Saturday, 7 January 2017

Giving Author Talks: Top Tips

St Albans Literary Festival 2016

Once it comes to public notice that you have published a book, or books, you may well find that you are invited to speak to a group about it. Or you may apply to one of the numerous literary festivals to be a speaker. Either way, it is important to plan and prepare carefully in advance, if for no other reason than it stops you panicking as the day draws closer. I have participated in the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and St Albans Literary Festivals as both visiting author and audience, and over the years I have sat through some pretty dire author talks ( I hope I haven't given any!). 

So for 2017, let's look once again at How To Give a Good Author Talk.

1. Your session should contain 3 elements

* You and your books ~ how you write, why you write, what you write. With readings from your books.
* Audience questions.
* Informal book signing and chat.

I suggest for an hour's session the ratio should split into: 25 mins talk, 15 mins questions, 20 mins chat and signings. Obviously the last two can overlap.

2. Set the Scene - including yourself

There is nothing more boring than a pile of books on a bare table. Or a bare table. People like to look at interesting stuff while you are speaking. THINK about your genre. I bring a Victorian top hat and hatbox, part of a Victorian tea set, I lay the table with a lace tablecloth, I also have opera gloves, a seed pearl bag and some of my original Victorian books, which I stand up so people can see the covers.
I wear a steampunk outfit. I put my books to sell on a separate table away from the talk area.
Start collecting interesting stuff for a table display.

3. Practice makes perfect

If you have never spoken in public before, or feel nervous, WRITE your talk out in full first. Then SAY it ~ speak more slowly than normal and time yourself. Keep practicing ~ how do you think actors learn their lines? Some people perform in front of a mirror, or film themselves so they can eliminate any unnecessary gestures. Once you know your talk pretty well, reduce it to one sheet of paper with key words.

4. Sit or stand?

Stand. Always. You command the room, and can check the back row hasn't dozed off. Also you can walk about and pick up some of the interesting objects as you talk about your books.

5. Q & A

Have some pre-prepared questions to stimulate a debate, in case nobody asks anything. Things like: what do they think about self-publishing ~ is it just an excuse for poor writing? Do they prefer ebooks to print and why? What was the last book they read that they really enjoyed? Do they think some writers get over-hyped?

Be prepared to divulge all sorts of stuff. Some audiences will ask how much you earn, have you ever got a bad review, etc etc. Laugh it up and don't get insulted. I frequently bring some rejection letters along and read them out to much merriment.

Next week, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and
 pick up on any comments left by you that need attention.

19 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! Helps that you/I are extroverts to begin with, but anybody can learn

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  2. Indeed - thanks for this. I've done 2 now, and all I had on the table was glasses and free wine/beer.

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    1. I got the tip from someone else...and it really works..you can feel the buzz as people look at your stuff...

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  3. Yes, what he said and ... speak more slowly if you aren't used to public speaking. I used to teach count one for a comma and two for a full stop (in your head, of course!)

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  4. All public speaking is daunting at first - it's worth remembering that only the narcissist doesn't feel overwhelmed at first. But nerves are fine, they give us adrenalin we need to get up there and do it. And once you've done it a few times, it's nothing like as frightening!

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    1. There are so many Festivals now, and it's really the ONLY way to 'sell' actual books, as bookshops only stock the 'big writers'

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  5. Great tips as always, CarolStar! I took a bunch of props to my last talk, but it was a bit much really...I had a 10 foot barge pole, so you can imagine what fun that was walking from the car park to the venue (about 1 km) along with a bucket and a life jacket. I got some very odd looks, but the audience liked them :)

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    1. They DO don't they..not tht I'd go as far as you!

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  6. Great advice. I filmed myself speaking before at my first event, and noticed that I had developed a nervy face-touching habit! I hold a book now to keep my hands still.

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    1. Yes, my then publisher filmed me at Edinburgh and Cheltenham..it was an eye-opener! I try to keep my hands a bit more still! Looked like a windmill!

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  7. Thanks - some good tips. When I was interviewed, I found it very difficult to get away from answering questions about myself - I wanted to talk about my book, the journalist wanted to talk about my life story. Disappointingly, the final article was more about me than the book. Hard to evade questions. I think, as you say, being well prepared is the solution.

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    1. If I'm 'talking' to a journo, I always submit what I want them to put as a press release before they arrive..or hve it ready to hand over. That way, at least they have MY notes as well as theirs..and yes, they do tend to misquote, or focus on things you feel are irrelevant, but at the end of the day, there is not such thing as bad publicity! People are more interested in the person ..I find this on Twitter, but if you come over as an interesting individual, they will often buy your book on the back of a personal article.

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  8. I had 30 book signings for my first book and one book signing for my second book. I didn't enjoy the murder followers for the second book. I was passionate about the first book. How do you get book reviews? I have traded with one author, and my relatives don't want to leave a review. Three friends wrote a review. I think I would do better with more reviews.

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    1. OK, this post is about giving author talks. Maybe you need to be a bit more out and about on Twitter? Host a blog? Sometimes, it takes a long while to get reviews...some people only have 1 or 2

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  9. Useful also to choose your readings with care, e.g. avoid dialogue unless you can do different voices, make sure you don't have to explain too much.

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    1. Yes! Another excellent point! Thank you.

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