Thursday, November 10, 2011

Authors: Be Prepared to Speak!

Photo credit: Author Amy Snyder gives a presentation on her nonfiction book, Hell on Two Wheels, about the Race Across America.

Speaking engagements are great ways for authors to get the word out about their books. Nonfiction authors, especially, can develop a number of talks about their topic and hit the speaking circuit to develop a name for themselves while promoting their work.

Many fiction authors also find public speaking to be a successful way to promote their books. If your novel or short story collection has a topical subject matter, or if you have a special area of expertise or a solid platform in a subject area, you should be able to find opportunities for speaking engagements where you can promote your work and/or sell it afterward.

But arranging speaking appearances is not always easy. For those who are considering going on the speaking circuit, here are some tips to help make the experience easier:

1) Develop a number of presentations around your book’s topic and write brief, one-paragraph descriptions for each of them. The more options you can offer a venue or organization, the more likely that you will have something they’re looking for and be hired to speak.

2) Start early – some venues, including professional organizations, colleges and universities, reading clubs, and museums and libraries, book speaking events many months to a year ahead of time.

3) Keep a list of the talks you’ve given, including the cities where you’ve appeared, the dates for your appearances, and the title of the presentations you’ve given. Organizations will want to know where you’ve spoken before, and having a list to give them shows that you are experienced and a proven commodity.

4) Likewise, get testimonials from those who have hired you to speak. Some organizations will want to check your references to verify your experience and track record.

5) Be prepared when you speak. Do whatever research is required, make notes, and practice before your appearances. Also, be sure you know your audience, including how many people will be there and their demographics – age, sex, expertise, etc. – and plan your talk accordingly.

6) If needed, make arrangements for a/v equipment and always have a backup (your own laptop, printed handouts, etc.) ready in case the equipment is not working or is unavailable the day of your presentation.

7) Bring material to distribute or leave behind at your talk. Prepare handouts, bookmarks, business cards, etc., and find out the number of estimated attendees ahead of time so you have enough copies for everyone in your audience.

8) If you are speaking about your book, have standing posters of the book cover made and bring one with you to mount on a table or podium. Also, check with your host to see if s/he would like any material beforehand to create a display or do general promotion for your talk.

9) If your presentation is open to the general public, be sure to touch base with your host about what kind of media work s/he is doing for promotion. Do your own promotion, as well – create and distribute flyers, sent email invites to friends and relatives, announce events on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and send press releases to content and calendar editors at news media offices and websites.

10) If you are going to do some media promotion for your speaking engagements, be sure to contact editors, reporters, and producers for print, radio, and television about two-three weeks prior to your event. Create a press release specifically for your event and, if possible, tie it to national or local news headlines that are relevant to your topic. Also, have a head shot of yourself, your book cover art (jpg files are best), and a presentation summary or description ready in case your media contact requests this info.

11) Be sure to take a camera or video recorder with you and have a friend or someone in the audience take photos of you while you speak. You can place these photographs and clips on your website, and the video clips will also come in handy for those venues that require seeing a clip before hiring you to speak.

A final note: many authors have asked me about the protocol for being paid for speaking engagements. In general, I’ve found that due to the state of our economy, most venues (aside from large corporations) do not pay honoraria for speakers. You should always ask, though, because many organizations might be willing to pay a nominal speaking fee, and even if it is a small one, it may help defray the costs of getting there. Most venues are willing to negotiate, and if they can’t offer honoraria, they are oftentimes willing to provide coverage for travel costs, money for gas, or a meal at the event.

If you are promoting a book, you’ll want to be sure to discuss the possibility of selling books after your presentation and make arrangements for how sales are handled. If the venue is a library or museum, you can ask about having your booked stocked on the shelves or in the museum bookstore. You’ll also want to be sure that you have books there at the event; if the venue won’t order them, then make arrangements to have them shipped ahead of time or, if convenient, carry them with you.

Finally, be sure to collect business cards and contact information from everyone involved in setting up your speaking event and send thank yous after your appearance. Even if your event was not the most organized or well-attended, you still want to show gratitude for being given the opportunity. A thoughtful thank you is a sure way to show your host(s) that you are a professional and will help keep the door open the next time you want to give a presentation there.