From panel sessions to one-to-one chats with authors, literary events are always filled with insightful and thought-provoking discussions.
The interviewer or chair of the discussion often provides questions to provoke interesting answers, giving the audience the chance to hear the author’s real opinions and advice.
Then the conversation slows to a steady halt, or an abrupt “that’s all we have time for if we want to open the floor to questions.” I’ve witnessed many controlled, interesting discussions instantly shut down in order to provide audience members with the chance to ask the author a question (or several). My question is this: What benefits do Q&A sessions offer?
Personally, I’m often satisfied enough by the pre-set questions, and would prefer to spend the remaining fifteen minutes continuing to listen to the discussion.
Often, the questions asked by attendees fall into irritatingly predictable categories. The audience members asks a mundane question, which prompts the author to smile politely and give their answer, well-rehearsed from the countless times they’ve answered it before. This kind of question rarely encourages an interesting story from the author.
I’m also personally not a fan of audience members opening their question with an anecdote of their own, as if using the Q&A session as a personal meet and greet session. Most authors are so lovely and supportive of others’ writing, but using a Q&A platform to talk to an author about the problem you’re facing with your own book just doesn’t seem fair to the other audience members.
I’ve only attended one literary event when a Q&A session has been interesting – at a YA Fiction Panel event in Ilkley, where young people in the audience asked some very strong questions. As I listened, I did wonder if my general dislike of Q&A sessions was unfair – perhaps I just hadn’t attended the right events.
It would be interesting to give audience members the option to leave before the Q&A session begins, though of course this would be disrupting and very rude to the authors who have given their time and energy to provide an interesting evening for attendees.
I wonder if asking audience members to write down questions beforehand, and allowing the chair/interviewer to select interesting and unusual questions might be a better idea. The disadvantage is that this would prevent audience members from asking questions based on that event’s discussions, though I’ve yet to see many questions of this kind.
I adore listening to authors discuss their work, their life and their influences, and I personally would attend far more literary events if they weren’t followed by a lengthy Q&A session. Imagine if every theatre production were rounded off by the audience providing their thoughts on the show – it would spoil the magic of the event entirely.
I’m all for allowing audiences to connect personally with authors, but wonder if there is a better way to organise this than the perfunctory question and answer format.
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