As we ready our author marketing mastery discussions on book launch parties and speaking engagements at libraries, bookstores, and other public forums, it will pay to be prepared to speak or read to these groups before you schedule those author appearances.
If the prospect of reading, or speaking, or even answering questions in front of a group larger than your three best friends is terrifying to you, read on. Hopefully, this article will alleviate some of those fears because when it comes to interacting with readers, preparation is the best medicine.
A bit of back-story: When Where Writers Win was first created, we included just three areas of focus:
- Author websites, because we’d heard so many tales of woe of authors unable to control their own online space (and overpaying for what they couldn’t control)
- Social media coaching, because it’s an ongoing issue for any authorpreneur marketing their brand
- And, YES, media training, because we’d attended enough readings and speeches at book festivals and conferences to know that reading a passage in a monotone with your book three inches in front of (and covering) your face, well, doesn’t sell many books.
(Within a year we realized we were missing the fourth leg of the table and added our Author Resource Market, the Winner Circle.)
But, surprisingly, media training, the leg that helps authors build a steady foundation to speak to media, create public speeches, and perform readings, is our least utilized service, despite addressing what most authors say is their biggest fear: public speaking.
Or perhaps this is because public appearances are your greatest fear, something you’d rather not think about…‘Til it’s time for that book club appearance or talk you promised the local bookstore or Rotary club and suddenly you can’t find your voice.
Here are five areas you can tackle to prepare for those inevitable public author appearances.
As you may have read in our recent installment from media trainer Bren McClain on Crafting Your Perfect Author Message, if you can become comfortable talking about your book in your everyday life, it’ll be easier to talk about it to readers at book signings, and to the mass media.
Practicing in front of family and friends is one way to get prepared. Practicing out loud in front of the mirror is another. The better you know your subject matter, the less likely you are to worry about drawing a blank mid-sentence.
Anticipating what readers may ask in a Q&A is also prudent. If you’ve been to other readings, you know some of the common questions readers will ask that often have nothing to do with your work, such as, “How big was your last advance?” Have ready answers that can deflect the question and bring the discussion back to your book. For example, “Well, not as much as JK Rowling, but I wish I did because look at the millions she’s contributed to charities…”
2. Be Spontaneous
As much as you want to be prepared for a reading or book club appearance, you don’t want to come off as overly polished or lacking sincerity. Answer every question as if it were the first time you’d been asked. Example, “Which character did you like the most?” can be answered with, “What a great question! The character I liked the most was ___ but I also enjoyed the challenge of writing about ____.”
3. Be Genuine
Too many authors worry that their speech or reading is a “performance.” First, this promotes nerves. Second, if you treat your author appearances as performances, you’re not as likely to connect with your audience.
Think about the last great talk you attended. What made it great? For most of us, the answer is that it felt as if the author or speaker was speaking directly to us, not at us. Readers want to meet and rub elbows with the authentic “you” – The Bonus: Approaching each talk as a conversation with your readers will take the performance pressure off your plate!
4. Get Thick-Skinned
Just as every written review of your work won’t be “five-star” so comes the risk of an audience member who wants to criticize your work or your talk. First, it helps to know that every single author in history has received bad reviews. Don’t believe it? Check out this fun article from Huffington Post: 12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews.
Of course that doesn’t make it any more fun when someone jumps up in the middle of your talk and shouts, “I hated this book!” Rather than getting defensive, look to alleviate the situation with compassion and a sense of humor. For example, you might answer, “Yep, you and 50 other agents before I found someone to love it” or “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but I thank you for taking the time to read it.”
Rather than getting defensive, look to alleviate the situation with compassion and a sense of humor. For example, you might answer, “Yep, you and 50 other agents before I found someone to love it” or “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but I thank you for taking the time to read it, my mother put it down after page five.” You get the idea… diffuse the situation while keeping the rest of the audience on your side.
You get the idea… diffuse the situation while keeping the rest of the audience on your side. Hopefully, you have a moderator on hand who can prevent further commenting from a single audience member. If not, read on…
5. Control Your Environment
There will often be one person who wants to take over the conversation, much to the chagrin of both you and the rest of the audience. If you don’t have a moderator, or your moderator suddenly becomes mute, be ready.
First, have a few questions in reserve to ask of your audience in case that person is the only one piping up. You can also suggest to the outspoken member that you’re interested in hearing more of what they have to say, and you’d love to chat more with him/her one-on-one after the presentation. (If you don’t have time after the presentation, be sure to give her your card or have him sign up to your list for a future chat!)
Second, keep your cool. Getting angry or defensive won’t alleviate the problem, and might even encourage others in the audience to sense weakness and move in for the kill. Keep smiling, note that his/her point is a valid one, thank them for weighing in, and then be prepared to move on as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
And remember, don’t let one bad apple spoil the bushel. Most of your author appearances will be fun and stress-free if you follow these tips and approach each reading, signing or speech as a fun way to connect with readers and build your fan base!
Here are a few choice articles on author readings and speaking with plenty of useful tips!
- Reading in Public, How I Conquered My Fears
- 7 Little Tricks To Speak In Public With No Fear
- 10 Tips for Writers Reading in Public
Have you had successful, or challenging, author appearances? Share your best story with your comment below!