Many writers are, by nature, creatures that hide from the spotlight. I’m not above hibernating for weeks on end in my sleepy sheep pajamas. Yet those of us who publish need to spread the word about ourselves and books. Sure, we can use social media, but at some point, if you really want to gain exposure, you have to interact with “real” humans. Even if you hire a publicist, he or she will not be able to get much traction for you unless you’re willing to do book events and public speaking. Forget media — you need to sell books, speak, and do events to get their attention, plus — oops — they’re humans, too.
So let’s talk about human interaction, speaking in particular (I cover book events in other posts). Most successful authors agree that speaking is a heck of a great way to promote and sell books. I sell books at every speaking engagement I book. That’s pretty good incentive to do it, yet the mere thought terrifies most people, let alone an introverted writer. I can’t help you with your fears (try “Talk Up Your Book” for that), except maybe your fear of what to speak on, to whom, and how to do it.
1) Do you write nonfiction? Pitch a topic related to your book to groups who share an interest. Maybe you write about remodeling old houses — contact historical societies. Google is your friend. I write on, amongst other things, ADHD and Autism-spectrum parenting, so I do a topic called “Everyone blames the mother” for special needs parenting groups.
2) Do you write fiction? Parse out a subject or location from your book. Say you write American revolutionary historical fiction — pitch it to the Daughters of the American Revolution (yep, Google). I write women’s fiction mysteries set in the Caribbean, and I speak on living and traveling in the Caribbean to travel groups.
3) Maybe you have an interesting day job? I share stories about workplace investigations, to writers groups and to book clubs. To find them, I use not only google, but Goodreads. Who wouldn’t want to come to something called “Colonel Mustard in the Conference Room With His Pants Down,” after all.
4) And any of you are qualified to speak on writing and indie publishing, to writers groups or meetings. I have writer friends that teach agent pitches, synopsis writing, creative writing, the writing practice, and many other topics. I do one called “What kind of idiot indie publishes, and how can I be one too?” Your local writers group is a great place to start, but, again, google opens all doors.
Each time I speak — whether at a private location, a library, or a bookstore — I sell books. How many? Depends on the size of the group, but usually about 10. I take my entire backlist, no matter what I speak on, and for whom, although sometimes the topic really dictates the bulk of what I sell at each gig.
Logistically, here’s a checklist for speaking:
- Plan what you are going to talk about and prepare your speaking notes and any visuals or handouts you plan to use.
- Secure permission from your contact to bring/sell books.
- Pack a wheeled suitcase with your supplies: books, signing pen, paper to record email addresses of readers who want to stay in touch, and giveaway items (I always bring bookmarks and business cards).
- Be sure you are prepared to take cash (and give change), check, or charge. I recommend selling your books for a number ending in a 0 or 5, for ease of making change. Do you an iPad or iPhone? Try out Square Register. It’s a cheap and easy way to turn your phone into a cash register which accepts credit card swipes.
- Ask your contact for a small table to display your wares.
- Bring a buddy if you can, to help with logistics and your first-time nerves.
Personally, I think I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the opportunities for speaking as a way to promote and sell my books. Who knows how many I can sell if I expand my speaking. I definitely know how many I’ll sell if I sit at home. One of these numbers is bigger than the other, and I’ll leave it to you to guess which one.
Pamela is an employment attorney and workplace investigator by day who writes award-winning and bestselling mysterious women’s fiction (Saving Grace) and relationship humor (How to Screw Up Your Kids) by night. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.