Fresh from the launch of her second novel, Denise Barnes, indie author of fiction and non-fiction, explains the importance of public speaking in book promotion and marketing, and draws on her personal experience to help you develop confidence and skill in that area. (Denise's fiction is published under her pen-name, Fenella Forster.)
I read somewhere ages ago that if you don’t do public speaking, you’ll never be a leader. The writer was talking about the business world, but it seems to me a golden rule for writers to spread the word about their books, gaining new fans, and giving them some interesting snippets of the person behind the author.
But standing up in front of a room full of expectant people is not what most of us find easy or enjoyable. I realise I’m an exception when I say I love giving talks – whether it’s to a handful of people or a room of hundreds, I’m in my element.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous. Waiting to ‘go on’, I’m a trembling wreck, especially when I’m down to speak after the lunch or dinner. How can you possibly enjoy the meal, or have a glass of wine, when you need to stand up any minute with unsmudged lipstick – and sober?
How I Plan My Talks
I was offered a ninety-minute slot at our local library a few weeks ago to talk about my debut novel, Annie’s Story. I jumped at the invitation, but that’s a long time on the platform so I decided to break it up into three separate parts:
- family history
- the research
- my life as a writer
I asked for questions after each session. But I also broke up the time by showing the ladies various item:
- I held up a heavy-framed hand-painted photograph of the ship my grandparents sailed on to Australia in 1913 which was the inspiration for writing the novel
- I handed round a copy of a diary a wonderful woman sent me of her great-aunt’s exact voyage the year before on the same ship
- I shared photographs of my young newly-married grandparents when they first arrived in Australia, plus an article posted on an Australian maritime website about the voyage in those days
- Finally I showed the book itself
How I Set the Right Tone
My delivery is always light, and I like telling humorous anecdotes which link into my talk. I have no notes, and I occasionally forget what I was going to say. I’ve learned not to panic, but tell them I’m having a senior moment, and they always chuckle and nod. They’ve had plenty of those themselves. My reward is to hear them laugh in the right places – and sometimes the wrong ones! And I adore the clapping afterwards, and people telling me their own amazing stories.
Although there were only 11 people in my audience that morning, I sold eight books, which I thought was pretty good.
The author in the afternoon also had 11 (different) people. He spoke for 35 minutes straight, was very serious, and stood in the same position with his arms folded, taking questions at the end. I felt that he didn’t give us anything of himself, even though his talk was actually interesting on a subject about which I knew zilch. He hardly mentioned his books, piled behind him on the table. He certainly didn’t pick one up to show us, so we didn’t feel involved. There was simply too much distance between him and us.
Could that be the reason why I didn’t see anyone buy his books?
It's Okay to be Human
If authors aren’t prepared to expose themselves (you know what I mean!) when they’re giving a talk, I think they’re wasting their time. Yes, I’ve made an idiot of myself occasionally, but that’s human – and guess what? They love you for it!
It’s such a wonderful opportunity to promote your books, and the people who come to hear an author are genuinely interested and want to be entertained. You’ve been so enthusiastic about your book and why you wrote it, they naturally go away with one of your signed books in their bags.
And then you know you’ve given a successful talk.
And you might even decide you actually enjoyed it.
OVER TO YOU We'd love to hear your top tips for making the most of an opportunity to talk about your book in public. Cautionary tales also welcome, if you're feeling brave!#authors - worried about public speaking? Read @denisebarnesuk's advice here Click To Tweet