5 Steps to a Killer Book Talk

Posted on Posted in Publishing

By: Kate Raphael

Every debut author dreams of the moment when she stands up in front of a crowd of admiring fans and talks brilliantly about her new book.

Yet too few of us actually spend enough time planning that talk. Many new authors spend a lot more time on the logistics of their launch events, getting the word out, even shopping for signing pens, than on what they are going to say.

That’s a huge mistake.

We’re not only launching our books, we’re launching ourselves as authors. An engaging talk can get you invited to be on panels or radio shows. That’s happened to me a couple times. But it takes as much work as writing a guest blog or an op-ed. Almost no one can extemporize well all the time, or even very much of the time.

I will venture an untested statistic: at least 90 percent of great speakers, from President Obama on down, are really great writers, or have great writers working for them, or both. The more unscripted they sound, the longer they likely worked on what they’re saying. They also have teleprompters and we don’t, so we have to work even harder to get that brilliantly off-the-cuff sound.

Preparation is respectful.
I think one thing that keeps authors, especially women authors, from preparing their talks is fear of appearing self-important. It’s easier to think of ourselves giving a party. But people have a lot of choice about what to do with their time. No one is going to resent having to listen to a lively, well-crafted, funny, surprising talk about your book.

People don’t go out to an author event for the reading. If they just want to know what is in the book, they can buy it and enjoy it in the comfort of their easy chairs. They are there for the value added, which is not the mediocre champagne. It’s the story behind the story, the well-chosen information that makes the reading come alive.

Speaking is writing; writing is editing.

The other reason people don’t prepare well enough is that we all know our books better than we know our lovers. We talk about them all the time, probably too much.

One of the counterintuitive things I have learned as a radio host is that the better I know the subject, the more I need to prepare. If I don’t know much about a subject, I can just say everything I know. If I know a lot, I have to do a lot of editing. It’s easy to forget that things that seem very basic to me probably aren’t. I need to put myself into the mindset of the listeners who are least familiar with the subject and ask, “What will they want to know?”

If your event is anywhere but in your house, if it was advertised in even one newsletter, you never know who will show up. At one of my readings, there were a couple people who were walking by and the title of my book grabbed them; at another a woman told me she had heard me on the radio two hours earlier and decided to go. Another author I know was shocked that seven people she didn’t know appeared at an out-of-town event because a friend of hers told them about it.