I’ve just finished a season of author talks at various libraries. What a joy it was to get out of my cluttered writer’s space, and meet people with an interest in my book or my topic or just writing in general.
In my job as a human resources professional, I’ve delivered lots of sessions before. But talking about yourself and your creative work for an hour was a bit daunting. My biggest fear was that no-one would come. But thanks to the promotional efforts of the libraries concerned, that did not happen. It makes me happy that our libraries give enormous support to local writers, artists, musicians and crafts people, as well as readers.
Here are four tips to help you prepare for an author talk.
1. Choose your topic wisely.
There are potentially dozens of topics you could cover in an author talk. In a library setting, attendees may be writers or readers, or learners of English, or people with time on their hands. Make no assumptions. Select a topic that will appeal to the broadest audience.
Keep to one hour, maximum. Any longer and either of two things will happen:
(a) your voice will give out, or
(b) your audience will fall asleep or leave.
For my recent author talks, my topic was the story behind the story. Why? Because that’s what I’d want to hear about. I want to know what drives an author to commit a year or more to writing this particular story. I love watching the ‘extras’ at the end of a DVD. The motivation behind the film is often more fascinating than the film itself.
2. Create a visual presentation.
Keep it to around 8 to 10 slides, not ‘death by Powerpoint’. Find pictures that show your subject matter and add brief captions.
The visual presentation has a two-fold purpose. Firstly it gives your audience something to look at apart from you. Secondly it keeps your talk on track.
Save the slideshow onto a USB, email it to yourself, and print it out. If the venue doesn’t have an overhead projector, you can still show the presentation on an iPad or refer to the paper copies.
Allow 5 to 10 minutes at the end for comments or questions from the audience.
3. Select readings from your book.
People love hearing authors read their work. Choose around half a page for each, and keep it relevant to your topic. A word of caution: if you’re not an actor or a whiz at doing voices, steer clear of large clumps of dialogue.
Bookmark and label the passages, and mark on the page where each section starts and finishes. If you end with a ‘cliff-hanger’, people will be more inclined to buy or borrow your book to find out what happens.
Find a quiet place and practice reading the passages out loud. Do this at least twice. If you’re like me, you’re competent at reading silently inside your head but hopeless at sight-reading aloud. Even though I wrote the words, without vocalising them beforehand, I stumble and bumble like a six-year-old kid.
4. Deliver with passion and meaning.
On the day of your talk, choose your costume carefully. You are stepping into a role. Today you are an author, an authority on your work and your craft. Wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be on your feet for up to two hours straight.
Go to the venue early and prepare your space. Make sure the technology is working. If it isn’t, you can use the back-ups (iPad or paper).
Met the participants at the door. Welcome them and shake their hands. Invite them in. Thank them for coming. They may have read your book; they may never have heard of you; they may be escaping the heat in the nice cool aircon.
Whatever their reasons for being there, you are about to make new friends. Enjoy!
5 tips for selling your book
Writing a book can be an absolute joy or a nightmare, depending on your outlook and the mood of your muse. But all those months (or years) of burning the midnight oil are for nought unless you can get your magnus opus out there for people to read.
Here is the conundrum: you are a writer not a bookseller. Writing is what you love and what you’re good at. The practice of writing means locking yourself away in solitude to concentrate on the inner world. You are a hermit in a garret, communing with no-one but your characters, ruminating on nothing but the twists and turns of your tale.
After a long and tumultuous gestation period, your labour of love enters the world. It’s silky and smooth and ink-scented. Perfect.
What happens next is truly shocking. It’s up to you – the author – to sell it.
Whoa! Selling means putting yourself out there, talking to people you don’t know, telling them about this awesome novel that you – boast, boast – just happened to write in your spare time. It means standing before a roomful of critics to reveal intimacies about your motivation or your inspiration or your determination to finish your mammoth task.
Have I scared you yet?
Selling your hardcopy book isn’t easy. So here are five tips I’ve learnt along the way.
1. Talk to your local library.
Most public libraries are extremely supportive of local authors. But be warned: there are long lead times if you want to arrange author talks. Many months in fact. Ask if the library allows you to sell your book to customers on the day. Check whether any fees or commissions are payable. In Australia you can register for royalties if you have books in public libraries. These are called Public Lending Right (PLR) and Education Lending Right (ELR).
