25 July 2016

Moderate What?

A few days ago, one of my nieces read in  one of my post on Facebook about moderating a panel a couple of years ago with Jonathan and Faye and Jesse Kellerman. My niece, Linda, wanted to know exactly what did I mean about moderating a panel? She enjoys reading my books but had no idea what I meant about the panels. It occurred to me that this would be a good topic since Bouchercon is coming up very soon and many of the folks here on Sleuthsayers will be attending. The non-author types might wonder a little about panels. And the author types who have probably been on many panels might not have ever moderated one.

Like I told Linda, every moderator does things their way. Here's how I moderate a panel. Believe it or not, I just received my panel for Bouchercon and was assigned as moderator for a discussion of PIs. Gumshoes, Shamus, Private Investigator, Private Eye. Whatever you may call a person who investigates a mystery and gets paid for that investigation but not paid by a law enforcement agency. The PI probably is licensed by the state and may have previously been employed by a police or law enforcement agency. The founder of Private Eye Writers of America or PWA, Robert J. Randisi has often explained it thusly: if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Back to the panel. I have five authors on my panel for the upcoming mystery con. Two I know personally and three I've never met, although they may have been writing for some time. At any rate, I contacted each one via email and asked them to please send me a short bio, a list of their books and a hard copy of their latest book. I prefer to read each author's book prior to the panel if possible.

With the Kellermans I had read several of both Jonathan's and Faye's books. I had not read Jesse before. And the new one they were introducing was co-authored by Jonathan and Jesse, titled Golem of Hollywood. I had less than a two week window bu,t I got a copy of Golem and also a copy of Faye's latest. Her setting had changed but her characters were basically the same. I read the books and from that point was able to come up with what I hoped was some interesting questions or comments to ask each author. In the case of BCon, I'll try to send a couple of question to the panelist.

After a brief introduction of each author, which includes a brief bio of that person, and a short synopsis of their work, then perhaps hold up a copy of their book. Personally, I think the moderator is not there to promote their own work, the major object is for each panelist to shine. However, if the moderator has a new book they might want to mention it. It's usually nice to have one of the other panelist mention your very short bio and your book if that's possible. I've been a moderator when I've had a book and also when I have not.

Then you ask your intriguing questions and hope each author has an intriguing answer or comment to make. I always suggest to them that if they are able to inject some humor that's helpful. But also to keep their answers short because we have a set amount of time and I want everyone to be able to speak. If I have someone who wants to monopolize the time, I will try to nicely interrupt and keep the session moving along. I have been on a panel when that has happened and if the moderator doesn't interrupt, then I'm hopeful that a wonderful other panelist will do that.

Then if we have time the last 10 minutes or so, I will take questions from the audience. Then tell the audience where the book signing will take place. At most mystery cons there is a special place set up for author autographing.

When I wrote to the authors on my panel I sort of mentioned most of this except in a briefer form. The audience is there to hear the authors and it's important for the moderator to allow that to happen. Also if you have an author who is shy and hasn't had a chance to speak then the moderator needs to be sure that author gets a chance by asking something along the lines of "when did you first come up with your character or is your character based on anyone you know?" And the moderator guides the question and answer session.

That's more or less how I do it and I've probably done a hundred or more panels, counting both moderating and as an author. But as I mentioned earlier, every person does these things their own way, I'm only telling more or less how I do it.

Brief Personal Note
Some of you may have heard through Facebook that one of our very good friends and terrific writers, Bill Crider just found out this week that he has an aggressive carcinoma. Please keep Bill in your prayers and healing thoughts and send him positive energy. Thanks all.


  1. Bill, count us among your biggest fans and supporters. We are rooting and praying for you, our friend. Blessed be.

  2. Jan, I’ve served on a panel and saw a little of what goes on behind the scenes. Sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job! And thanks for the note about Bill.

  3. Best wishes for Bill, who I don't know real well but spent some time with at the last Bouchercon in Raleigh.

    And your post on moderating panels is great, Jan. Thanks.

  4. Great post here, Jan. I use that word moderator as well (like most of us) and I've had times when someone stumbles over it too. Others have suggested the word facilitator as well. But whatever the term, I think your descriptions of the duties here are spot-on. (I've seen panels where the moderator steps into the limelight far too much, whether in terms of time talking or of self-promotion or whatever.) Good advice throughout.

    And yes, I'd heard the news about Bill. Sending his good wishes and keeping fingers crossed.

  5. Good piece, Jan. I enjoy moderating a panel myself, largely because I have experienced the occasional Bad Moderator.

    Thanks for mentioning Bill Crider. He has been a very generous presence in my career, besides being a terrific writer.

  6. Good post, Jan. I've found that the toughest job for a moderator is making sure that one author doesn't dominate. I've been on moderator-less panels, and it got rather tense because no one had the 'authority' to intervene.

    When I moderate, I research the panelists beforehand and make sure I can talk to their books. As well, I try to target a question to each specifically. This way, each author gets the limelight for at least two minutes, before the question falls into a free for all.

    I'm very sad to hear about Bill. Thank you for letting us know, Jan.

  7. Good post, Jan.

    Please tell Bill that he's in our prayers here in South Dakota!

  8. Please tell Bill I'm keeping his typewriter oiled and his coffee warm.

  9. Good column, Jan.

    Bill, we're all pulling for you, old friend. I wish you the very best!

  10. I'd never seen a panel in action until Bouchercon in Cleveland in '12. All the best for your stint as moderator, Jan! And myself and many other of Bill's Facebook friends are pulling and praying for him.

  11. Hi, Jan. I stumbled upon this post by happenstance while doing a search on Bouchercon and really enjoyed it. And thanks again for all your kind words about Dad. I'm hoping that he and I both will see you at the Bouchercon.


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