All authors secretly dream of inspiring millions around the world with their writing. But ask authors to speak in front of an audience and that dream quickly turns into a nightmare. Alex Kiester’s debut novel “In Her Skin” takes readers down the perilous path from written word to spoken word. The psychological thriller centres around Meggie Meyer, a debut author who can’t face her book tour and hires an actress to impersonate her.
“Writing ‘In Her Skin’ was a deeply personal experience,” Kiester says. “I was exploring what would happen if I let my anxiety take over my life. There is a core element of me in there.”
Glossophobia—the fear of public speaking—is commonly cited as a worst fear. According to Psychology Today, approximately 25 percent of people report experiencing it. Like Kiester’s protagonist, many writers struggle with putting themselves and their work out there. This requires skills like public speaking, giving a stellar interview as well as learning to handle and manage an audience.
“I’m an ambivert,” Kiester says. “At the time I was writing ‘In Her Skin’, I was an actor, studying the Meisner Technique. But still, I had a big fear of public speaking. So, I joined Toastmasters, which helped me develop my confidence. I learned that public speaking is a muscle. It can grow and atrophy like any other.”
As the Editor-in-Chief at Mith Books, I work with a team of writers and clients on a daily basis. Unlike other artistic endeavours like music, where one has to collaborate with other artists, writing is typically depicted as a solitary profession populated by introverts. But is that truly the case? I know first-hand that it takes a village to bring a book into this world.
“What was your relationship with your editor like?” I ask.
“The editor is not your saviour,” Kiester says. “They are not there to save you. The author should do every single thing to make their manuscript the best it can be. You have to remain motivated and be in love with your book and invested in it every single step of the process, from writing to edits to copyedits.
“And then you have to let it go and trust your editor will do the same. My editor at Audible pushed me and challenged me. I learnt to never be married to an idea or a turn of phrase, because that closes your mind to other options, some of which could be better and stronger than the original. At the end of it, I was a better writer. It was like a writing boot camp.”
Publication is, and will always be, a significant milestone in an author’s life. The unique facet of Kiester’s publication journey is that her manuscript went directly from written word to spoken word. “In Her Skin” was published as an Audible Original by Amazon in 2019.
“What was it like to hear your work narrated by voice actors?” I ask.
“Oh, it was a surreal,” Kiester says. “It’s an out-of-body experience. The entire time I was listening to it, I kept oscillating between enjoying it as a listener and also thinking Oh my gosh, I wrote that. The voice actors bring something to the role that I wasn’t expecting. One of the actors added this wonderful element of humour. Her interpretation of the character transformed my words. The actors truly elevated my work.”
“What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow authors who’re struggling with public speaking?” I ask.
“First, if you have a fear of public speaking, you will never ever feel ‘ready’ to confront it, so you just have to force yourself to take that first step,” Kiester says. “The good news is that public speaking is a skill like anything else. It can be practiced and learned, and getting better at it can give you a confidence that permeates your life and opens your world.”
As I mused on Kiester’s words, I realised that the journey from written to spoken word is not a perilous one to be feared, but rather a new adventure that awaits the author. All we need to do is take that first step and trust the journey.