Following our post a week ago examining the real purpose and benefits of book blog tours, today we're tackling the topic of book talks in a similar vein. It's a joint post by two authors working in different genres, who have met online and in real life via their ALLi membership, to trade experiences and share best practice. American author Ann Richardson writes non-fiction, while Stephen Oram is a British author of speculative fiction. (Full bios are at the foot of this page.)
Giving a talk about your book is often touted as a good way to sell. We have both given loads of talks, and despite the fact that our books are of very different genres, we have found that our experiences – and our views – are very similar.
First, A Reality Check
Perhaps it is best to start at the bottom line. We ALLi members are (generally) not celebrities, so we can’t count on large sales. This is also the case with book talks. However good your book – or, indeed, your talk – you simply cannot count on shifting a lot of books. You might sell two, you might sell five or perhaps even ten on a good day. But don’t go into book talks with larger numbers in mind. It will only lead to disappointment.
People attend book talks for a little bit of entertainment, for curiosity or simply to pass the time. Sometimes, it feels like they come to get out of the rain. Perhaps it is an occasion where they meet up with friends and the talk is just part of the gig. Few attend because they are dying to buy your book or, perhaps, any book. This might be a little different at a literary festival, but in that case there is a lot of competition.
So Why Give Talks, Anyway?
So, our one strong piece of advice is only give talks if you enjoy doing it. Some of us have a hidden performer streak and if that is you, then go for it. It can be fun to stand up in front of people and talk about your favourite subject – your book – and get treated as a bit of a VIP for an hour or so. When people buy your book, and even ask you to sign it, that is a terrific bonus. But you have to start with a sense that doing the talk is fun in itself.
What Should You Say?
There are lots of different angles you can take and a large part of the enjoyment for you and your audience will depend on getting the angle right. For example, giving a talk based on your background research with a lively Q&A session afterwards can be very enlightening, as well as entertaining. With a specialised audience, it can work really well to get them involved in answering each other’s questions – you learn from them and the discussion can reach a more interesting level than just you on your own.
How to Choose and Book a Venue
What venues should you seek? That depends highly on the audience for your book. Ann’s current book, primarily for grandmothers, suits any group involving older people and she has spoken to a wide range – from a working class community centre to the London Ladies Club in highly elegant surroundings. Stephen writes fiction designed to spark debate and has given talks, inter alia, to a festival of ideas and activism and a curated audience of futurists. General venues include libraries, local writing groups, book clubs or, indeed, any other group you can think of who might take an interest.
You will need to approach these groups yourself – it’s the rare organisation that will come to you. Many organisations have problems filling in their programme and will be delighted at your offer. Some will have no slots available and may well refuse. You need to expect that and not take it as a personal insult. And do not expect to be paid. Your recompense is the pleasure of the activity and the few book sales you manage to achieve. This may not seem ‘fair’, but it is the way things are.
It’s a good idea to keep your eyes open for opportunities – it’s surprising what comes along. If you’re involved in any interest groups related to your writing, let them know you’re keen to give talks. Although it might not create a stampede to your virtual door, let people know via your website that you're keen, willing and able.
When you’re finalising the arrangement, whether they're a big mainstream festival or a small local interest group, don’t forget they'll be constrained in some way or other – their budget, how far ahead they plan, providing a balanced programme and so forth, so make it as easy for them as possible.
Prepare the Audience
And make sure that your audience knows what to expect. This should be made clear in both your advance discussions with the organisers and any formal publicity about the event. You may want to talk about why you wrote the book and then read passages that illustrate key themes. Or you might want to facilitate a discussion around themes arising in your book. Both can make for an excellent event, but it’s important for those coming to know what to expect.
Finally, remember it’s no different to your book – you want to draw people in with the blurb, please them with the content and maybe even turn them into fans!
- Ann Richardson
Over a long career as a qualitative researcher, Ann Richardson has written numerous books for health and care professionals. But her real love is writing narrative books, conveying directly the views and experiences of people in a particular situation, using their own words. Her latest book is about grandmothers, but she has also written about people with AIDS & HIV and people working with the dying. She is the grandmother of two boys and lives in London with her husband.
- Stephen Oram
Stephen Oram writes near-future fiction intended to provoke debate. As a teenager he was heavily influenced by the ethos of punk. In his early twenties he embraced the squatter scene and was part of a religious cult, briefly. He did some computer stuff in what became London's silicon roundabout and is now a civil servant with a gentle attraction to anarchism. He is the Author in Residence at Virtual Futures and has published two novels and several shorter pieces of work.
OVER TO YOU
If you do book talks, what benefits do you enjoy as a result? Have you any top tips to add to those listed by Ann and Stephen here? We'd love to know!Why book talks aren't really just about selling books Click To Tweet