, I realized most of these women were more well read than I was. Many were retired English teachers (including my own), and I could barely keep up with the literary conversation. Even those who weren’t as voracious in their reading were on top of their history.

For a teacher, it was the dream classroom—an engaged group who did the reading. Just because they are ladies who lunch does not mean they aren’t a crack audience. After the event, send a thank you to the organizer. Who knows? They may invite you back again.

4. Bring Party Favors

On several occasions I have been told to bring my published books for a sell-and-sign after the main talk. If you’re like me and don’t have anything stand alone, there are a couple of options. I’ve seen other people bring copies of the story they are presenting to distribute. I’ve never done that, mostly because my kids would probably draw on the handouts before I could give them to people.

Instead, I have a set of business cards that direct interested people to my personal blog, which features links to my publications. The first time I used my cards, I felt a little silly. It turns out that a number of people took cards, many of whom I have heard from since, complimenting me on a work that has come out or asking when my next column will be. I think of it as tasteful self-promotion.

Speaking of tasteful self-promotion, it’s okay to mention upcoming projects as long as you don’t continually reference it. Make sure to give people details of exactly when and where they can find the publication and any other events that might surround it. Even if you are talking about something else, you never knew who might want to seek out you and your work afterward.

5. Enjoy the Moment

No, it’s not a reading at a New York City bookstore or a museum lecture series. But I don’t think that makes these types of events any less special. Depending on the size of your town, you may run into people you knew as a kid. More importantly, you will get to connect with people while discussing things you are passionate about. I’ve yet to attend an event where I didn’t meet someone fascinating, earn a new reader, laugh, and learn something new. That’s a good day’s work.

Meeting with the Ladies Who Lunch can be a fantastic experience. It is a reminder of how literature and writing can bring people together—even if it’s just for cupcakes.