So far so good with your book event, right? You have a great venue, you peek out from behind the stacks of books or from the back room and wow, people! The bookstore loves you, the seats are full and you’re ready to go. Now what?
What are you supposed to say? You know it can’t sound like a big sales pitch, but it has to, a little bit, right? That’s why you’re there. It can’t be about you you you, but it has to be, a little bit, right? That’s why you’re there. No one cares that you wanted to be a writer since you were a little kid, right? Or do they?
The answer is: yes and no. How do you make the best of your appearance at a bookstore or library? Here’s how to get ready. Here’s how to hit it out of the literary ballpark.
First, do your homework
You’ve certainly been to other authors’ book events, haven’t you? And if you haven’t, why not?
Part of being a career author is supporting your fellow authors, and attending their events is critical.
How keenly do you want people to come to your event? More than you can even articulate, right? So how do you think they feel? So show up whenever you can.
But now that you are in the audience, take mental notes. I will confess to you that I have tiny little scraps of paper where I have outlined, as the author talks, exactly what they said. And why.
No two author’s speeches or presentations are exactly the same, and they are hardly ever even similar. They are personal.
Because trust me, really skilled authors know that the point of a presentation is not about themselves, it’s about the audience. Let me say that again. The point is to make the audience happy, to give them what they want, to entertain them, to educate them, to teach them something, and to captivate them with your wit, and knowledge, and your terrific terrific story. Without, um, saying exactly that.
Every author needs a stump speech
You know what this is if you follow politics. A candidate who has appearance after appearance doesn’t say exactly the same thing at each place, but… trust me, it’s often very similar. Like them, you need a template, a skeleton, structure—just as you do for your book plot—to guide you in what you are going to say.
And you will alter that structure depending on the venue. Does it need to be shorter, longer, chattier, funnier, more instructive, more PG-rated? Is it snowing outside? An early breakfast? For a women’s group, or business people, or seniors, or high school students? You’ll take bits and pieces of your basic speech and tailor it to the occasion.
Should you type it up? And read it? Well, type it up if need be, even just bullet points. (I do. It’s like my magic feather.) Should you read it? Nope nope nope. You’re talking to friends. So talk to them.
Chose a leadoff moment
After you thank everyone for coming, and mention all the writers in the audience—by name if you can!—then you begin.
Maybe ask a question that’s a hook for your book. Have you ever been to Paris? How you ever wondered if someone is following you? Do you believe in love at first sight? An opening question like that helps the audience relate to you, makes the audience think about themselves a bit, (that’s a good thing), and leaves them wondering: why are you asking that?
Then you can go on to say something about how the beginning of your novel or book stemmed from a question you once asked. There are endless ways to handle this, but one good way to begin is to think of the essential question that your book asks. And then craft that into something relatable and personal.
Tell a story or two
Think about what audiences ask in author question and answer segments. Did you always want to be an author? Do you use an outline? Is your book based on your real life? Did you do a lot of research? Where do—yes, here it comes—where do you get your ideas?
Every one of those questions is valuable, because each one gives you insight into what your listers want to hear about. Can you craft a personal engaging story around two or three of those? And then, here’s the key, you make those stories relevant to your book.
You say: You know, I wanted to be a writer since I was six years old, when I read _______. And I read one of the pivotal books in my life, which is_______. What that taught me was________. So when I decided to write my new book _______, it was because ________. What I think about now is_______. And, in my book, it’s why I do______.
Tell what the book is about
No spoilers, no elaborate synopses. Is it a true-life adventure about a teenager stowing away on Admiral Byrd’s voyage? The biography of a beloved personality, or a notorious villain? What got you interested in that, and how (and why) did you decide to tell the story?
Have you always loved thrillers, the fast pace and the unpredictable twists? Okay, then. You say: ever since I read Day of the Jackal, I marveled at how Forsyth could get us rooting for the villain. So then I thought—what if….and then fill in the blank with your elevator pitch.
Your not-so-secret goal: to get everyone in the audience to buy a book. This portion of your appearance is a tease. A promo. The movie-trailer version of your book—designed to leave the audience unable to resist finding out what happens.
Close with another personal story. How you felt when you saw your very own book on the bookstore shelf or in the library, or someone reading it on the plane. How your family reacted. How you thanked a mentor or teacher. How you felt when you got your first fabulous review. These are all true things! You know how wonderful it is to have those experiences. And it is readers who make them happen. So—thank them for it!
Know when to stop
About thirty or forty minutes is way long enough. Leave them wanting more, not wishing they could leave.
Then, there’s always (or often) that vacant silent moment after you say—anyone with questions? And no one wants to be first. Simply have a question for yourself in your back pocket. Say, for instance, “You know, sometimes people ask me whether I know the ending of my books before I start. So interesting! Well….”
And often that one question and answer will elicit others from your audience.
If there aren’t any questions, no problem. Say: Wonderful! I guess you can’t wait for me to sign books! And I am delighted to do that.
And thank them again
They are coming because they are interested. They are coming because they want to love you. They are coming because they want to love your book. So, go in ready to accept that affection. These are pals, right? Are they coming to heckle you? No way. They are here to listen and love you. Allow that to happen. And embrace it. And send it back to them.
Don’t forget to have someone take photos!
Should I read from my book, you’re asking? Maybe. And we’ll talk about that another time soon. Now—get writing!
And happy to chat on our Facebook page.