1. Find the best venues for you. Look around your local community for bookstores, community centers, and other places where authors speak. Ask a friend to host a book party for you. Then expand to other locales farther afield. I’ve spoken at dozens of venues – houses of worship, universities, a book festival, an adult education program, community centers, an embassy, libraries, genealogy societies, and a staff training program at a hospital.
2. Make your pitch. E-mail a very brief description of your book, your talk, and yourself, including other places you’ve spoken, if any. I tailor the pitch to the venue. For a Jewish genealogy society, I begin my message like this: “We Are Here takes readers to the kitchen tables and archives where my family story revealed its secrets.” For a university, on the other hand, I might say: “We Are Here explores how a nation scarred by genocide is engaging with its past….” The talk itself doesn’t change much, but the pitch does.
3. Negotiate. Once invited, communicate with the contact person about logistics:
4. Help bring out a crowd. See my blog post, “How to Fill an Empty Room,” for tips on making a contact list, putting together a recruitment team, sending invitations, and more.
5. Prepare a great speech. Use a “topic paragraph” early on, to let listeners know what they’re going to hear. Read briefly from the book at one or two points. Create some “scenes” in your talk, to bring listeners into close contact with your characters or other vivid material. Signal the structure of your talk by using phrases like “let me give you three examples” (and generally, three is the right number). Use a phrase like “in closing” or “before I stop” to alert people that the end is near. And try for a smashing ending!
Time your speech by reading it out loud. Rule of thumb: most people speak at a rate of 120-200 words per minute
6. Deliver it well. Eye contact and good posture are most important. Practice ahead of time. I print out my talk in 26-point type and make sure I never have to turn a page in the middle of a sentence. I familiarize myself with the material so that I don’t have to look down much. I make sure to look at people in all corners of the room.
7. Allow time for Q & A. Either call on people yourself or have your host do so. Restate the question briefly if necessary. Be kind, especially with difficult people. For really difficult people, consider: “What is your question?” or “Let’s hear from those who haven’t yet spoken.”
8. Sell and sign.
9. Follow up. Do not delay! Send an immediate thank-you message to the host. Ask for a blurb you can use in approaching future venues. Enter names of audience members into your mailing list, and contact those to whom you promised further communication.
10. Plan. Can you strengthen your talk? Where will you speak next?
Ellen Cassedy’s book – a blend of memoir, history, and cultural commentary – is We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2012). Her first post for SheWrites was “Who Cares about Your Family Story? Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will ...” Her [TIPS OF THE TRADE] series appears monthly. See all of Ellen's Tips for Writers.