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Giving Talks About Your Written Work

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 30 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Talk Public Address Discussion Questions

When you're promoting a book or other major piece of writing, it's important to connect with readers in order to help them understand why your writing is relevant to their lives. One of the most effective ways to do this is to give talks about your work. This can help to turn the quiet appearance of your book on the shelves into a public event. What's more, if your writing becomes successful, you can actually get paid to speak about it, generating a useful secondary income.

Arranging a Talk

If you have an agent, they will often offer to set up talks for you. However if you're promoting your own work then this is something you will have to organise for yourself.

First of all, find out which bookshops your work is set to appear in. Work out how far you can reasonably travel, but bear in mind that holding talks in cities a good distance apart will generate far more sales than holding two talks in the same city. Talk to the bookshop managers to ask if they can arrange for you to make an appearance. Most managers are very positive about this because any special event will draw in more customers for them.

Be ready to negotiate carefully over the time slots you're offered. Evenings are better for most books, but if you write for children then you should aim for a weekend morning or afternoon, when your target readership is more likely to be able to attend. Ask to see the space where you will be giving the talk. On the day, turn up early to make sure everything is in place and the sound is working. Always have a drink with you to stop your mouth getting dry.

Preparing a Talk

No matter how confident you may feel about what you want to say, it's always a good idea to prepare for a talk by making notes. The better prepared your notes are, the less likely you are to need them. This is because the process of writing them down will help to clear your mind. It also means that you'll always have something to glance at if your mind goes blank, so you can relax more, which will make taking easier.

Think carefully about what attendees are likely to want from the talk and what you can reasonably give them. Obviously you won't want to give away too much about your book, but you should include a reading from it - preferably something that will produce an emotional reaction, such as a humorous or controversial passage. This can also help to prompt discussion.

Attendees will always be more satisfied by a talk if they feel it's given them access to privileged information, something not widely known, whether that's about the book itself or about your writing process. Give them something they can gossip about and they'll give you lots of free publicity.

Giving a Talk

Many people feel nervous when they first give a talk to a big group of people, even when they know their subject well. Worse, it's always possible that you'll find yourself giving a talk to a small group of people, if you haven't given your talk enough publicity. This can make you feel under even more pressure to entertain.

Try not to think about the group you're addressing at all. It can help to focus on just one person (perhaps a friend in the audience) and speak as if you were addressing them alone. If you feel more confident, try addressing different members of the group in turn. Move your gaze around and try to make eye contact - this will make people feel that you really care about their attendance.

After you've given the main part of your talk, there is usually some time set aside for questions. If there is no member of staff to help lead questions, ask a friend to do so. This person can ask a few questions themselves if others are slow to get going.

Even if there's no formal book signing arranged, attendees at a book talk will often bring along things for you to sign afterwards, so don't expect to be able to get away right away. This is your chance to turn on the charm and make a big impression on people at a personal level. Good word of mouth from this sort of encounter will be spread far and wide, but so will its counterpart, so try hard not to upset anybody.

Giving talks can be daunting at first, but with practice you'll soon get the hang of it, and it can do a great deal to boost your book sales.

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