2. Email everyone you know or have ever met.
Even if no-one wants a book, it puts you in touch with a whole bunch of people you haven’t spoken to in ages. If you’re lucky, an old friend will pass the message on to someone who will buy your book and theywill love what you write. That’s the whole point of writing, isn’t it? So that others can read and enjoy.
3. Ask your fans to write a brief review.
I should explain that the sort of review you need is not the long and critical variety seen in the Sunday newspapers. The best review for this purpose is short and sharp and tells customers what a page-turner you’ve written. Ask for the review to be posted on websites such as Goodreads or online bookstores such as Amazon. Your reviewer will also need to give your book a ‘star’ rating – usually out of 5. It’s best to check that your reader actually likes the book before making this suggestion. One star out of five spells disaster.
4. Do the rounds of your local bookstores.
Talk to them about taking books on consignment. Agree on conditions, such as commission and the length of time your book can remain on the shelves. Keep in touch with the bookseller. At the end of the agreed period, pick up any unsold copies and provide an invoice for your share of the sales.
5. Set up your website so that people can purchase electronically.
This is not an easy task for someone like me who is technologically challenged. After much swearing and gnashing of teeth, I managed to put a ‘Buy Now’ button on my website that allows buyers to order and pay by Paypal or credit card. The buyer leaves their postal address and any special instructions (such as ‘please autograph’). You get a confirmation email the instant the purchase is made. When setting this up, be sure to cover the cost of postage. Remember, websites are global. Factor in the additional cost of international postage. Otherwise all your hard-earned cash will go supporting your friendly postal service.
Firstly, the most frustrating part of marketing your book is the enormous time commitment. Sadly it can reduce the time available for writing another bestseller. So put a sunset clause on your efforts and move on.
Secondly, promoting ebooks is an entirely different proposition to physical books. There are countless businesses and proponents of ebook marketing who are ready and willing to help (or to take your money, if you don’t choose wisely).
How to sell your indie-published paperbacks
Your precious cargo has been delivered. From your living room wafts a delightful fragrance. Paper and fresh ink and clean cardboard. The anguish of waiting is over. Your books have arrived. YOUR books! All neat and tucked-in with bubble-wrap. The cover looks fabulous and it has the feel of a quality read.
Now all you have to do is sell them. Easier said than done. Promoting your book is a creative activity in itself. Sitting back and waiting for the royalties to flow from Amazon or the like will send you to the poor-house.
Here are five low-cost ways of promoting your creation.
1. Tell your local newspaper.
Every week, free neighbourhood newspapers land unbidden on your front lawn. They’re full of real estate ads and not much else. Wrong! Local papers love local news. Think up a human interest story about you and your book. Perhaps there’s an interesting reason you wrote it. Perhaps, like Baby Farm, the story sheds new light on an event or a time of social change. Turn the story behind your book into a media release. Get the name and contact details of the relevant sub-editor. Talk to them if you can. Follow up with an email and attach your media release. If you’re lucky, you might get a call or a spot in an upcoming edition.
2. Drop into your local newsagency or bookstore.
Local book retailers love local authors. Keep a stock of books in the boot of your car and spend a day doing the rounds. Chances are they might not buy your book but may be willing to stock it ‘on consignment’. This means you leave a small supply, say five copies, with the store for an agreed period of time. If they sell, the retailer pays you an agreed percentage of the RRP. If they don’t, you pick them up at the end of the period. Formalise this in writing, with a copy for the retailer and a copy for yourself. This should prevent any misunderstandings when it’s time to end the arrangement.
3. Recruit friends to promote your fab creation.
Recruit your friends and family to help promote your book. You’re proud of your achievement and so are they. Use social media, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, your blog, your friends’ blogs, your telephone contacts list, your Christmas card list. Ask people who read and like your book to write a brief review on readers’ websites (e.g. Goodreads) and your online retailers’ website (e.g. Amazon).
4.Make your public library an offer they can’t refuse.
Make the pitch look and feel professional. For example, you might offer to donate a few copies of your book to the library, or deliver an author talk at no cost, or make a guest appearance at a readers’ group that meets there. Write a proposal letter to the library manager and enclose one copy of your book. Obtain permission to sell books to customers who attend your in-person events.
5. Get a stall at the markets.
Baby Farm, was released just before Christmas. My highest sales day was at a market in a suburban centre. I wore lots of tinsel and a sign that said: I am the author. I talked my head off to anyone who’d listen and sold lots of books.