As I'm sure you know by now, Flawless by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell tells the story of "the largest diamond heist in history." The true story of how Leonardo Notarbartolo infiltrated the Antwerp Diamond District and discovered the Achilles heel of one of the world's tightest the security systems is as exciting as any made-up thriller. My review will be posted tomorrow.
Today, I am pleased to welcome Scott Selby and his first-ever guest post for a book blog! Many of us have attended book readings or signings, but have you ever thought about such an event from the author's viewpoint? Scott tells us what it's like and offers some tips for the audience.
I became a published author of a nonfiction book (Flawless: Inside the World’s Largest Diamond Heist) just a few weeks ago and so have now done a few readings. My first reading was at one of my favorite bookstores, McNally Jackson in New York City. It was a strange and exhilarating feeling to be there talking about my book, when I had spent so much time there before as a member of the audience listening to other people speak about their books.
My co-author, Greg Campbell, had done untold numbers of readings to promote his two prior books, so he approached our first reading together as an old pro. For me, it was all new. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned from that first reading and the readings we’ve done since then. I’ll include a few pointers on giving a reading as well as being in the audience for one.
We mostly wanted to talk about our book and some of the behind-the-scenes stuff but decided that it was important for us to make sure we actually did read something from Flawless. While the process of reading at an author event can be a bit boring for the author as well as for the audience if it goes on too long, it worked really well to read for two to three minutes just to give the audience a feel for the book's prose.
I read from the prologue, which worked well as it introduces the book, and so those in the audience who were not familiar with Flawless could easily appreciate it. Our prologue describes in detail the scene on the morning following Valentine’s Day weekend 2003 when the Belgian detectives first descended to the Antwerp Diamond Center’s vault and saw the wealth of diamonds, gold, and other treasures scattered amidst the less valuable remnants of opened security deposit boxes.
Next, Greg and I took turns talking about the heist itself and how the Turin-based thieves got away with an estimated €100–400 million worth of loot. We also talked about the larger settings of the criminal underworld in Turin and the Antwerp Diamond District. Instead of simply rehashing what we cover in detail in our book, Greg and I first focused on giving a broad overview of these subjects and then quickly moved on to some of the more colorful background stories.
The audience seemed to especially enjoy short anecdotes about how we learned some of the details that we need for Flawless, like how Greg managed to get to the vault level of the building and how we obtained the blueprints to the place. We also had some funny stories about the various people we met while working on this book, including my own interactions with the building’s manager back in February 2006 when she yelled at me for working on this project.
We kept our presentation down to about twenty-five minutes or so and then took questions from the audience. We were lucky that everyone asked questions that were about the book itself, I’ve been to plenty of readings where people ask about the most random things that have little to nothing to do with the topic at hand. If I needed a moment to think, I’d say “That’s a great question,” before answering, buying a few seconds to process everything.
I think if you are asking questions at a reading, the best thing would be to just ask a single question and make sure it’s relevant. I remember one reading I went to on a book about economic theory and the environment, and someone kept trying to ask questions about some kind of plastic polymer. The poor author had no idea what to say.
At a reading in Colorado, we did get one woman who prefaced her question by saying that she had three different questions to ask. When she said that, I felt super anxious that this was going to be one of those difficult situations in which a single person takes up all the question-and-answer time, but surprisingly, it turned out fine. All three questions were concise and relevant.
Afterward, we signed books which was fun. I always asked people how they spell their name as I quickly learned that even a common name like Christy could be spelled any number of ways. I also asked people if they wanted something funny, just their name, or just a signature. After the audience had dissipated, we stuck around to sign stock for the bookstore and say a heartfelt thanks to them for having us there. And with that, the reading was over and the high from public speaking faded fast.
Thank you, Candace, for giving me the chance to write my first guest post.
Thanks to you, Scott, for agreeing to be a guest here on Beth Fish Reads and for offering some great advice on book readings. I try to stick to specific and relevant questions, but I can see how easy it is to get carried away when one is excited about a book or an author.
Look for my review of Flawless tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's the book trailer.
For more on the book and the authors, visit the Flawless website.
Scott Andrew Selby is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. He also has a masters degree in Human Rights and Intellectual Property Law from Sweden’s Lund University, where he wrote his thesis on diamonds. He is licensed to practice law in California and New York.